Ian and Blanche


1.4.1 Ian: Youth in Jennerberring (1910-1922)

Ian learned to read and write at home, and subsequently attended school for two years starting at age eleven. By this time the family had moved from Meckering to the new farm at Jennerberring.  From there Ian rode six miles each way to school on horseback.

For excellence in his studies he received bound collections of the English "Boys’ Own Paper Annual" and of the American "Saint Nicholas Annual", both inscribed in the teacher’s30  copperplate hand: Best Pupil, Mooranning Rural School.31  He was best pupil out of only a small number, perhaps eight or ten.

Ian learned the most important lesson of his schooldays—the foundation for another attitude that stayed with him the rest of his life—one day when the teacher happened to be out of the schoolroom.  Despite her admonition that the children were to continue quietly with their lessons, some of them, Ian among them, started talking and laughing—until they were startled to hear the teacher speaking through the window at the back of the room: "Hmm, so this is how you carry on when you think I’m not watching!" Ian realized then that he did not wish to require watching.

Ian left school at fourteen to take on the job of tending a team of working horses on the farm.  Since working horses usually lay down to sleep, they had to be provided every evening with a clean stable and fresh straw for bedding.

In his two years of schooling, Ian learned as much as many children do in six or more.   He understood such things as the orbits of the moon and planets, the origin of the seasons and tides and prevailing winds, and the use of the apostrophe to denote possession.  He formed a habit of asking himself questions and puzzling out the answers.  For instance: Why do corrugations form on gravel roads?32  What is the advantage of putting big wheels rather than small ones on horse-drawn carts?  Why does water flow uphill in a siphon?

Arithmetic was Ian’s forte.  By the time he left school he could do practical farm calculations (for example, the total cost of seed oats at so much per bag to plant forty acres at so many pounds an acre) without pencil and paper.  In later life he sometimes startled store clerks by tallying a long order to finish first despite reading the docket upside-down.  In pub dart games such as 101-up, having unhesitatingly tossed the darts to the exact number, he liked to stand aside, smirking, while onlookers struggled to catch up to the score.

Unlike his father, Ian never developed an interest in literature or in large philosophical issues.  While in later life he regularly read newspapers and the weekly Western Mail,33  he hardly ever opened a book.  His political views were the same as Alexander’s and most country people: he loathed socialism and every other form of government intrusion into business and private life.  His notion of a good life was to work or roam free, outdoors with horse and dog.

Ian Hunting Rabbits, 1917Ian about to Set Off for School 1917Ian’s sense of humor was of the sort that finds expression in mimicry and practical jokes. One of his exercises in buffoonery is remembered as succeeding in deflating an oversized ego, and in having a spectacular unintended result as well.  The setting was an evening party at the McDonald farm at Yoting, east of Quairading.  The victim was a would-be suitor of the McDonalds’ daughter Alice, later the wife of Ian’s brother Dave.34  Unimpressed by the young man’s potential as a son-in-law, the host assigned him to the bridge table rather than to the woolshed dance with Alice and the other young people.   Furious, the thwarted suitor stormed from the house in the darkness to where he had left his buggy with the horse dozing between the shafts.  He untied the horse’s halter, leapt onto his vehicle and brought the whip down with a crack on the sleeping horse’s back.  At that point, Ian’s preparations had their intended effect.   Ian had quietly uncoupled the horse from the buggy, so that the startled animal galloped off, leaving its owner stranded in an embarrassing situation.  The unintended effect was discovered the next morning.  The bolting horse fell off one of the low cliffs, or breakaways, that are common in the area, and broke its neck.

Continue reading: 1.4.2 Ian in Tambellup (1924-1927)

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1.4 Quairading to Tambellup

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1.4.2 Ian in Tambellup (1924-1927)

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30. The teacher was [probably] Miss Janet Wilson.

31. There is a marker on the school site, at the dam 16 miles northeast of Quairading and 6 miles north of the site of the McRae house at Jennerberring.

32. Upon encountering a bump in the road, a power wheel rises off the surface, loses traction and turns faster. When it falls back to the surface, it throws up gravel to increase the height of the bump.

33. Later renamed The Countryman.

34. Ian never admitted responsibility, but just before he died in 1979 Alice’s brother Jack McDonald insisted that the idea was Ian’s and he and his brother William McDonald helped him carry it out.  Sources: Dave and Alice’s son John McRae and daughter Mary Strickland.