by Archdeacon Ken Parker, Sorrento, 2003
are spoilt in these days by television and other forms of instant entertainment.
We have almost forgotten the importance of story-telling and the wisdom gained
in listening to a story.
is one of interest, for Gwen Jordan’s life has never been boring. She has seen
a great deal. She has accomplished much. She has met all sorts of interesting
people all around the world. In the course of a full life Gwen has contributed
much to the world in which she lives, especially through her work with the young
via the Guide movement, and her work with weaving. In her enthusiastic
commitment to her craft she reminds each of us of the need to use well the gifts
we have within us, that we might be co-creators with the Creator God.
hope that this book will provoke self-reflection in the reader, on the struggles
and satisfactions that are part of life, on the people, the faith and philosophy
that shape it. The power of story is to provoke story within the listener. As
you the reader reflect on Gwen’s narrative, I trust that it will call you to
reflect deeply on what life has woven within you and on what you are weaving
and trusting when you can’t see ahead is what faith is all about……
often wonder how different my life would have been if penicillin had been
discovered by Howard Walter Florey in 1936. His research actually began in the
early 1920s in Oxford, UK, but it wasn’t until 1942 that penicillin was first
administered, in a war zone in Cairo.
was in 1936 at the age of eight that osteomyelitis entered my bloodstream and
first settled in my left arm followed by my right leg. At the time, I was living
with my family in Ballarat.
vague memory is of my two brothers, Geoff, fourteen, and Alex, thirteen, coming
to Novar Private Hospital to read to me. I have no memory whatsoever of the
journey from Ballarat to Melbourne but my mother said, ‘It was a very rough
trip by ambulance.’ I was admitted to the Children’s Hospital in Carlton. I
was in such pain that I cried day and night. There were no antibiotics in those
days. My surgeon was Mr John Whitaker.
well as my two brothers, I had three sisters, Margaret, Ruth and Joyce, aged
ten, six and four, and a father who was badly gassed in France during the First
World War and was an accountant in the Bank of Australasia.
mother had an enormous task organising the family and journeying by train from
Ballarat to visit me. On one visit she did not expect to see me again, I was so
sick. However, a remarkable change took place when I was transferred to the
Orthopaedic Hospital at Mt Eliza. It was even harder for my mother to visit, as
she had to get a train to Frankston from Melbourne and then a bus to Mt Eliza.
Buses did not always fit in with the return trip and she was grateful to
the milkman in his horse and cart or some other transport that might pick her
up. Frequently she would be running along the platform at Spencer Street Station
and would be seen by the guard on the train.
were usually only allowed on Sunday but my Mum had special permission to come on
weekdays as my brothers and sisters were at school. Special arrangements were
made for Joyce, who was only four, to start school. Alex and Geoff were sent to
visit me in hospital.
was a pool at the hospital. I longed to go in the water but with a plaster from
chest to toes on both legs, this was impossible. Later the plaster was just on
my right leg. Dr Douglas Galbraith was medical superintendent and before someone
went home, he used to invite him or her to a meal at his home just up the road.
I always wanted my turn to come. It did not ever happen because in July 1937,
there was a poliomyelitis epidemic and I was sent home in my plaster to make
room for other children.
I went home from the Orthopaedic, having been there eighteen months, I was given
a royal blue jumper and a check skirt to match. I remember the party at home
with balloons and party food. A long pram arrived from somewhere and I was
pushed to school and Sunday school in it.
coronation of King George VI was celebrated in Ballarat. I was given a Baby
Brownie camera and took photos of displays in the town. One photo has in it my
foot at the end of the pram. Later, iron with rubber was put under the foot of
the plaster so I could walk short distances.
parents were against my receiving correspondence schooling. They wanted me to
mix with other children. I had to be taken to Melbourne to Bethesda Hospital to
get the plaster off. I was put in a bath whilst an electric saw was used - a
frightening experience. I went next door to Epworth Hospital for physiotherapy
and eventually went home to Ballarat with a caliper on my right leg.
this time my left arm, which had the osteomyelitis first, would not straighten.
It was thought an operation to straighten it might be a good idea. My parents
were against that as then I might not be able to bend it and that would be
worse. I was given sandbags to carry but I think what helped most was turning
the skipping rope for my sisters to skip. I wished I could skip too.
was a long time before I could walk to Pleasant Street Primary School. I had to
cross busy Sturt Street but fortunately, there was a place halfway across where
I could wait awhile. I only went in the mornings for a long time and sometimes
in the afternoon.
day my brother Geoff dinked me on the front of his bike and my leg got caught in
the spokes. Someone had to get pliers to cut the spokes and get my leg out.
Another time I crossed from one side of the passage to the other and my leg just
bent. I was back in hospital having it straightened and set once again.
McLean was a lovely lady who gave me six chooks when I came home from hospital.
When I was able to walk, I fed the chooks and collected the eggs, which I sold
to my mother. I had a notebook to record the number of eggs I sold. Mary McLean
was a teacher at the girls’ school and she visited me and helped me with
craftwork. An almoner, Miss Bethune from the Crippled Children’s Society,
which was newly formed, visited and arranged for craft materials to be sent from
Melbourne. I made felt toys and macramé knotting.
Saturdays my sisters and I sometimes walked to the pine plantation where we made
houses and beds out of the pine needles and enjoyed our sweeties of licorice
blocks, milk shakes and all-day suckers bought at the shop on the way. There
were mullock heaps left from the gold mines and my sisters climbed these. I
thought they were huge but when I visited later in life, I found they were quite
Dad rode his pushbike home from the bank for dinner in the middle of the day. It
was unheard of for us to take lunch to school. In the winter our shoes and
gloves would be warmed in the oven of our wood stove. Before breakfast we had
our jobs to do and mine was to stand in front of the fire and make the toast. My
sisters took turns doing their practice at the piano. Geoff and Alex had outside
jobs to do. Dishes were done and beds made before we went to school.
the summer my mother would take our tea to Lake Wendouree, which was a short
distance from the school, and Dad would meet us there. We did have a car when we
were small, but it had to be sold, as money was in short supply.
Sunday evening we all walked to St Peter’s and listened to the bells ringing
for half an hour. Next to St Peter’s was a house with a big hedge and hiding
behind the hedge were boys who dropped coins and we were tricked each time
thinking we had dropped our collection. We always sat in the very front row. I
liked the music of Evensong. St Peter’s had a beautiful organ and a choir of
about ten ladies and men. It was good discipline for us to sit still and feel
the presence of God and I am sure this was a good foundation for our spiritual
life in the future.
we would set up a stall in the back garden and raise money for the Red Cross or
we would arrange a penny concert. Items would take place on our dining room
table. Favourites were ‘Run, Rabbit Run’ and ‘Little Sir Echo’ when the
echo came from under the table.
mother had to take me to Melbourne to see my orthopaedic specialist John
Whitaker. We travelled by train from Ballarat. In the winter it was very cold
and the only heating was foot warmers and a second pair of pants. I always had a
Chicks’ Own comic to read. We did not have much money and this was a
luxury. Between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh we went to the dining car on the train
to have lunch. At this point the train almost went in a circle and I could see
the Children’s Hospital, we spent hours in a very big room like a hall.
Gradually we were moved nearer and nearer to the front then around a corner and
finally into John Whitaker’s room. He often consulted with John Colquhoun who
was in a room next door. Mr Jim Thomas, a jeweller from Ballarat, often drove us
home and we stopped at Bacchus Marsh for a meal. Mine would be brought out to
the car on a tray. I thought this was very special.
the age of eleven it was decided to operate on my right leg to lengthen it. The
operation happened on a day that the temperature reached 106°F and Dad had to
buy a lightweight suit. It was February 13th 1939 and there were bad bushfires.
After the operation I was transferred to the After-Care Hospital in Collingwood.
While there I was given a loom already threaded up to weave on. This experience
firmly fixed in my mind that, in the future, I wanted to weave and return to the
Orthopaedic Hospital at Mt Eliza to teach craft, including weaving, to the
I reached grade five at Pleasant Street Primary School I was asked what I wanted
to do when I left school. I thought the teachers would think me stupid if I said
a craft teacher at a hospital so I said a dressmaker. In that year, because of
my illness, I only attended school for a very few weeks. Despite this I was put
up into grade six. My sister Ruth and I were in the same grade and when I went
on to Ballarat High School, it was Ruth who transported me every day. I sat on
the carrier sideways on the back of her bike with my case beside me. We had a
school uniform: navy blue tunic and blazer with a white blouse, black stockings,
navy blue gloves and hat, always to be worn outside school grounds. A prefect
was always on duty at the gate. I was thirteen when I began at Ballarat High
School and I was there until I turned sixteen. They were four hard years. I was
in pain most of the time as abscesses would form on my arm or leg and these
would break causing small pieces of diseased bone to come away.
came easily to me and I got marks in the ninety percent range, but I could not
concentrate on History, Geography or English. I liked cooking best and this was
possibly because I was standing up and moving around. My right hip had
completely fused and so sitting was extremely difficult, especially as we were
in desks. I never complained because I did not want to be treated differently to
the other girls and boys. It was impossible for me to join in sport or physical
education and I was very bored just sitting watching. I quite liked science
because I was often standing, doing experiments.
sisters Margaret and Ruth belonged to the Girl Guides and went to Scots Church
hall in North Ballarat where our friend Jean Murdoch was the Guide Captain. At
one stage it was thought I might be a Post Guide but again my parents were not
keen, so at thirteen I was considered able to get two trams each Friday night to
go to Guides. I was delighted. I was put in Heather Patrol with Margaret, and
later transferred to Robin Patrol where I became Patrol Leader. We had navy blue
uniforms and a pink tie which showed we belonged to the Tenth Ballarat Guides of
which we were very proud. I wasn’t able to join in the active games which were
competitive between patrols, so I kept the score.
night I fell and had to be taken home. I know I screamed with pain and fright.
The bone in my right leg had bent and it had to be operated on, broken and
plastered again. Since the leg lengthening operation, my left leg had grown more
than my right, so I was back with a built-up shoe. The build-up was made of iron
and when I walked it left an imprint, which really annoyed me, but if I walked
on asphalt it made a noise and this was worse. Our next-door neighbour Charlie
Rowe told me, when I walked past his place, that he did not want to know that I
had any problem. This meant I had to keep my back very straight as I walked by
his fence, which had a low hedge, and it was a challenge for me to keep my
shoulders straight. I have helped many people by telling them this story. The
health rhyme I learnt as a Girl Guide I believe in to this day.
‘Only feed on wholesome fare,
through your nostrils breathe fresh air,
clean yourself inside and out,
twist and bend and run about.’
Guides was good for me as I could use my skills to obtain badges. I got my
Cook’s, Housekeeper, Laundress, Needlewoman, Thrift, Writer, Knitter,
Music-Lover and Toy-Maker badges. We went on hikes and some of these were bike
hikes. Ruth took me on the back of the bike, the same as she transported me to
school. We sometimes collected rosehips for the hospital as Vitamin C was
extracted from them.
was during the war and we worked at the Comfort Fund depot sorting papers. It
was a terribly dirty job. Our Captain, Jean Murdoch, married and became Jean
Ince. She was a lovely lady with strong ideals and believed that only your best
was good enough. She instilled in us a love of the outdoors and expected us to
keep the promise we had made as Guides: ‘To do my best, to do my duty to God
and the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Guide law.’
ten laws were:
A Guide’s Honour is to be trusted
A Guide is loyal
A Guide’s duty is to be useful and to help others
A Guide is a friend to all
A Guide is courteous
A Guide is a friend to animals
A Guide obeys orders
A Guide smiles and sings under all difficulties
A Guide is thrifty
A Guide is pure in thought, word and deed
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