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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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London, Joy (?–1995)

by Donald Walker

Joy London, whose gift of her property at Kioloa to the University in 1975 created the Edith and Joy London Foundation, died suddenly on 8 July 1995. For the past 20 years, the Foundation has constituted the University's field station, particularly for teaching in the field sciences and, in accordance with the terms of the gift, has also continued to function as a small farm. Professor Donald Walker, first chairman of the Foundation's Management Committee, has contributed these comments from his eulogy for Miss London spoken at her funeral on 14 July.

In a sense, Joy London and her family came to Australia by mistake. Bound for New Zealand in the early 1920s, they slipped ship in Sydney and set up house there and later at the head of the Araluen valley. They came to Kioloa in 1929, soon after the destruction of the timber mill and the decline in the local population. These small settlements along the coast became backwaters of society dependent on their own physical, cultural and emotional resources. It was in this context that Joy spent about 40 years of her life. Nobody in the family had any farming experience, but with a good deal of help they learned the hard way. It was hard and often depressing work, but I suspect that they enjoyed battling through. Joy was thoroughly involved in every aspect of this; it was a tough, knockabout life but one which had its other side framed by the rather austere social and personal standards of her mother. Yet it wasn't all work and no play, nor was Joy a totally compliant daughter. There was plenty of the rebel in her and she had plenty of tales of the high jinks of those times. Indeed, it was one of her most striking characteristics throughout her life that she was able to find or make ample opportunities to live enthusiastically and fully within whatever constraints geography and responsibility imposed.

With the years, responsibility mounted, particularly after her mother's death in 1958. And the world around her began to change at about that time: more and more people visited the area, first to holiday and then to live. This didn't altogether suit Joy. She bore no animosity toward the newcomers; indeed, she made many good friends amongst them. Nor was she against change in general - far from it. But she respected the history which she had herself lived and valued the new alongside it. She feared that the momentum of change would swallow up the old, leaving no trace of it behind. In her own sphere the only action she could hope to take lay in maintaining the integrity of her own property. Yet even this was threatened as the very nature of farming changed, forcing more and more small, marginally viable properties to give in to the pressures for suburban development. It was characteristic of her realism and foresight that she decided that the only way to keep her property was to give it away and to do so under such conditions as would guarantee what might be called its dynamic preservation far into the future, far beyond her lifetime.

I don't need to reiterate the manner in which, in 1975, the Australian National University became the beneficiary of this gift and the agent of Joy's vision. But bearing in mind the circumstances of the previous 46 years, during which Joy had only rarely set foot outside the district, I want to try to define something which greatly moved Ross Hohnen and me who represented the University in those negotiations. This was that Joy was not just giving away a piece of land, generous though that aspect of the matter was, but that, in doing so, she was also giving away that which had nurtured her, that with which she identified. It is difficult to convey the full gravity of this, of the gift in this deeper sense, but it is something which those who manage the affairs of the Foundation in the future might well bear in mind, might perhaps find some way of representing in its activities.

Joy's participation in the development of the Foundation was invaluable. Being Joy, she never spared the rest of us criticism when we deserved it, which was often. She was always generous with her advice and, even though priorities sometimes differed in detail, was satisfied with, and supportive of, the main directions of that development. Far from trying to hang on to the status quo, she upbraided us from time to time for not moving fast enough. She was held in high esteem by her academic colleagues and, as the numbers of students grew and their activities diversified, found some fulfilment of her vision and, I think, a little quiet pride. Think of the thousands of people who have already been touched educationally by Joy's gift. Then multiply this by whatever number represents your idea of the long future, and you gain some measure of its importance.

We may grieve for the loss of Joy from the community and from the University and from the place she occupied in the heart of each one of us. We grieve too for the things unsaid which might have been said, for the tasks undertaken but not completed - things which might have brought extra happiness to this remarkable woman. But she knew us well, had each of us weighed up and heard the unsaid clearly enough. She would not now have us be sorry for her. Clear-headed, far-sighted, caring, forthright; there was no pretence, no 'side', no false modesty, no pomposity about her. She, and the life she led, are the stuff of literature; but there was nothing fictional about her. Joy London was the Real Thing.

Original publication

Citation details

Donald Walker, 'London, Joy (?–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/london-joy-609/text610, accessed 8 December 2021.

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Life Summary [details]

Death

8 July 1995

Occupation