Ian and Blanche

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1.4.3 Ian’s First Years on Gilella (1927-1929)

The Victorian and Western Australian branches of the family had kept in touch over the years—for example Sarah’s sister Eliza (Lot) Butler visited in 1915—and Ian took pleasure in meeting his relatives during his tours of Victoria. He became a favorite of his cousin Winnie (later Winnie Johnson), daughter of Sarah’s brother Louis.

On returning to Western Australia in 1927, Ian had to contend with the problems of working the relatively poor land of Gilella. Only about 900 of its 1400 acres was useable, the rest being sandy scrub. But the twenties were fairly good years for farming around Tambellup. The fine-wooled merino sheep thrived throughout the district, and wool prices were relatively high. As fleeces became heavier, the sheep became more susceptible to blowfly strike—the incursion of blowflies to lay their eggs in sullied wool around the animals’ breech—but regular shearing of the breech area, known as crutching, sufficed to control the problem. The sheep disease known as staggers was found to be preventable by feeding copper sulfate mixed with salt. The rabbit plague, though serious, was not as devastating as it was in Quairading.

Ian developed a cautious approach both to farm work and to finances. He knew of farmers losing their lives in accidents with machinery or livestock, and he knew that few of those who worked for many years with farm machinery reached old age with all their fingers and toes intact. So he followed common-sense safety rules for every task, particularly those involving machinery or fire or firearms. He was incensed to read in the paper of a worker starting a fire in a careless accident, then getting a medal for heroism in putting it out: "A medal!" he exclaimed. "Should’ve given the silly cow a kick in the behind for starting it in the first place."

Ian on the FordsonTragically there was one safety precaution that Ian neglected. He was a heavy smoker, an addiction that ultimately hastened his death from lung cancer.

As for finances, Ian followed one simple rule: to the extent possible, stay out of debt.

The 1927 Chrysler proved a reliable machine whose four-cylinder engine never failed to start and whose wood-spoked wheels sometimes churned a bit but never got stuck in the deep sands of Gilella. In contrast, the Fordson tractor had only served for a year or two before it began to give trouble. Exasperated, Ian fell into the habit of repeating its start-up instructions: (1) Turn fuel cock. (2) Set throttle and choke. (3) Crank, and the tractor should start. And the tractor should start. That final phrase, which Ian pronounced in an ironic tone, later became a family expression for some outcome unlikely but wistfully hoped for.

The end of the decade found Ian in the toils of romance, and in 1929 he forsook all others for 19-year-old Blanche Gittins, whose home was on a farm only three miles from Gilella.


Continue reading: 2. Blanche Gittins (1910-1987) Background and Youth (-1929)


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1. Ian McRae (1904-1975) Background and Youth (-1929)

1.4 Quairading to Tambellup

1.4.2 Ian in Tambellup (1924-1927)

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1.4.3 Ian’s First Years on Gilella (1927-1929)

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2. Blanche Gittins (1910-1987) Background and Youth (-1929)