Sometimes a small window appears allowing us to peer into the life of ordinary people at a time in their lives where what they have been doing is not so ordinary. In this case, an article from 1947 is that window. Through it we catch a glimpse in time of a young woman travelling to Christmas Island to help a friend in need.
Miss Joan Richardson, a nurse, has had to fight for a permit to enter Christmas Island so that she may look after her unwell friend. She is eight days short of completing her course at King Edward Hospital in Perth when she leaves on board the Islander for Christmas Island.
Her friend is Mrs S. D’ath, formerly Miss Alma Bancroft. She is a young woman who has had an intriguing upbringing and, as I discovered, had previously worked on the Island for two years starting from 1938, but more on that after the following article. (If you would also like to read about life on Christmas Island in 1946/47, from a woman’s perspective, Gwen Pettigrew gives a fascinating account.)
When we heard that Miss Joan Richardson was packing her bags for Christmas Island we wondered why. It is a place few people would choose for a holiday, even if tourists were permitted.
In the Indian Ocean, about 1,200 miles north-west of Perth, it is owned by a private British phosphate company where approval must be obtained before anyone may visit the island. The white people, not many more than a dozen, are all in the phosphate business, all food supplies have to be sent from Fremantle, and mail is non-existent except for letters which arrive on the food ship every few months. A cable station provides the only day-to-day link with the outside world.
Miss Richardson, who left on the Islander at 6.30 a.m. last Saturday, is going to Christmas Island for three or four months to look after a friend, Mrs. S. d’Ath, formerly Miss Alma Bancroft, who has not been well since her baby was born, and in the absence of a hospital, Miss Richardson, who is a trained nurse, will be able to do much to help her.
The Islander left much earlier than was expected owing to a food shortage at Christmas Island, and Miss Richardson was in a last minute panic of packing when we saw her.
“I am not taking any winter clothes,” she said, “for it is terribly hot.” She said she hoped to swim, play tennis and fish during her stay. People go across to Singapore for shopping or holidays, she said. “It is only a day or two away, and on the island there is nothing to spend one’s money on. In fact, you buy vegetables, meat, hankies, soap and everything else in the one shop.”
During the war the scorched earth policy was put into practice on the island, said Miss Richardson, and when the evacuated people returned they had to build up and reorganise the society as best they could. “As far as I know, my friends built the house they are now living in,” she said.
Miss Richardson did her three years’ nursing at the Royal Perth Hospital, but still has eight days more before she will be finished her course at King Edward Hospital. She felt that the opportunity of the trip was too good to be put aside. “It wasn’t easy,” she told us. “I had to fight hard to get a permit, and I will still have my training to finish when I return.”
Between Ourselves (1947, May 8). Western Mail (Perth, WA), p. 3 (Women’s Magazine).
I was curious about these two women.
I found two articles about Alma Bancroft prior to her marriage.
Miss Alma Bancroft who reached Perth about three months ago from Christmas Island, where she had spent two years, commenced duties on Monday as general secretary of the Women’s Service Guilds of Western Australia, being the fifth to hold this position since the inauguration of the guilds nearly 30 years ago. Notwithstanding her youth she is in her very early twenties – Miss Bancroft is widely travelled and has had secretarial experience in England. Much of her childhood was spent in Africa and she has attended school in Morocco and Nairobi finishing in Paris. Her particular interests are the English language and economics.
What women are doing (1940, July 3). The West Australian (Perth, WA), p. 4.
And then this article:
What are Women’s Organisations Doing? News from East and West
WOMEN’S SERVICE GUILDS OF W.A.
At the first executive meeting for the new year members were pleased to welcome back to the chair, after sick leave, the State President, Mrs. D. Johnston. A welcome was also extended to Miss Shirley Holt, who has replaced Miss Alma Bancroft as State Secretary. Miss Bancroft, who resigned her position to take up war duties, carries with her the good wishes for the future of all members.
What are Women’s Organisations Doing? (1942, March 18). The Dawn (Perth, WA), p. 3
It is hoped that Alma made a full recovery with the care and friendship of her friend. I could find no further information for her or her husband, S. d’Ath, after this article was written. I wonder what position S. d’Ath held on Christmas Island?
And what of Joan Richardson? Did she manage to finish her studies? I could not find any more information about her either. In the West Australian Reverse Marriage Index there is a Joan Richardson listed as having married Arthur McKendry in 1949. Is this “our” Joan? The date is probable.
Without further investigation, the curtains are now drawn across the window.