Ian Gill was born in 1937 and lived with his parents in Strathmore, where his formative years of early education occurred at Essendon Primary School. Later, as a teenager, he attended Essendon High School, where he met his future wife, Phyllis Gill Fisher, both aged sixteen, during mixed singing choir classes, under the tutelage of a gifted teacher, Fanny Watten. Recognising Phyllis’s talent, Fanny used Phyllis to pitch the parts, singing classical tunes such as “Panis Angelicus”.
Ian was an accomplished athlete in high school, playing hockey for the Victorian Schoolboy’s team, also participating in running events at Victorian State School level.
He then attended Dookie Agricultural College, graduating with an Honours degree in Agricultural Science Studies. Following graduation, he farmed fat lambs and rice at Benerembah, near Griffith.
Returning to Melbourne for teacher training, he was appointed to Balmoral Consolidated School teaching agriculture and science in 1960. Phyllis and Ian married in the January. Later, two sons, Jeff and Matthew came along.
His teaching abilities were duly noted and he was invited to lecture classes of training teachers in Teachers Colleges at Frankston, Melbourne and also Toorak, during the years spanning 1965 to 1972.
In 1969 Ian introduced Planetarium sessions for primary children, a special year for all concerned.
Ian returned to studies at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Geology. Here he also developed a deep interest in politics.
With Phyllis, he became a director of the Australian Nomads Resource Association (ANRF) working with the Gurindji and the Desert Nomads from Strelley station, near Port Hedland in the Pilbara. They offered their consultancy talents to a West Australian group of Aboriginal clans people who wished to develop an educational centre which catered to the needs of their people.
The Elders wanted an educational centre which was run by a Board of Aboriginal leaders, where all the teachers working within this centre were to be Aboriginal, as were the students. The courses of study were to be devised to maintain their culture and language and take into account the geography and geology of the land that the people lived on.
Ian chaired the meeting that established the school which was developed by Mt Lawler Teacher College. This year makes 50 years of the school’s operation.
The venture proved so successful that it continues today, operating on the original model. (How prophetic was this model, given the current Voice Referendum?)
He and Phyllis always had an affinity with the land. From Melbourne he and Phyllis decided to move to the North East Victoria countryside, with Ian taking up the position of Deputy Principal at Mansfield Primary School in 1973.
Ever concerned with the needs of his pupils, Ian applied for Grants Funding to secure the very first Community Bus to be used in schools. Many of his school students had never seen the sea and the Australian coastline, he explained. Given that our country is also the planet’s largest island, he believed that they should have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the Geography by visiting the seaside towns.
During their time at Mansfield, Ian, Phyllis and the ANRF continued their consultancy work.
Ian was appointed Regional Teacher Education Officer at the new North East Victoria Regional Office of Education, based in Benalla.
The Karmel report put funds into the hands of teachers after the Whitlam years. Rather than teachers having to travel to Melbourne, and be absent from home in seeking to upgrade their skills, this allowed teachers to educate the region’s teachers. With the advent of Computer Technology becoming a necessity for classroom use and teaching, the regional delivery of knowledge was a valuable asset.
In 1979, Ian formed the Educational sociological research Association (EDRA) which invited the American psychiatrist William Glasser M.D. to visit Australia. Glasser had developed principles of teaching and learning referred to as “Reality Theory”. It proposed a more humane model for student management and learning. Along with Piaget’s theories, Glasser’s ideas were embedded into the Victorian teacher training programs, resulting in a kinder, child centred approach to learning. Several Reality Theory centres still exist up the East Coast.
Ian selected an early retirement from this position in 1993, keen to start a new career as a wool grower, in conjunction with his wife, Phyllis. By now, the Gills had five grandchildren. Utilising the first initial of each grandchild’s name, they formed, and trade marked the business known as “Jemala”.
In 1996, the Gills established a shedded sheep wool growing business in Benalla. They were the first to test the fibre diameter of all sheep placed in the shed, and the first to establish a written code of conduct for the care of the sheep.
In 2001 the Gill family produced the world’s finest bale of wool, measuring 12.9 micron, which led to an association with Lora Piana in Italy, the company driving the luxury wool market at the time.
The quality of knitting and finishing, enabled by the use of this, one of a kind in the world, Magliera Gemma 45 gauge knitting machine, produced Jemala garments that were appreciated by an international luxury market, including Queen Elizabeth 11. The Queen accepted the gift of three twin sets and a shawl. Other fashion connoisseurs of Jemala garments also include Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Mila Jovovich, along with all the Heads of Government and their spouses who attended the APEC Conference in Sydney in 2007.
The Gill family had the honour of one of their fleeces being chosen for display at the “Woolmark” pavilion at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
Continuous research by Jemala led to the development of a silk and wool blend fabric trademarked as “Warmsilk”. This fabric has the look of silk, but wicks so that it does not cling to the body in humid weather. When conditions are cool, it provides warmth, which silk will not do. Access to a 2.8 metre wide loom allows designers to cut “Warmsilk” on the bias, affording greater drape.
The tightening of the Chinese market and the Ukrainian Invasion, thus the loss of the Russian Oligarch luxury market, brought about the decision to close the Jemala business after 27 years, however the science behind the ultra-fine wool production remains as a success.
Humbly, Ian says that he has been lucky in life, that he has been in the right place, at the right time. His record of earnest endeavour, however, indicates that he is a true Benalla Treasure leaving behind a fine Legacy for the education of students and teachers in our State, and others. His achievements, with his wife and family, through their Jemala business leave Benalla and District with an international appreciation of Ian Gill’s principles of Best Practice application.