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Interview with Jean Nysen the ex-WRANS


I flew to Sydney to interview Jean Nysen today. Jean Nysen (McKenzie), the 87th woman inducted into the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS), was born at sea aboard the TSS Jervis Bay in 1922. Both her father and her brother were in the Royal Australian Navy and, hearing of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay and then the disappearance of the HMAS Sydney, she decided to join the war effort.

One of the most fascinating stories Jean told was about the time, as a child, she flew aboard the Southern Cross with Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith. Her father was on board testing a method of allowing the pilot and co-pilot to ascertain bearings during their upcoming flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand in 1933. During my interview Jean went into another room and came back with a piece of the aeroplane’s wing, removed for repairs, which had been kept by her father as a memento of the occasion.

I’ll post the introduction to the chapter on Jean Nysen here on my blog in the coming weeks.

Jean Nysen in her WRANS uniform during WWII

Jean Nysen in her WRANS uniform during WWII

A piece from the wing of the Southern Cross. Click on the photo to make it larger.

Interview with Captain Donald L. Garnham the 'Cape Horner'

I flew down to Hobart today to interview Captain Donald L. Garnham. At ninety-eight, Don is one of the few remaining ‘Cape Horners’, who sailed aboard a four-masted barque from South Australia to Europe in 1936. The ships were laden with grain and used sand, shovelled by hand into cane baskets in the hold, for ballast. It’s estimated only about thirty-two of these Cape Horners are left in Australia.

It was a wonderful interview. Don showed me the painting of him done by Dennis Adams where he is clinging to the sails of the Herzogin Cecilie during rough seas. I also bought a copy of Old sea dogs of Tasmania by Andrew Wilson from him ( It is a beautiful book, full of photographs of sailors in locations around Tasmania. Don is featured in one of the chapters.

Keep checking back here on the blog, I’ll post a chapter teaser on Captain Donald L. Garnham soon.

Down at the harbour in Hobart

Interview with 'Sparra from Yarra'

Today I interviewed Sparra from Yarra while sitting on the front veranda of the Whorouly Pub ( Sparra is a wonderful person and I was lucky to be able to catch up with him, and his gypsy caravan, for an interview. I left the pub many hours later with a gift from Sparra, a Tumut broom. The Tumut Broom Factory ( has been making handmade millet brooms since 1946!

Keep checking back here on the blog, I’ll post a chapter teaser on Sparra from Yarra soon.

Sparra and one of his Clydesdale horses

Sparra's gypsy wagon

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