Sunday, June 22, 2014

Herbert C Jaffa 1920-2013

Dear colleagues, I just found out, though sheer accident, that our beloved senior colleague Herbert C. Jaffa died last December 30.

I am distressed both by the news, and by finding out so late, although had Herb's wife, Edith, not predeceased him, she would have told me. Herb was a hero in large matters--he was one of the brave men who saved Australia in World War II from Imperial Japanese aggression, and made the war memorials that stud the streets around the Australian Defence Force Academy, from which I am writing, ones rendered in victory, not defeat.  But he was also a hero in small maters. He was of pivotal help in setting put his organization and to successive editors of Antipodes in editing the journal. He was one of our best book reviewers, and someone whose concern was always for the organization as a whole and for the good of Australian literature. he kept up to the end--he was aware of the various permutations of the Rudd/Gillard fracas, and his last phone call to me concerned an Australian science fiction author a young neighbour of his had recommended,

Herb was the last of my friends to have served in the Second World War, and the last in our organization. With him goes our last living link to the war which more than any other event forged the amity and familiarity between our two nations. He was one of the people who made global Australian studies possible. He introduced me to David Rowbotham, Tom Shapcott, and Vivian Smith. I will miss him more than I can say. I admired and revered him, and cherished his counsel.

The June Antipodes is about to go to press, but I hope Paul Plisiewicz will be able to insert a short memorial notice. For December I would like a much longer set of tributes, comparable to those we had for Robert Ross in 2005. Not all of you knew herb, but those who did, I would really appreciate remembrances, tributes, and so on.

Herb's great passion was the poetry of Kenneth Slessor, and I will end with this, Slessor's last poem, about Herb's war, although on another front.
Beach Burial – Kenneth Slessor
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –
"Unknown seaman" –the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.
El Alamein