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Biographies & voyages

Clarence Derby McKENNA

1888 - 1975 Perth, Western Australia


My Grandfather, always known as Derby, was born in West Perth, Western Australia on 21st August 1888. He was the 5th son of John and Ellen Windsor McKenna (nee SMITH). He was educated at Christian Brothers' College Fremantle and passed the Junior Certificate Examination in 1905 with passes in English Literature, English History, Latin, French, Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry. [Adelaide Advertiser, 13 December 1905].

Derby took up land at Nangeenan (near Merredin) which he called "Innisfail" in 1909. It was there that he met Mabel BAKER whose father William farmed the adjoining property. By 1914 he had a campsite on the farm about a mile and a half from where he eventually built a house. When WWI broke out, Derby enlisted in September of 1914.  He and Mabel were married at St Mary's Cathedral in Perth on 9 October 1914. Soon after Derby went to Blackboy Hill for a period of training and then embarked for duty overseas as a driver with the AIF 4th Field Ambulance.  He returned from active service with the 12th Field Ambulance in 1919 - which was when he first met his son Gerry who was by then 4 years old.   While Derby was overseas Mabel had lived with his parents, John and Ellen McKenna in Highgate.

Their neighbours in Nangeenan included the Grundy, Caporn, Roddy, McGuiness and Giles families. The nearest store was at Nokanning and it was constructed of white-washed hessian with an earthen floor.  Several owners of the store included Jack Turner, George Partridge and Tommy Musson. The McKenna family shopped there for stores. [Cecily Smith nee McKenna].

The nearest Church was the Merredin Catholic Church. The family sometimes attended mass at the Nurkani local hall, where a priest from New Norcia visited periodically.  Nokaning had two cricket teams which played in the Merredin Association.  Derby played in both for Nokaning as did his son Gerry who was the youngest player ever to play in the Country Week competition. [Gerry McKenna]

The family's first transport was a horse and sulky which was used for a monthly 21 mile shopping trip to Merredin.  Their eldest daughter Cecily recalls many trips to Merredin with her father and one or two other siblings in the sulky.  On many of those occasions the horse would be be tied up to a tree outside the hotel where the children would wait for an hour or two before steering the sulky home themselves with Derby on board.  Later, an old second hand red Over-lander car was purchased - it was eventually replaced by a blue Essex.  A brand new Chevrolet 6 followed and remained the family transport until the family left Merredin. [Cecily Smith nee McKenna]

The children attended school at North Nangeenan. The school had been moved from Nokanning to an area on the corner of the Roddy property, 3 miles from the McKENNA farm.  Mabel was instrumental in petitioning to have the school moved so that her children would not have to learn by correspondence. The first teacher was a Miss Fox, followed by Miss Joan Ryan - who later became Derby's second wife. The number of students fluctuated between 20 and 30 in any one year.

Mabel died suddenly on 13 November 1933 when she was pregnant with their 9th child. Derby's father John and sister Monica died in the same year.  Derby later remarried Johanna (Joan) RYAN in 1936. They moved to Goomalling, where Derby worked as an inspector with the Rural & Industries Bank, and they had another three children, one of whom died in infancy.  Derby died in Graylands, Western Australia in 1975 - the proud grandfather of 41 grand-children.