Jan Lord interview, 31 March 2015, 21 April 2015 and 6 May 2015

Dublin Core


Jan Lord interview, 31 March 2015, 21 April 2015 and 6 May 2015




Janice Lord née Ransom was born in Perth in 1944, the eldest child of Dorothy and Aubrey Ransom. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a stay at home parent who later became very actively involved with UWA where she had studied science as an undergraduate.
The family lived initially in West Perth, then later Dalkeith. Jan’s early childhood was typical of the times in that she and her brothers were free to roam and explore. West Perth was a leafy residential area and Dalkeith a new suburb emerging from the bush. Jan attended Subiaco then Dalkeith Primary Schools.
Her upper primary school years were interrupted when she became a victim of the 1956 polio epidemic that saw her spend a year in the Golden Age annexe to Princess Margaret Hospital and which left her with weakened limbs. Like many young polio patients, the return to normal life was not without difficulties and Jan struggled academically both at primary school and during her high school years at St Hilda’s.
This interview picks up Jan’s story as she waits to hear her matriculation results. She talks with great fondness of her studies at UWA and gives fascinating insights into the life of an undergraduate student in the 1960s. She married fellow student, David Lord, who went on to study medicine finally becoming a psychiatrist. The couple have three children and while caring for a young family, Jan returned to study at UWA and she contrasts this mature age student experience with that of her younger years.
Jan’s mother, Dorothy Ransom was a committed UWA Senate member and recipient of the inaugural UWA Chancellor’s Medal in 1996. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to the community particularly through her work at UWA. Jan talks about her mother and her great dedication to UWA.
The experience of suffering a serious illness had a profound effect on Jan and in recent years she became involved with the Post Polio Network and co-wrote a book Poliomyelitis in Western Australia: a History . She also provided research and inspiration for author Joan London’s fictional book The Golden Age .


Lord, Jan


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Anne Yardley


Jan Lord


Shenton Park, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Interview 2: 1 hour, 6 minutes, 30 seconds
Interview 3: 46 minutes, 40 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 53 minutes, 25 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1
0:00 Introduction by Anne Yardley
00:15 Jan’s academic struggles in high school due to polio. Went to St Hilda’s and repeated a year, sitting for matriculation 1962. Exam results published in Daily News newspaper , Jan passed three subjects but needed five to matriculate.
05:00 Studied hard over summer holidays and with coaching, sat supplementary exams and matriculated: I could barely believe it! Who knows what I would have done had I not matriculated. I’m extremely grateful to Mum and Dad for their support getting me to uni because it’s made a huge difference to my life.
08:30 Jan discusses her mother, Dorothy Ransom [1917-2012]: won a scholarship to Perth Modern School, completed a science degree, majoring in zoology and geology, and Graduate Diploma of Education, had research positions and was very involved in voluntary work at UWA: president of Federation of University Women [now Graduate Women], hard working and conscientious Senate member very interested in staff and students, regularly attended graduation ceremonies.
15:00 Jan’s interest was in zoology, she studied psychology, geology, biology and chemistry in first year. Recalls students wearing black gowns to lectures. Discusses university life in the 1960s: she lived at home, spent full days at uni, neither she nor her friends had jobs except during summer holidays, parents paid fees and books: It was very exciting time but I was still totally dependent on my parents. Jan received a Commonwealth scholarship in her second year.
20:00 Jan recalls Freshers’ camp at Araluen and the Freshers’ Ball at Winthrop, an occasion for some students for illicit under age drinking, drinking age was 21. Initiation rites common in most faculties with one student receiving facial burns as a result:
Last Friday, it was revealed that stern disciplinary action had been taken against several students following an initiation torture of a first year Science student. This student had to be treated for facial burns at Royal Perth Hospital as a result of his initiation .
25:00 Fresher activity Meet the Dean. Science dean was foundation professor of micro-biology, Professor Neville Stanley who said to students: Look at the person next to you. Next year, one of you will not be here. Jan was determined to succeed. End of year exam results posted up outside the Ref, she was terrified but had passed. A big achievement for her.
29:00 Describes campus: much more compact in 1963. Reid Library and Arts building under construction, old library partly in Undercroft. Psychology and the Law buildings were weatherboard shacks where Physics is now. Zoology was next to St George’s College in a building purported to have a belfry . Students old enough to drink went to Steve’s Hotel. Describes the Ref, popular place between lectures for food.
34:00 Describes typical student day in Science: three or four lectures in the morning, all notes taken in longhand, lectures non-interactive; lab classes in afternoons. All reference materials in library, more longhand note taking. Lectures not recorded so attendance mandatory. Full days spent at uni with more library time on weekends. University life very social.
40:00 Jan made friends, became part of university community. Discusses geology camp, second year. Boys and girls on separate camps. Boys camping in the bush envied by girls at Araluen on day excursions to Cardup and Boya to investigate sedimentary rock.
Geology Professor Rex Prider’s metamorphic rock outside the department whitewashed in student prank.
45:00 Discusses units: Psych 10 was popular, regarded as easy, taught by Professor Ken Walker, statistics taught by Dr Wally Tauss. Professor Ron Berndt was foundation professor of Anthropology – establishment as a separate department supported by Ken Wallker. Professor Berndt studied under A.P Elkin at Sydney University.
49:30 In 1938, Elkin wrote “The Australian Aborigines, How to Understand Them” , an eye opener to Jan about indigenous culture. Jan’s uncle lived in the Pilbara and artifacts bought by him were donated to the Berndt Museum. Jan’s anthropology tutor, Mary Hodgkin, also advised overseas Asian students. Discusses Colombo Plan for Asian students to study in Australia.
55:00 Jan talks about learning to study successfully by note taking. Discusses exams: It was like going to be executed. It was terrifying. End of year exams included full year’s work with no indication of topics likely to be covered. Most held in Winthrop under strict invigilation. Later studying for a Dip Ed, Jan found exam worth fifty percent with other components included. Much less stressful.
1:15:00 End first interview

Interview 2
00:10 Recognition given by UWA to Dorothy Ellen Ransom on her contribution:
…When I saw people around Mum at UWA, they treated her like a queen. I found it very touching and I could see there was a genuine interest in Mum and Mum had a genuine interest in them and all that was happening at UWA…
Awarded the inaugural Chancellor’s Medal, 1996, at her last Senate meeting. Citation mentioned time on the Senate; with Convocation; with the Federation of University Women [now Graduate Women] also said that she’d been: one of the university’s most assiduous ambassadors in the community. Medal was presented by acting Vice Chancellor, Michael Barber. Family were overjoyed.
Also received Order of Australia, June 1998 with similar citation.
5:00 In 1976, Dorothy Ransom suggested that the university anthem be sung to the music of Gaudeamus Igitur graduation ceremonies. David Tunley arranged first piece of music played when Dorothy received Chancellor’s Medal.
In 1994 she suggested to Registrar Malcolm Orr a competition for an original composition for organ in the style of Gaudeamus Igitur as a graduation processional be awarded. From Dorothy Ransom’s estate, an annual prize in composition, valued at $500, since increased to $1000, is awarded to an undergraduate. Jan and her brother invited to present prize each year.
11:00 Jan discusses debutantes’ ball: popular in 1950s and ‘60s, ‘coming out’ signified entry into society. For Jan’s generation more an opportunity to have fun and meet people. Balls very popular, each university faculty had balls as did other organisations such as Hunt Club, Cancer Crusade, Royal Commonwealth Society.
15:00 Jan ‘came out’ at Red Cross Ball. Process included being accepted by ball committee, choosing gowns, partners, attending rehearsals, pre and post ball parties and being presented to wife of the Governor, Lady Gairdner. Girls wore white gowns, boys dinner suits.
20:00 To me it meant a lot of fun; an opportunity to meet people. It was at the beginning of the university academic year so there was no pressure of exams or big assignments or anything like that. It was what all my friends were doing and being a teenager of course, that’s what you want to do.
Jan met future husband, science student David Lord, at zoology camp at Rottnest research station in orientation week. David invited Jan to St George’s College Ball where he was a resident. He changed study course and continued in medicine.
25:00 Jan and David were engaged in 1967 and married 1968 .
Students addressed academic staff formally: it was all reasonably respectful and a little bit distant. As undergraduates we didn’t call the lecturers by their first names. Zoology department separate from main campus, Professor Waring resisted moving citing lack of time as reason. Zoology was like its own little world really with two lecture theatres, laboratories, library, lunch room. Everyone enjoyed the atmosphere there.
30:00 Jan describes Professor Waring:
Prog, as we called him, could actually be pretty intimidating. He was very tall; he’d come from Liverpool so he had a very distinctive Liverpudlian accent and also a very loud voice. He was never one to mince his words and he had quite an air of authority about him. There was no doubt whatsoever that he was head of the department.
Professor Waring nurtured Zoology students and helped students, including Jan, get their first jobs. Labs were very social environments: Honours students used labs to make snacks for evening suppers.
35:00 Mainly marsupials studied, particularly Rottnest quokkas . Special research interest to Professor Waring, John Shield and Wayne Parker. Projects included studying reproduction which involved students checking on births each night. Jan recalls working with Adrienne Jones and discovering a new joey; describes techniques for checking mother’s pouch.
40:00 Third year zoology camp also at Rottnest research station. Jan understands university leased naval barracks and signal station from Department of Fisheries and Fauna. Staff and PhD students could stay at station. Describes weatherboard house and living arrangements: boys slept in tower, girls in the house with students helping cook and clean. Research undertaken daily usually marine biology but with some terrestrial biology. Lab work done at the station. Jan describes unorthodox method of catching quokkas at night using a jeep and students sitting on the bonnet poised to net quokkas.
45:00 Jan thinks captured quokkas transferred to mainland university labs. Jan reads article by Ernest Hodgkin:
Professor Waring came in 1948 but it was not until 1953 that the state Departments of Fisheries and Fauna secured the lease of the naval barracks and signal station near the main lighthouse, primarily to enable research to be carried out on the marine and terrestrial fauna and flora of Rottnest Island and for the training of undergraduate and post graduate students in essential field disciplines.
Fourth year and Honours students camp on Garden Island studying the tammar . Distressingly, this involved students killing tammars for study purposes. Looking back on it, well, it’s very distressing and I cannot imagine, now, how that sort of study would get past any ethics committee.
Dr Mark Dixon Associate Director (Research Integrity) University of Western Australia provides this statement about ethical guidelines in 2015:
There have been large steps to reduce the suffering of animals, and these are regulated via both a code of ethics and legislation. In particular, the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, which is now in its 8th edition, is quite prescriptive about minimising suffering in animals studied in research.
The animal code of ethics requires the University of Western Australia to convene an animal ethics committee to review every research project that involves animals. Teaching classes that involve animals are also required to be reviewed. The committee must have a balance of members from each of: researchers, veterinarians, representatives from animal welfare groups, and members of the public unaffiliated with the University. Our representatives from animal welfare are leading members of the RSPCA. The committee does not work by majority vote: all members must come to consensus on each project before that project is allowed to begin. The research projects must explain why animals are essential to perform the research, how the number of animals involved is reduced to a minimum, and how the animals will be cared for to minimise suffering.
51:00 Jan discusses Prosh . Lectures were cancelled on Wednesday mornings especially for event; faculties would decorate truck with various themes, special edition of student newspaper with sales going to the charity, examples of title The Sundry Times, the Worst Australian.
54:00 Jan describes her pre Prosh stunt to publicise event to go into CBD and pretend to do a strip tease. Police notified of stunt but Jan was arrested, taken to police station, searched and put in a cell. Student Guild paid five pounds bail; Jan to attend Magistrate’s Court next day to be charged with disorderly conduct. Jan’s lawyer father not amused; actions. Family advised by John Wickham QC, not to appear in Court. Magistrate accepted that it was a stunt and the bail was estreated , no conviction recorded.
1:01:00 Editorial in The West Australian said:
Bizarre though it may have been the strip stunt at a city intersection on Friday was nothing more than a stunt and the girl concerned certainly deserves to suffer no damage to her reputation for it.
Jan gained notoriety; supported by Prosh including director Ralph Alexander who said police had overstepped the mark. That year’s Prosh a success raising 2,450 pounds, a record then.
1:05:00 Jan concerned about parents’ response: They were not pleased. I didn’t want to displease my parents who were of course enormously supportive of me being at university. I was a bit downcast about it but not for long particularly because of the support of fellow students.
1:06:00 End second interview.

Interview 3
00:20 Jan’s first job at Princess Margaret Hospital in cytogenetics lab as medical technologist to replace Helen Trowell on long service leave. Lab tested children for chromosomal abnormality, for example Down Syndrome . Jan took blood, grew then harvested cells and checked under microscope.
05:00 Admits UWA studies had not prepared her for this role. Work interesting and rewarding, friendships made. Jan and David married 1968, Jan moved to another job at Medical School with Dr Byron Kakulas working on muscular dystrophy .
09:50 Jan discusses wedding as very traditional; most planning done by parents, ceremony at St George’s College, reception at Palace Hotel with usual speeches. Honeymooned in Albany. Returning to Perth, David to university, Jan to work as breadwinner: It didn’t seem difficult at the time. It was a no frills existence. Bought small house Redfern Street, Subiaco, helped financially by family.
Enjoyed work, mostly on progressive disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Dr Kakulas’ project to find cause of disease, treatments, most importantly, prevention.
15:00 Again worked on tissue culture from fetal tissue. Jan junior member of team:
I guess I was several steps back from the patients and the families which, because it was such a terrible thing, was a blessing. That didn’t stop me thinking about it and how terrible it would be when you thought you had a perfectly normal child to watch them deteriorate over many years. It would be terrible.
David called up for National Service for service in Vietnam . Jan describes feeling dreadful:
They had this ballot system with birth dates on marbles and his marble would have been pulled out at the end of 1965 just after he’d turned twenty. For people whose birthdates were pulled out of the drum were expected to present for National Service.
20:00 David’s medical studies enabled him to defer until his course and one year residency completed. Possibility of service in Vietnam made the couple delay having children: Yes, it made a huge difference to our lives.
Eight medical students called up, only one went in to army, the rest, including David, failed medical.
25:00 Jan discusses children: Jenny born 1969, James 1970, Jonathan 1973. David pursued psychiatry, family moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, 1974, during his post graduate studies. Returned after three years, David now worked for UWA, couple found housing prices had jumped enormously but managed to buy home in Dalkeith. Jan returned to studies at UWA for a Dip Ed [graduate diploma education]. Hoped to work in primary or special needs education: … It was then that I understood how stressful it could be juggling study and a family. Jan describes routine during studies, friends and family helping with children, returning to university library after children in bed at night.
30:00 Took four years to complete diploma then unable to get a position in State system without taking a country position. Found work teaching an autistic child, job sharing with another newly qualified teacher: work both rewarding and fun. Second experience studying very different from undergraduate years, less focus on socialising.
Jan valued her university education: loved zoology; mixed with diverse people; students had fun in 1960s; opened up work opportunities.
35:15 UWA as a campus in the community according to Jan, still makes use of UWA going to Somerville cinema, Writers’ Festival, extension courses; meets friends for lunch in gardens; visits campus with grandchildren. Has taken youngest grandchild to School of Music course, Junior Music run by Jenny Stephenson for pre-school children: …a wonderful offering of the School of Music for children to become familiar with music. Enjoyed exploring gardens en route to music school.
39.30 Jan volunteers interviewing prospective medical and dental students, a component of GAMSAT assessment procedure. Interviews tightly structured, volunteers undergo extensive training; a very responsible job:
During the interview, when you ask a question, you are advised that you need to ask the question in exactly the same way for each student. Then we all write furiously because we try to write down everything that the student says.
Importance of UWA to Jan:
I have an enormous fondness for it and part of that fondness stems from my familiarity with it. I just feel it’s almost like my garden that I can just go down there—I’ve been going there for so long that it’s such a familiar place and that feels very nice, very nice indeed.
Experience of serious illness has influenced Jan’s life: learning to accept limitations; learning greater tolerance of difference in people; understanding impact of serious illness on a family; advocating strongly for childhood vaccination programs; learning to count blessings not disappointments.
46:30 END final interview.




Lord, Jan, “Jan Lord interview, 31 March 2015, 21 April 2015 and 6 May 2015,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024, https://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/98.