William Dall (26.2.1926 – 21.4.2011) – His Life

Including his own words from

A Short History of the Dalls


William Dall, 2006


William was the second son of Flora and William Gordon Dall; William’s older brother, Morven was 5 ½ at the time. His mother, Flora Frederika, born in the Orkneys, and the daughter of Dr Edwin Wenyon, trained as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital, London during the War and most likely met William Gordon in her capacity as a nurse. William described her as “a well-read, very intelligent woman, and it was largely due to her influence that I took up science as a career.”


In William’s own words:


I was born in 1926 (St. Martin’s Hospital, Brisbane), and by the time I was three we lived in Ipswich and a year later moved to Cork Street, Yeronga, Brisbane, where we lived for the next seven years. The house was a fine older type Brisbane style, divided into two flats. The better half was occupied by the two old maids who owned the house and we lived in the other (and lesser) part. The grounds were large however, with a number of mango and other fruit trees. The flat had two bedrooms, but only one was habitable and Morven and I slept on the open veranda, sheltered only by slat blinds, little protection during storms. Doubtless it was a fine healthy way to live.


My first recollection was at the age of three being tied to a tree in the yard at Ipswich by Morven to demonstrate his new-found knowledge of knots, with a black snake approaching, Morven’s frantic shouts for Mr. White combined with his desperate efforts to untie me, and a confused picture of some men killing the snake.



School years


I spent my entire primary school life at Yeronga State School, and since we lived very close, nearly always went home for lunch. As a result I never joined in games of cricket or football. Later I made friends with two brothers who were keen on sport and learnt the rudiments of the games, but never played in a school team.

At first, I was bright at school and they put me up a grade from the Prep. School to Grade 1. I managed to remain at or near the top of the class until Grade 6, when a disastrous female teacher who had us for nearly two years, put the whole class back from being one of the best to the worst in the school.

Nevertheless, life was not all that bad for a growing lad in Brisbane, even though money was very short. Traffic density was low, there were many square miles of bush at Moorooka and parents did not worry too much about their boys wandering off. I tended to be a solitary child and often got up at dawn in summer to go for a walk. However, I had several close friends, so was not a real loner.

My closest friend in primary school days was Stewart Chalmers, whose father was a draftsman at Sergeants, a foundry and metal-working firm. He had a marine engineer’s ticket and was an active member of a working model club, mostly steam engines. He was a meticulous worker and had a very well set up home workshop with lathe, etc. I learnt a good deal about the use of tools, particularly metal working tools. I was also friendly with David Lindsay whose father was a carpenter and bee-keeper, with his main apiary at Rochdale. So I learnt something of carpentry, bee-keeping and a little about farming.

I passed the State Scholarship Examination at the end of Primary School with results a bit above the average, and went to the State Commercial High School, where Morven had gone. Mother wanted me to go to the State High School, a more academic school, because I was interested in science, but I had never been to any school but Yeronga and was rather afraid of going to a totally unknown secondary school. At least I knew something of the Commercial High from Morven. To my everlasting regret I went there, which was also preferred by father. He saw it as providing useful training, although ironically he had left a bank job at an early age to work on a sheep farm. This period was easily the most disastrous of my life. I hated that school and everything in it with a detestation that persists to this day. My books would never balance in book-keeping (but I did learn to type, the one useful thing I learned), the masters mostly seemed an incredibly dreary lot and the boy’s school was headed by a sadist with a cupboard full of heavy canes, which left bruises on one’s hands.

So I played truant (I well remember those beautiful clear cold winter days – another miscreant and I often went to Mt. Cootha). Needless to say, I got found out, then later got into big trouble with a friend, Ted Boyle, over a fight in the train and nearly got expelled. After that I started to accept my fate, began to work, made some progress, but it was too late. Towards the end of the final year each student was interviewed by a panel of his teachers, presided by the Headmaster, a Mr. George, a pompous, self-important anachronism from days long gone, who told me I “hadn’t a chance”, and I “didn’t want to be a labourer, did I”. He was spot on in the first comment, as I scraped a bare pass in only four Junior Examination subjects, which constituted a failure. So a few months short of my fifteenth birthday I was an unqualified member of the work force.

The two years at secondary school had not been all bad. I worked with Ted Boyle on farms over the summer holidays and learnt how ill-paid junior labour was. With other friends I went on bicycling trips to the Northern Rivers and canoeing up the Brisbane River. I joined an archery club and got considerable enjoyment both from the archery and making my own gear.



Joining the workforce


My first job was as office boy at Peters Ice Cream, West End.  It was mainly looking after the mail and doing messages by bicycle.  The boss was an absolute swine who bullied his staff unmercifully.  The turnover of office boys was high, but I stuck it out for six months before I got a job with James Hardie Trading Pty. Ltd.  After six months of slave-driving the difference was unbelievable to me.  I was treated like a responsible human being, and handled the shipping work and postage.  The shipping involved going to the customs house, shipping offices and to the wharves to clear the goods, so it was quite interesting work.  I stayed there until April, 1944, when I was 18 and joined the A.I.F.


War had broken out while I was in Sub-Junior, but the impact had been small at first.  While at school I had joined the Worker’s Educational Association library and after leaving school embarked determinedly on a program of self-education.  I read everything I could on astronomy, anthropology, yoga, evolution, natural history and anything else that took my fancy.  I spent my lunch hours at the Queensland Museum and systematically examined everything in great detail.  I did think of going to evening classes more than once, but the war was very unsettling for youth by this time and engaging in such long-term activities seemed out of the question to me.  I had though, become a keen amateur naturalist.


I was not a total book-worm however, and when sixteen acquired by first real girl-friend. She was keen on ball-room dancing, a subject about which I was totally ignorant. I was not very keen on making a fool of myself on the dance floor while I learnt, so took private lessons at Moss’s Dance Studio. I really got keen on this and ended up helping Moss with his beginner’s classes, by which time I had surpassed my original girl-friend’s dancing ability and with a typical 16 year’s old callousness, dumped her and teamed up with a more talented partner. 


By the time I enlisted in the Army, the tide had turned in the European war and the Japanese had also been turned back.  There was true panic in Brisbane when the Japs were bombing the north of Australia and sinking ships off the east coast.  The War was very real and very close and created an atmosphere unimaginable today.  Army training was well organised by this time and recruits were given I.Q. and aptitude tests. (To my surprise and gratification I found later that I had got top scores in everything; the stigma of Mr. George’s scorn of my academic ability at Secondary School and a failed Junior had left deep scars). 



Experiences at war


I did the standard infantry training at Cowra and was accepted for training as an Infantry Signaller.  After completing this course I was sent to the very tough jungle training course at Canungra, then drafted to the 2/9th Infantry Battalion (part of the 7th Division).  A month past my 19th birthday I was sent overseas. They herded us like cattle on to the open upper deck of Tank Landing Craft, with a few poorly secured tarpaulins for shelter.  At this time of the year (May) the south-east trades were in full swing, the majority got horribly sea-sick, the camp stretchers collapsed and the tarpaulins came adrift, one of the pontoons chained to the side of the ship broke away and the whole deck became utter chaos.  (I learnt then that I did not get sea-sick easily).  We finally reached shelter at the eastern tip of  New Guinea and the rest of the trip to Morotai was relatively calm.


At Morotai (one of the Halmahera Islands) the human cattle were herded off the ships and after a couple of weeks there we were embarked on the Kanimbla, a proper troop ship, for Balikpapan, east Borneo.  This was an oil port and the bombing and shelling burst and set alight the huge oil tanks on the hill there with the burning oil running down into the harbour.  It was an incredible inferno and I have never seen its like again.  Our battalion was a reserve for the other two in our brigade and we only got a few shells dropped among our landing barges.  Later our battalion moved over to the south of the river and we chased the Japs inland.  Then came Hiroshima and I knew enough then to be horrified at the enormity of this, though relieved that the war was over.


After surrender we rotted for a few months in Balikpapan and then us younger soldiers were shipped via the Celebes and Ambon to Rabual to guard a large camp of Japanese prisoners.  I caught malaria there, but had no recurrent attacks.  In mid 1946 I returned to Australia, travelling in comparative comfort on the Canberra.  While on leave I stabbed my leg with a chisel, the leg became infected and I became a hospital candidate for the new wonder drug, penicillin.  I felt so good on discharge from hospital a week later that I decided to learn to ride Morven’s old Indian motorcycle that very day.  I soon got the hang of it and went for a spin towards Ipswich, but on the way back lost control in some way (I don’t remember anything about the accident), careered across a paddock, hit a ditch, shot into the air and landed head first, smashing my left wrist and fracturing my skull, lucky I did not break my silly neck! 


I was discharged on October, 1946, four months short of my 21st birthday.  I applied for Commonwealth Reconstruction Training to do Junior as an evening student.  They were a bit dubious, but others by this time had shown mature students could make the grade and I was accepted.


After the war


I returned to James Hardie Trading, but early in the new year a director in Sydney wanted me to go there to exchange with his son, but I did not want to give up my evening classes and shortly before I was 21 resigned. I joined the then new TAA for six months as a spare parts clerk, a very dreary job. I joined the then new TAA for six months as a spare parts clerk, a very dreary job.  I left this to join John Deacon Ltd., a customs agent, got a bellyful of this and about October resigned and went on the dole so I could make sure of my Junior Examination.  I found it all ridiculously easy and knew that if I got a good pass I could get full-time CRTS support to study for Senior and then go to University full time.  The Senior course was also compressed into one year, but I found it was pretty easy too. I got a fairly good pass all round and in 1949 entered University, and after graduation in 1952 enrolled for a part-time M.Sc. in the Zoology Department.



The reason for enrolling only part-time for an M.Sc. was that I seriously needed a job as I had married Patricia Anderson on January 17th, 1952.  So I was employed as a Graduate Demonstrator in Zoology for the princely sum of  ₤686 per annum.  Then Marilyn was born in October 1952, first grandchild on either side, so a great fuss was made of her, but the financial struggle grew considerably.  We rented a house in Kedron, but had to rely on public transport.  I did some evening teaching at the Central Technical College in George Street to augment my income.  When Jennifer was born in September 1954 the need for a better paid  job became urgent, and as there was no prospect of one at the University, I applied for a position with CSIRO Division of Fisheries at Cronulla, Sydney.  So early in 1955 we moved there and rented a house on the waterfront.  A beautiful position, and as we still had no car, I bought a nice little clinker-built boat and this plus an outboard motor enabled us to go for picnics at the week-end and for me to travel to the Lab. 


Ian was born in March, 1957, Patricia having gone back to Brisbane for her confinement, and I moved to Gymea.  By this time, I was fed up with my job as planktologist with the Division – sorting plankton under a stereo-microscope is a tedious and unrewarding task – so I applied for a job as Lecturer in the Zoology Department and early in 1958 returned to Brisbane.  We rented a house in Constitution Road, Windsor and in 1960 at last owned a car.  Peter was born in March, 1960 and Richard in September, 1964.




In 1965 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and in 1967 was appointed as Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, Canada. It was a very good job, there were plenty of research funds, with good prospects for advancement, but Patricia stayed behind with the children, being very reluctant to go to Canada.  By the end of winter 1968, I decided that living in Canada was not for me and in early 1969 returned to Australia as a Senior Research Scientist in the Division of  Fisheries in Western Australia.  This was something of a professional step down, but the prospects were good and things turned out well for me at 42 years of age.  At last we were able to own our house.  We remained there until early 1975, by which time I had been promoted with responsibility for research in Western Australian rock lobsters and prawn research in Queensland.  The latter was floundering, I put up a case for an integrated research program, it was accepted and we moved back to Brisbane and remained there since. 


I am not going to detail my professional career here.  It is in the accompanying CV for AMSA, which was requested for the database for AMSA (Australian Marine Sciences Association) and is up to date at the time of writing.


Some background to the Cleveland Lab. (my principal achievement) is in my article in the book “CSIRO at Sea”.





I retired in August, 1990, 6 months short of mandatory retirement.  However, I was granted a Post-Retirement Fellowship with CSIRO.  This lasted for three years and I then became involved with the Queensland Museum as I had vaguely promised some years ago to “go through their prawn collection one day”.  This I did, reviving my original interest in taxonomy of the Penaeidae, then got interested in the closely related deep water families within the Super Family Penaeoidea, and have published three papers on them.


On the domestic side, Patricia and I were foundation members of a new branch of Probus, a club devoted to social events, which has proved very enjoyable.  Then I joined a local Lapidary Society and learnt how to fashion semi-precious stones and the art of silver smithing.  The point of recording this is to emphasise that passing beyond the biblical three score and ten does not mean mental and physical stagnation and that learning new things is still very possible.


Read more of the Dall family history

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