‘Brave boy’ en­dured much

Toll taken by di­a­betes too great to over­come


JOHN Cook was the mid­dle child of Al­bert and Vida Althea Cook – born in 1912, two years af­ter his brother Tom, and three years be­fore his baby sis­ter Althea.

In 1915 the fam­ily moved to Green­mount homestead, a sprawl­ing cat­tle prop­erty and beau­ti­ful home built es­pe­cially for the Cook fam­ily.

From the photograph­s that ex­ist, it would ap­pear that the Cook chil­dren had some­thing of an idyl­lic child­hood. John’s health, how­ever, was a con­stant con­cern and as he en­tered his teenage years, was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. In 1925, by the age of 13, John had de­vel­oped di­a­betes.

Dur­ing the 1920s in Aus­tralia, treat­ment for di­a­betes was still in its in­fancy. In­sulin had been dis­cov­ered in 1922 by Bant­ing, Best, Col­lip and Macleod, and had been re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful in treat­ing the dis­ease; diary en­tries show that John had been treat­ing his with the drug through in­jec­tion.

Prior to the dis­cov­ery of in­sulin, di­a­betes was treated pri­mar­ily through the con­trol of diet; how­ever, at best this bought pa­tients a few ex­tra years.

Even with the ad­vent of in­sulin the treat­ment was fraught with dan­ger, as the po­tency of the drug was vari­able, lead­ing to com­pli­ca­tions in many pa­tients. It was also ex­pen­sive and avail­abil­ity was sometimes patchy.

Care­ful mon­i­tor­ing of uri­nary sugar lev­els, diet, as well the use of in­sulin, was the key to man­ag­ing the dis­ease.

The Cooks – be­ing a prac­ti­cal and or­gan­ised fam­ily – made sure that John’s diet was care­fully con­trolled and his sugar lev­els mon­i­tored. Note­books in the Green­mount ar­chives record the care­ful record­ing of daily food in­take and the mea­sure­ment of sugar lev­els, to en­sure that that these were care­fully con­trolled.

This was no mean feat. Four times daily John was test­ing his urine to make sure his sugar lev­els were not el­e­vated. Ev­ery day he was weigh­ing him­self to make sure he was not los­ing weight and the gains and losses were recorded in his diaries. This would have been a dif­fi­cult and te­dious task for a teenage boy and wor­ry­ing for his fam­ily.

In 1926 John’s diary in­di­cates his health was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and on Jan­uary 2 he notes “I got pain in side and Doc­tor Wil­liams came out to see me but he said it was noth­ing to worry about”.

De­spite the doc­tor’s con­fi­dence it seems any re­cov­ery was short lived. On Jan­uary 3 John notes, “I got bad and the am­bu­lance took me in to hos­pi­tal and the rest of the fam­ily came in to the Im­pe­rial (ho­tel)”.

It was to be a long stay for John on this oc­ca­sion, with his dis­charge not hap­pen­ing un­til March 22 of the same year, when he writes, “Daddy and Mu­mie came in at 10am and at 11.30am Daddy Mu­mie and I and all my be­long­ings came out home. Be­van came in in the util­ity and took the scales out. I put on ¼ lb.”

It had been a hard stay for the 14-year-old boy. His diary notes the var­i­ous com­ings and go­ings of vis­i­tors and of­ten men­tions how slowly the days were go­ing. Days with no vis­i­tors, it seemed, were par­tic­u­larly hard to bear.

His fa­ther, Al­bert, sim­i­larly notes in his own diary that John, whilst sta­ble, was be­com­ing de­pressed. He must have been glad in­deed to get back home to his fam­ily and fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings once again at the end of March.

De­spite his ill­ness John was a re­mark­able child and showed ex­cep­tional tal­ent for a va­ri­ety of prac­ti­cal pur­suits – in­clud­ing wood­work, work­ing on his wire­less, and all kinds of me­chan­i­cal in­ter­ests in­clud­ing cars.

In the Green­mount ar­chives, amongst his diaries and note­books, are nu­mer­ous press cut­tings for cars, es­pe­cially rac­ing cars.

John also spent a lot of time de­sign­ing new ma­chines and redesign­ing old ones. His draw­ing book shows all man­ner of en­gines and de­vices all neatly sketched and la­belled in his hand.

John had his own work­shop at Green­mount, full of his tools, and these were reg­u­larly added to by his fa­ther Al­bert. The work­shop struc­ture is still stand­ing to­day and con­tains many things that he owned dur­ing that time.

Ar­ti­cles made by the young John are housed at Green­mount, in­clud­ing an elab­o­rate egg-box made for his mother Vida Althea. John was also a keen pho­tog­ra­pher.

Life con­tin­ued for John with the end­less cy­cle of in­jec­tion, mon­i­tor­ing of diet and sugar and weight.

Al­bert Cook had a keen in­ter­est in al­ter­na­tive health and, in par­tic­u­lar, he and Vida had been sub­scrib­ing to ar­ti­cles re­lat­ing to Chris­tian Sci­ence.

Chris­tian Sci­ence was de­vel­oped in the 19th Cen­tury in New Eng­land in the USA by Mary Baker Eddy, who ar­gued in her 1875 book Sci­ence and Health that sick­ness is an il­lu­sion that can be cor­rected by prayer alone.

In 1929 John’s mother took him to Bris­bane to see Chris­tian Sci­ence prac­ti­tion­ers to see if they could help her son.

Ever cau­tious, Al­bert and Vida had stressed that John must con­tinue to take his in­sulin, but he ar­gued that he wanted to stop – pre­sum­ably putting his faith in the Chris­tian Sci­ence move­ment, and the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing healed from the dis­ease that had made him so mis­er­able in his young years.

On Fri­day, March 29, 1929 John’s diary notes: “Mum and I walked up to Bowen Park and spent a while there. Af­ter din­ner we went out to Yeerong­pilly and I al­tered the earth to the wire­less to try to make it work prop­erly”. Noted next to the en­try is the word “in­sulin”. Pre­sum­ably he had been per­suaded to con­tinue his treat­ment at least for now.

On March 30 a dif­fer­ent writ­ing style makes the en­try: “John got ill early this morn­ing”. And at the bot­tom of the page: “John passed away at 7pm”. He was just 17 years of age.

John was brought back to Mackay and buried in the Walk­er­ston ceme­tery. His head­stone reads “To a brave boy”

Many eu­lo­gies were printed – this one be­ing the most apt:

“This week the hand of sor- row has touched the home of Mr and Mrs A.A. Cook of Green- mount. Their son John has been called to a higher sphere, for death claimed him. John was a bright cheery lad and was ex- cep­tion­ally clever, par­tic­u­larly in me­chan­i­cal lines. Al­though only very young, he could as- sem­ble the parts of motor cars with the greatest ease and wire- less work of the most dif­fi­cult na­ture was only a mere de­tail to him. He could dis­cuss most in­tri- cate ques­tions and work with the most learned, and pos­sessed the great ge­nial char­ac­ter of pro­found meek­ness. The peo­ple of our lit­tle vil­lage will join with me in the ex­pres­sions of sorry to the par­ents Mrs and Mrs Cook”

John’s legacy lives on in the Green­mount ar­chives in the record­ing of his rich if short life with di­a­betes at that time; in his diaries and note­books and the ar­ti­cles he owned and made.

He was an early re­cip­i­ent of the drug that has sub­se­quently been im­proved and re­fined so that many Aus­tralians can live rel­a­tively nor­mal lives with this dis­ease.

Green­mount Homestead (5km west of Walk­er­ston) is one of Mackay's most val­ued his­toric at­trac­tions. Green­mount is open from 9.30am to 12.30pm, Sun­day to Fri­day (closed on Satur­days). Tours are avail­able at other times by ap­point­ment.

Pho­tos: Green­mount Ar­chives

FAM­ILY: Al­bert Cook, of Green­mount, with his sons, Tom, born in 1910 and John, born in 1912.

An ex­am­ple of the metic­u­lous records kept dur­ing John Cook's treat­ment for di­a­betes.

John Cook in Bris­bane on March 29.

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