Ian and Blanche




3.1.4 Chronicals of the 30s

The couple’s second child, Gwyneth, was born at the then-new hospital at Tambellup in 1935. At first Gwyneth did not grow as fast as normal because of an intestinal blockage. Eventually the problem was corrected and Gwyneth developed normally. As an adult, however, she was two inches shorter than Blanche.

Their third, Graeme, was born in 1937. He was a relatively happy, healthy and active child, and he got into more than his share of mischief. As a toddler, he formed the habit of standing on tip-toe to clamp his teeth over the handle of the kitchen cupboard. He once got stuck in that position and hung there until Blanche unhooked him. On a later occasion, the little fellow’s activities caused a great stink, literally. Suspecting, correctly, that some meat had gone bad somewhere around the house, Blanche went around day after day in search of the source of the ever more noticeable smell, until finally she located her son’s handiwork: a miniature abattoir hoist modeled on the one used by Ian to slaughter sheep (see Chapter 3.2.1), complete with the carcass of a by then long-dead rabbit. With close attention to detail, Graeme had skinned, gutted, and beheaded the rabbit, and cut its feet off. One other authentic detail set Blanche laughing despite the stench—a little stick to prop the carcass open and allow circulation of air.

Eion, on the running board of the Chrysler, 1937The oldest child, Eion, was by this time going to school in Tambellup. His formal schooling started in 1937, one year later than it should have,65  but with Alexander’s help he had already learned to read and count a year or two earlier. At first, too small to make the daily ten-mile return trip to school by himself, Eion stayed during the week with the Iddles family and later with the Morris family in Tambellup(I, M in the Tambellup town map). In 1939, when he was eight, he began to ride a bicycle to school.

Gilella entered the broadcast entertainment era in 1937 with the acquisition of a battery-powered radio.66  Ian strung an antenna in the pepper trees, high enough to pick up broadcasts relayed from Perth by way of Wagin and Katanning. Blanche took pleasure in light music broadcasts. She had a sweet, true singing voice, and she went about her work singing songs from the musical comedies of the day. Paul Robeson and Richard Tauber were her favorite singers. "You can hear the music in his voice," she said of Robeson’s rendition of "Old Man River."

Also on the radio there were news reports of wars in the northern hemisphere, of the little wars in Spain and Abyssinia and of the impending big war in Europe, with an occasional mention of the actual big war in Asia. The war in Asia seemed of little importance because it was between a lot of chows and japs, of whom there were too many anyway. That was the view held by the majority of Australians, Ian and Blanche among them.67  Their thoughts and efforts were still centered on the farm.

In 1939 Ian suffered a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting. He was working with the tractor, fallowing (autumn plowing) on the 160-acre block of Riverview, when he felt the sting as a sharp pain but transitory pain in his hand. He paid little attention at the time, but by evening his wrist had swollen to double its normal thickness, and next day the swelling had reached his elbow so that he could no longer bend his arm. Arthur Gittins, came over in his streamlined 1934 Dodge sedan and drove Ian to the nearest doctor, Dr. Caldwell in Katanning. With treatment in the hospital there—consisting, by Ian’s account, of hot and cold compresses—the swelling receded before it reached the shoulder. Just as well, the doctor told Ian, since if it had reached the shoulder he would have amputated the arm. "I was sharpening up my knife," he said. Ian was back home in a week, and a month later had recovered completely.

Arthur was a great help, too, while Ian was in hospital. Though he had his own farm work to worry about, he went ahead and finished Ian’s plowing to save him from falling behind the season. This was an instance of Arthur’s tremendous capacity for work. He also had a gargantuan appetite (illustrative dialog: "Eggs do you for breakfast, Arthur?" "How many’ve you got?" "About a dozen." "That’ll do.") and a correspondingly severe case of flatulence. Ian put Arthur’s energy down to jet propulsion. "Two steps and a fart," was his phrase.

Ian hoped that his two boys would grow to help him on the farm, and eventually take over. But by 1940 it was clear that the older boy, Eion, had little aptitude for a life on the land—"didn’t have enough blooming brains to be a farmer," Ian grumbled—and needed further education to prepare him for some other occupation. In 1942, following the teacher’s68  suggestion, Ian and Blanche encouraged Eion to jump a grade to make up for his late start in school, and sit for a secondary-school scholarship the same year. To allow him a daily hour of undisturbed study by Gilella’s one source of light bright enough for reading,69  they instituted a quiet period after tea70  with no radio and little conversation, and no loud play on the part of the younger children. These measures paid off; Eion won a James Coombe Scholarship, which covered his expenses to attend Albany High School for five years starting in 1943. He again stayed with the Morris family, who had meanwhile moved to Albany.

Continue reading: 3.1.5 Relations and Friends

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3. Ian and Blanche (1929-1975) Blanche (-1988)

3.1 Weathering the Depression (1929-1945)

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(click footnote number to go between footnote and text)

65. Children were required by law to start school in February of the year they turned six.

66. The term then in use was "wireless."

67. These views are no longer widely held in Australia.

68. Jack Beckett.

69. An Aladdin kerosene lamp with a fluorescent mantle.

70. US supper.