Ian and Blanche

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3.1.1 Early Struggles

Ian and Blanche were married at Cottesloe, a seaside suburb of Perth, Western Australia, in 1929.55  They had three children and seven grandchildren:

Eion (1930—) m. 1954 Jean Eagle (1929—) (Graeme b. 1957, Colin b. 1960).
Gwyneth (1935—1992) m.1956 Brian Murphy (1935—) (Ralton b. 1956, Noelene b. 1958, Kelvin b. 1960).
Graeme (1937—) m. 1965 Gwenda Temby (1944—) (Jennifer b. 1972, Leanne b. 1975, both adopted).

A formal wedding photo shows Blanche half-smiling, Ian calmly triumphant. At the moment the shutter clicked, Ian recalled, he felt the skin stretched tight across his forehead and his ears laid back like those of a racehorse striding out ahead of the pack. And behind Blanche’s expression lay the thought that the bloke with the eyebrows really was the spitting image of the tuxedo-clad chimpanzee depicted on the wrappers of the popular "Monkey" brand of scouring soap.

After they were married the couple moved to Gilella, the home of Ian and his parents.

The move was difficult for Blanche. The house on Gilella was far less pleasant and comfortable than her own childhood home, and it lacked amenities that she was used to, like a covered place to do the washing. Another drawback: an interior passageway open to the east; a wind from that direction set up a mournful howl that threw Blanche into depression.

Worse, she found herself in conflict with her irascible, self-righteous father-in-law, Alexander—"that bible-basher" as she called him—who found fault with everything she did. Sarah and Ian supported Blanche, but they couldn’t stop Alexander from undermining the young bride’s self-confidence.

Blanche, with Baby Eion, 1931The couple’s first child, Eion, was born on Christmas day, 1930. The temperature in Nurse Turner’s was 104 F, and Ian recalled the new baby looking like a "boiled lobster."

After the arrival of the baby, Alexander became still harder to live with. Dismissive of the merits of his six other grandchildren, he doted on the newborn and even insisted on an idiosyncratic spelling of the baby’s name.56  Before long he was on the way to turning "my little man," as he called the child, into a spoiled, whining brat.

But one day when Alexander was away, Blanche responded to the baby’s whining the way she’d learned in caring for her younger brother—with a sharp slap to the behind. A blessed silence fell—the slap, or perhaps the hugs that quickly followed, had solved the problem! Suddenly Blanche found the confidence that enabled her to "stand on her own two feet" against the whims of her father-in-law. But she didn’t immediately lose her awe of the censorious old codger; she was terrified that he might notice the four blue finger marks that lingered on the child’s bottom.

The baby showed no lasting ill-effects from being at the center of that battle of wills. As a toddler he was slow and dreamy, a matter of some concern to his parents despite Sarah’s reassurances, but he developed normally.

Not long after she had the baby, Blanche contracted a bladder infection which persisted despite the efforts of her doctor in Albany57  and of a specialist in Perth. She did not fully regain her health until penicillin became available after the war.

Ian did everything he could in a practical way to help Blanche recover from her illness, but it was not in his nature to provide any steadfast emotional support. Grown increasingly testy and impatient, he occasionally absented himself of an evening in search of more cheerful company. Lonely and despondent, Blanche strove to cheer herself up by banging out old songs on Gilella’s out-of-tune piano, squinting to read the words by the flickering yellow light of a kerosene lamp.

While Blanche struggled with her illness and with domestic problems, Ian felt little but frustration on the farm. The Fordson tractor broke down so often that he risked missing the season, and it was becoming plain that Gilella was not big enough or fertile enough to carry the thousand head of sheep needed to break even with wool prices at depression levels.


Continue reading: 3.1.2 Expansions and Improvements


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3.1 Weathering the Depression (1929-1945)

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Footnotes:
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55. They probably stayed with Alexander’s sister Jean, (Mrs. Jack McKay) who had moved to Cottesloe from Northam.

56. According to Alexander (but perhaps no other authority), Eion is the correct English version of the Scottish Gaelic name corresponding to John.

57. Dr. Hanrahan, a flamboyant figure who sometimes visited patients flying his own Tiger Moth airplane decorated with a stork motif.