A very different childhood

Jack McGrath was eighteen when he enlisted to fight in the war. Right from the beginning of his service, Jack was plagued by illness and injury – pleurisy, pneumonia, and malaria sent him to hospital several times. Eventually Jack was medically discharged, sailing home to Australia in 1917. The following year he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).

Though a sick man, Jack tried to rebuild his life. In 1925 he married Nellie and soon after they welcomed their baby girl, Joyce. The family embarked on a life on the land, growing grapes in Red Cliffs, Victoria. Within a few years Joyce succumbed to TB. Jack had passed his war illness on to his daughter.

Joyce’s treatment was extreme. The little girl was laid still, cotton wool was placed on her lower ribs down to her toes, then she was encased in smooth, white plaster. Both legs kept in splints. Each day, Joyce and the other children in her ward were wheeled outside to absorb the effects of sunshine and fresh air. This is how Joyce lived at Frankston Children’s Hospital. And her fight would continue well into adulthood and long after her father had died.
Joyce’s future seemed to be shaped by her illness. Most professions were unsuitable given the ongoing pain and impairment she suffered. But nothing could discourage Joyce’s creativity. She took up drawing classes at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in her early twenties and (after decades of application and study) became the Arts Librarian at the State Library of Victoria.

In time Joyce McGrath helped to create the largest art collection of any Australian public library. He story reminds us how war came home to Australia, and passed its effects from one generation to another. But this is also a story of courage and resilience. In spite of all her hardships and misfortunes, Joyce McGrath’s life was one of achievement and service.