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Merle James: a legacy far beyond etiquette

At the end of the war, Merle married Bob James on his return from the Middle East, Tobruk and New Guinea, running beside him the entire length of Swanston Street before the glorious 9th Division broke ranks and they could embrace.

All they owned fitted into a wheelbarrow as they moved between borrowed houses, beginning their marriage of opposites: Merle into ballet, theatre, reading, writing, poetry and travel; Bob into fishing, racing, footy, his mates, the pub, and his work as a highly successful sales manager and company director in women’s fashion.

Together they created a warm, loving, if often tempestuous home, bringing up four children with a menagerie of pets, guinea pigs, rabbits, fowls, dogs, cats, horses, mice and a rehabilitating pigeon that lived on top of the kitchen cupboard.

Merle James left a legacy far beyond etiquette.

Merle James left a legacy far beyond etiquette.

A visionary and an instigator, Merle inspired a feeling that there was always something that could and should be done. She chose Preshil to educate her children, built a dance studio in her rambling garden, developed her own unique program of creative dance drama and taught thousands of children the joy of expressive movement, unhindered by the constraints of classical ballet.

She vigorously protested the Vietnam War through the Save Our Sons movement and lobbied the government to create the C certificate, forcing commercial TV channels to create dedicated children’s programming. She and Bob took their young daughters out of school and travelled with them for six months in Europe.

She regularly attended the theatre, art galleries, ballet, film and festivals. She read widely, had a million books, newspaper cuttings, costumes, letters and diaries journaling the minutiae of the activities of the whole family, and she kept everything. Every card, every letter, every childish note, every finger-painting or lumpy pottery attempt.

Regular holidays were to Point Lonsdale and later to their beloved Greece. At home, Merle would sit by the kitchen fire late at night listening to the radio, drinking tea, talking, solving problems, questioning and thinking.

At 96 she was still teaching creative dance classes; her Friday Body and Mind women dancing with her, every week, for over 40 years. Merle James is survived by her four children Robin, Sherry, Tarni and Cush, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Dance on, Merle.

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