Jean Whitelock was born in Thornbury in 1933, so her junior school time spanned the war years when the threat of invasion was felt so keenly that her mother and aunties learned first aid and her father built an air raid shelter in the backyard that he kept well stocked with tinned food.
‘The school had zigzag air raid shelters dug in the playground, which filled with water in the winter and were covered in ice in the frosty mornings so I'm glad we didn't ever have to use them,’ Jean says.
After a brief stint of office work, Jean went on to study general nursing, midwifery and infant welfare.
‘I was a committed Christian young woman and I felt that the Lord was saying to me nursing was what he wanted me to do so I did it and I loved every minute of it.’
Papua New Guinea
Jean’s fiancé Ian, who was training to become a Methodist Minister, successfully applied for a missionary posting after they were married. With their firstborn still a baby, the couple were sent to Papua New Guinea.
‘When we first went, Ian was teaching grade seven and eight in the mission school, then we moved on from there and he was training young pastors for their own village work.’
Jean did not have a formal role at the mission, but her nursing experience often came in handy.
‘The women in the village had become midwives by practice but if they got into difficulties they would come into the medical station and the (male orderly) just didn't have anything to do with people having babies so I had to help out with that from time to time, and occasionally I had to stitch up a cut because the medical orderly didn't do that either. He could treat malaria, he could treat coughs and colds and put on a dressing or a bandage but anything more serious than that fell to me.’
The couple spent a total of 12 years in PNG, where Jean had two more daughters. Their son was born in Australia when they were back on leave.
‘By our standard of living here, it was very basic, but we were fine. We didn't feel deprived in any way. Really. We were pretty comfortable.’
Jean’s children studied by correspondence and would play with the PNG kids who lived at the mission boarding schools.
‘The children loved it. Our two older girls are in their sixties now and I was talking with the second one, Kerryn fairly recently and she said they were free, wonderful days.’
Back to Australia
After returning to Australia, Jean re-registered as a nurse and worked in aged care for 20 years.
One of the highlights of Jean’s life was returning to PNG six years ago.
‘We really came away feeling that the church was alive and well, and our young students were now the senior people in the church there. People were still going through the waters of baptism on confession of faith, and it was all pretty pleasing.’
‘I hope that it's come through that our life is really led by our commitment to Jesus Christ and our church life. We make a practice of reading a portion of our bible most days and spending time in prayer.’
Reviewed 25 July 2023