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Loch, Joice Mary Nankivell (1887–1982)

by Ros Pesman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Joice Mary Nankivell Loch (1887-1982), humanitarian and writer, was born on 24 January 1887 at Farnham, near Ingham, Queensland, elder child of Victorian-born George Griffith NanKivell, planter, and his wife Edith Ada, née Lawson, from Jersey, England.  After a privileged early childhood on a sugar plantation controlled by her wealthy paternal grandfather, Thomas NanKivell, Joice’s life changed when the prohibition on the importation of Kanaka labourers to Queensland led to her family’s bankruptcy.  The family moved to rural Victoria, where she worked on the farm and learned bush medicine.  Her brother died in World War I.

Educated mainly by governesses and, during an interlude in Melbourne, at a school at Brighton Beach, Joice began to write poems and children’s stories.  The Cobweb Ladder was published in 1916.  She had become secretary in 1914 to the classical scholar Alexander Leeper, warden of Trinity College, University of Melbourne.  Reviewing books for the Melbourne Herald, which also printed some of her poems, she published The Solitary Pedestrian (1918) about her childhood experiences.

Among the books that Nankivell reviewed for the Herald was The Straits Impregnable, an account of the Gallipoli campaign.  On 22 February 1919, at the Methodist manse, Royal Parade, Carlton, she married its author, London-born Frederick Sydney Loch, a journalist who had worked as a jackeroo in Australia before World War I and had been wounded at Gallipoli.  The marriage was a happy partnership and a productive working relationship.

Shortly after their marriage, Joice and Sydney Loch travelled to London intending to make their living from writing.  With a contract from John Murray to write on the contemporary troubles in Ireland, they moved to Dublin and jointly authored Ireland in Travail (1922).  Seeking further subjects, the Lochs went to refugee camps in eastern Poland, where the Quakers were ministering to thousands of displaced Polish peasants.  Through journalism and their later book, The River of a Hundred Ways: Life in the War-Devastated Areas of Eastern Poland (1924), they drew attention to the plight of the refugees.  More than witnesses to and publicists of tragedy, Joice and Sydney worked tirelessly to curb disease, hunger and homelessness.

In 1923 the Lochs moved south to Thessaloniki, Greece, to assist Greek refugees who had fled from Turkey.  Joice provided medical aid and an education program for girls.  In 1925 they settled in a Byzantine tower near the village of Ouranoupolis on the Athos peninsula.  Joice’s life was devoted to relieving the misery and suffering associated with displacement, barren soil and under-employment.  To improve the lives of the villagers and provide economic viability to the community, she established a successful rug-making industry, based on traditional skills, local wools, natural dyes and designs derived from illuminated manuscripts in the nearby monasteries of Mount Athos.

In 1940 the Lochs joined the Friends Relief Service in Bucharest to help Polish refugees pouring into Rumania.  They strove to find sustenance for them and struggled against time to organise their escape.  As the Nazis marched in, Joice evacuated a large group of refugees, taking them by ship through heavily mined waters to Haifa.  For the rest of World War II, the Lochs worked with Polish and Greek refugees in Palestine.  Early in 1945 they returned to Greece and Joice again helped in relief and reconstruction.  After Sydney died in 1954 she continued her rug-making work and free medical clinics and used royalties from her writing to give her village a clean water supply.

Practical, resourceful, brave and compassionate, and attuned to the needs and rights of the disadvantaged and dispossessed, Joice Loch had originally wanted only to be a writer.  She wrote stories set in Greece and Moscow, an autobiography, A Fringe of Blue (1968), and Collected Poems (1980), but the subjects of her narratives took precedence and for over half a century she gave succour to the victims of the barbarities of the twentieth century.  For her humanitarian work she was awarded eleven medals, including the Greek Order of the Phoenix, the Polish gold Cross of Merit and the Rumanian Order of Elizabeth.  In 1972 she was appointed MBE.  She died on 8 October 1982 at Ouranoupolis and was buried with Greek Orthodox rites.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Pesman, Duty Free: Australian Women Abroad, 1996
  • H. Gilchrist, Australians and Greeks, vol 2, 1997
  • S. De Vries, Blue Ribbons and Bitter Bread, 2000
  • Times (London), 22 October 1982, p 14

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ros Pesman, 'Loch, Joice Mary Nankivell (1887–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/loch-joice-mary-nankivell-14347/text25418, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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