7 Generations of Hicks Family Women in Thirroul

I’d seen another post where a writer reflected on International Womens Day 2014  and seven generations of strong women in her family. It triggered my thinking on the role of seven generations of women in my own Hicks Family in the small NSW seaside town of Thirroul.

We’ve had seven generations of women on Mum’s maternal side (Hicks Family) who’ve lived in Thirroul since the 1880’s, back when it was separated from North Bulli (now Austinmer) and it began to be called Robbinsville. Before that, from the 1830’s, earlier generations of family members had lived from Fairy Meadow to Austinmer.

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For 150 years our family’s women have lived in Thirroul – Austinmer, serving the Northern Illawarra community in many areas.

  • Margaret Hicks nee Daly/Brain spent her last years here in Thirroul, after living in nearby North Bulli (Austinmer) for over 40 years
  • Margaret’s daughter in law Mary Ann Hicks nee McKenzie spent nearly half of her 90 years here
  • Mary Ann’s daughter Edith Florence Joy nee Hicks lived nearly 50 years here
  • Edith’s younger sister Ida McKenzie Webb nee Hicks lived for over 30 years in Thirroul
  • Edith’s daughter Mary Constance “Molly” Callcott nee Joy lived nearly 40 years here
  • Molly’s daughter Joan Lois Adams nee Callcott lived all but 4 of her 80 years in Thirroul
  • Joan’s cousin Margaret Risk nee Joy has lived nearly 70 years in Thirroul
  • Joan’s daughter Kerrie Anne Christian nee Adams (that’s me) – I’ve lived here for over 45 years
  • Margaret Risk’s daughter Julie Risk has been here for 50 years
  • Kerrie’s daughter Katrina Elise Christian grew up  in Thirroul from birth and commenced her adult years here

Margaret Hicks was born in 1819, a daughter of convicts, able to read and write when many could not, including her husband, James Hicks. That she was literate undoubtedly helped their rise from small landholders to Northern Illawarra Pioneers  who supported churches, schools and were active lobbiers in political matters, while she was bearing and rearing 13 children to adulthood. Evidence of her capabilities ? Husband James Hicks appointed her Executor for his will and estate rather than his eldest son, Henry Thomas Hicks,  who was the senior JP of the district, presiding over countless court cases and Executor of others’ wills. Yet Margaret was appointed Executor of the Will and Estate in the early 1890’s, when she did not then enjoy the right to vote.

Mary Ann Hicks in 1839, was the first Australian born child of her McKenzie parents,  after they left the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The wife of a North Illawarra Council Alderman, mother of a North Illawarra Council Mayor and coal miner Union President – but Mary Ann, herself was active in the community life of Thirroul, as well as nearby Austinmer and Thirroul.

Edith Florence Joy, a widowed single mother raising her children in the early 20th Century years, long lived a little in the shadow of her iconic mother, Mary Ann Hicks, and supporting her daughter Molly’s community fundraising activities. Nevertheless she was active in community affairs in the town – in the church, fundraising for causes such as the war effort in WWI.

Ida McKenzie Webb was one of the early 20th Century school teachers in the northern Illawarra. After her marriage she retired from teaching, but remained involved in the Thirroul community fundraising activities for many years.

Molly Callcott, with her orchestra, was involved in many fundraising and community events in the years prior to her marriage and motherhood. Following her marriage breakdown, she was left to bring up her five children singlehandedly, and became a Hardies Rubber Factory Girl.

Joan Lois Adams was involved in many organisations from her late 20’s and generally as Secretary or Treasurer –  including Mother’s Club at Thirroul School, RSL Tennis Club, Stroke Support, War Widows Guild, RSL Laurel Club, Legacy and Red Cross. Joan’s cousin Margaret Risk, as well as daughter Julie Risk, have long been active members of the Kennel Club.

Kerrie Anne Christian followed in the footsteps of her community leader and Northern Illawarra pioneer great great grandfather Captain – Alderman Henry Thomas Hicks JP, and her Great Great Uncle Mayor & Miners Federation President Alex Hicks. She has been a NSW State Union President, an Alderman – Councillor on Wollongong City Council, Steelworks Quality & Engineering Manager, a Council member of the local University, occasional guest lecturing at the University on Women in Non Traditional Roles, and involved in many community activities over the last 40 years.

Katrina Elise Christian, an Engineering University student, is just starting out in life, and has already earned her Queens Girl Guide Award, presented by NSW Governor Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir. The Queens Girl Guide Award requires community service – and Katrina has now worked her way up from being a junior Girl Guide leader to a full leader.


Dr Patricia Paddy Kirton – Born to Wealth and Privilege – Taking the Hard Way – Serving her Community

I grew up near Kirton Road Austinmer and the Kirton’s were widely known to be associated with the old Excelsior Mine that was across on the side of the railway line to Redman Avenue Thirroul, where I lived.


However I knew little of the Kirton’s in the later 20th Century decades and my interest was raised when Dr Joe Davis posted a photograph of the June 1940 wedding, of Dr Patricia Kirton to Donald Neil Rankin, to The Thirroul History in Photos Page, on Facebook. Although, I knew that there was a connection, by marriage, between my family and the Kirton’s. One of Mum’s Callcott aunts, Clarice Callcott, had married Victor Farraher, a son of Elizabeth Farraher (nee Kirton), the sister of J S Kirton – to further confuse things, both of J S Kirton’s wives were sisters of  my great uncle Victor’s father, Murty James Farraher.


Confusingly interconnected – but basically Victor Farraher, my great uncle by marriage, and Paddy Kirton’s father, Bernard Kirton, were first cousins. And  of course, Mum’s Farraher cousins were also second cousins of Paddy Kirton, and her sister Sheilah.


So even though we weren’t blood relations, Paddy Kirton and I were part of an extended Farraher – Cawley – Kirton – Callcott – Hicks – McKenzie family network. There weren’t too many girls from Thirroul who had become doctors by 1940 – I really wanted to know her story, and not just the stories of the men in her family.


As I read, I learned of how Mary Patricia Anne Kirton, known throughout her life as Paddy Kirton, had been born to privilege and wealth. After all she was the daughter of Thirroul’s Bernard Kirton, and wife, Mary Dolly Keelan, who had sailed from Greville St in County Mullingar, Ireland with her brother for the wedding. Bernard and Mary had married in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1914. Bernard was the son of Excelsior Mine Owner and Bulli Shire President, John Stephen Kirton and his first wife Bridget Farraher. Sadly Bernard’s first wife, Mary died in 1921, aged 35 years, after five years of lingering illness. She left the two young children, Patricia (Paddy) and Sheilah. In 1927, Bernard would re-marry, to Alicia Borthwick, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. They lived in Ballinderry, Thirroul.


However the Farraher – Kirton family had known some tough and controversial times too. Paddy’s grandmother, Bridget was a daughter of Patrick Francis Farraher and wife Anne Cawley. Patrick was the eldest son of Murty Farraher, and wife Bridget O’Malley. The Farraher’s and Cawley’s are very old Irish Catholic families in the Illawarra. Paddy’s great great grandfather, Murty Farraher, was wrongfully convicted and transported for life from Ireland in 1822 – for swearing a false oath – but subsequently fully pardoned eventually in 1841. Murty’s wife Bridget had brought her four young sons to the other side of the world to be near to her husband in 1822. They initially settled in the southern Illawarra, but later the family moved to the northern suburbs of Wollongong. Ironically, Paddy’s father, Bernard Kirton, himself would be wrongfully named in relation to a murder in Surabaya in 1925, by the Dutch press – and successfully sue the Evening News for libel  later that year. And then there would be a messy 1927 court case over the Excelsior mine property.


Nevertheless, Paddy Kirton’s adolescent and young adult early years, in the pre-WWII era, seemed to have been very much that of a young, privileged socialite. But there was also something about her, that had the Australian Women’s Weekly acknowledging her achievements as a Doctor, by the time of her marriage in 1940, and hoping that she would continue to distinguish herself even after her marriage .. in 1940 … a very feminist hope ?


And so Paddy Kirton’s adolescent and young adult years  unfolded in the newspaper social pages …

  • Educated in the Dominican College – a fancy Dress Party at Santa Sabina in 1930
  • Making her Debut in 1932 at David Jones – Dominican Ex Students Dance – attended by her step-mother, Mrs Kirton and Miss M Borthwick – and attending St John’s College Dance at Sydney University in 1932.
  • Sancta Sophia Dinner Dance in 1933
  • University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine results – Pass in 1934 and deferred results 1934 & attending Wesley College Ball in 1934 and a friend’s departure for overseas. Sancta Sophia annual dance in 1934, supporting her old college – at a Sherry Party with friends.
  • Part of the Sydney University Social Scene in 1935 
  • Still living at Sancta Sophia College in 1936 – her University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine Results 1936 – and a pre-wedding party for a friend at Sancta Sophia College
  • At the Polo in 1937. Dance Secretary for the Sancta Sophia Annual Students Dance in 1937 but still managing a Credit for her 1937 University results – including Psychiatry results in 1937. An interesting choice to practice in – certainly challenging – she was described as one of the youngest women medical graduates in the Australian Womens Weekly in July 1940.
  • 1938 – A Big Year 
    • Graduation and a Resident Medical Officer position at Lewisham Hospital in 1938 – part of the Lewisham Hospital’s Younger Set – fundraising for the hospital in 1938 – Golden Jubilee Appeal – Lewisham Hospital Ball in 1938. Celebrating a work colleague’s new baby daughter in 1938 – attending Sancta Sophia College annual dinner with old school friend Margaret Rankin in 1938
    • On an official table for a reception for Russian Principal Ballerina Tamara Grigorieva in 1938. Dinner parties and Dance at the Royal Sydney Golf Club in 1938 Final Race Week Finale.
    • Bridesmaid to Suzanne Rankin at her society wedding to Robert Duval of Edgecliff at St Mary’s Cathedral in 1938 – more detail on the wedding – another bridesmaid Morna Mackenzie was Private Secretary to Lady Wakehurst  
  • 1939 – Another Big Year
    • Bridesmaid to old school friend, Margaret Rankin in 1939 in Newcastle. At the ballet in 1939.
    •  Heading off overseas on a working holiday with her sister Sheilah, also a Sydney University Graduate. Patricia was to be the Ship’s Surgeon on a Cargo boatParrakoola – of course there were more farewell parties at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Hotel Australia. 
    • On her return in late 1939, described, with her sister Sheilah, as young women   who have held interesting jobs abroad arrived in Melbourne aboard an oversea liner last night.”  Paddy had done post graduate and medical  Locum Work in London, and in Eire Ireland, while her sister Sheilah did Post Graduate work in Massage at Mullingar County Hospital in Eire Ireland.
  • The 1940’s – Years of  Change
    • Still social – engaged to Donald Neil Rankin of Newcastle in early 1940, after her return from abroad in late 1939 – Don had been admitted as a Solicitor in 1939 and joined his father’s Newcastle law firm
    • Attending the Combined Dominicans Annual Ball in May 1940
    • Becoming a Senior Resident at Lewisham Hospital.
    • Subsequently marrying Don Rankin at St John’s College Sydney University in June 1940 – the Rankins staying at the Canberra Civic Hotel in July 1940, a sentimental wedding ring. She seemed to have lived in Newcastle with her husband Donald Neil Rankin only briefly around December 1940.  By 1942, husband Donald Neal Rankin would be called up by the RAAF, based at Point Cook, and Patricia would move to Melbourne to be closer to him, visiting him at Sale and staying at the Club Hotel. Flying Officer Don Rankin would be part of the attack on Frankfurt in December 1943.
    • Sister Sheilagh’s engagement to Robert Macintosh of Leura was also announced in July 1940 and wedding soon after – a lot of that happened as men headed off to the battlefields of WWII.

However unlike the society weddings of her school mates and her father, Patricia Paddy Kirton’s had been A Quiet Wedding” …. To Marry To-day.The marriage of Dr. Patricia Kirton,elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Kirton, of Ballinderry, Thirroul, to Mr.Donald Neil Rankin, younger son of Mr.and Mrs. A. A. Rankin, of Newcastle, will be celebrated quietly in the chapel of St.John’s College, Sydney University, this morning. Mr. Rankin, who is on the R.A.A.F. Reserve and expects to be called up within the next few weeks, is a graduate in law and a former resident of the college. Dr. Kirton, who graduated in medicine from Sydney University, will be attended by her sister, Miss Sheila Kirton. She will wear a simple frock of chalk-white silk, with a small hat of white heron’s feathers. Mr. Desmond Hollywood will be best man. Afterwards a small reception will be held in the new pent-house of Marton’s Hall Flats, Margaret Street, where Dr. Kirton is staying.”


Patricia’s  quiet wedding was nevertheless reported in the July 6 1940 Women’s Weekly (when it was a weekly) – A life’s work -VERSATILE, charming, youthful Mrs. Donald Rankin – until last week Dr.Paddy Kirton – has fitted into less than a quarter of a century more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. During student days at Sancta Sophia, always envy of contemporaries for well-groomed appearance, round of social doings, and success in examinations, yet managed to be one of youngest women graduates in medicine.After that sallied forth to see the world as ship’s surgeon in a cargo boat, did post-graduate work in England and Eire, and returned, unruffled as ever, to take post as senior resident at Lewisham Hospital. Since then has practised for a while. Now, quietly as possible, marries Don Rankin in chapel of St. John’s College, University, where Don studied Law during Paddy’s Med. student days. He’s to be called up for R.A.A.F. soon, so we’re waiting to see whether wife will set out to further distinguish herself in her profession.We hope so . . .


Paddy Kirton had married into a distinguished family in the Newcastle area. Her father in law, Mr Archibald Aloysius Rankin, born in Tumut in 1872, married Vera Simpson in 1910. AA Rankin was President of the St Ignatius Riverview Old Boy‘s Union, the son of a Station Manager and grandson of a farmer at Tumut. Archibald became a Solicitor of Rankin & Griffiths Solicitors Newcastle (having served as an articled clerk in Tumut, applied to NSW Supreme Court to be admitted as solicitor in 1897), a legal representative to BHP, having been associated with the Newcastle hospital since 1912, with Newcastle Municipal Council in 1913, appointed President of the Newcastle Hospital Board since 1916.


And A A Rankin was being censured by the Newcastle Trades Hall Council in 1926, appointed to NSW Hospitals Commission Board in 1929, awarded a CBE in 1938. In 1940 he was still President of the Newcastle Hospital Board, still a Member of the NSW Hospitals Commission and President of Newcastle Aero Club – but he seems to have retired from the Health scene sometime during the WWII years. He passed away in 1951 – probate notice.


Married into a family such as A A Rankins, with a husband as a solicitor, it would have been easy for Paddy Kirton to have stepped back to a more stereotypical female role of the 1930’s and 1940’s. And it seems that as WWII wound on, Paddy, after after having her early life constantly mentioned in the social pages, had then ducked below the radar. Only surfacing in 1954, when giving expert testimony in a murder trial in Newcastle, described as Dr Mary Patricia Ann Kirton, Superintendent of Newcastle Mental Hospital. It was clear that she had decided to follow her own path. Meanwhile her husband who had been good at sport in his university days, was shining in the NSW Amateur Golf Championships in 1954.


Dr Kirton was elected to the University of Newcastle Council in 1971 and served on the Board of Trustees of the University’s Edward Hall Residential College – her brief CV in 1972  read :

“Dr. Kirton was Acting Superintendent of the Mental Hospital, Newcastle, from 1954 to 1959 and Specialist Psychiatrist in Charge of the Child Guidance Clinic, Newcastle, from 1960 to 1969. She is Vice-President of Hunter Regional Branch of the National Trust and on Newcastle Advisory Board of the Family Life Movement of Australia.”


Paddy Rankin would also be a significant donor to the University of Newcastle. And at the University of Newcastle’s Graduation Ceremony in 1991, Mary Patricia Anne Rankin was presented with an Honorary Doctor of the University Degree – a high accolade indeed, and it was presented by Justice Elizabeth Evatt as well.


I had served on the Council of the University of Wollongong from 1996-2007 and I knew that such Honorary degrees are not lightly awarded.


From the University of Newcastle Bulletin of May 20, 1991 : 

“Honorary Degree to Outstanding Citizen

The Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University was conferred on Mrs Paddy Rankin, who has played a key role in University affairs, in particular to the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine. 

Mrs Rankin, was well known in Newcastle as Dr Kirton, the Director of the Child Guidance Clinic until her retirement in 1969, having previously been the Superintendent of Stockton and Watt Street Hospitals for a period of five years. 

Mrs Rankin’s aspirations for the establishment of a Medical School in Newcastle were translated into reality, when, in 1971, she was appointed a member of the Council of the University. 

At her first meeting, the Council appointed Mrs Rankin, still as Dr Kirton, as one of the four members charged with preparation of a submission to the Australian Universities Commission for the establishment of a Medical School at Newcastle. Mrs Rankin also played a key role in the extensive and detailed work of the Selection Committees leading to the appointment of the first academic staff of the Faculty. 

One of the chief characteristics of the Faculty of Medicine since its first intake of students in 1978 has been its concern to develop and implement effective processes for student selection. Mrs Rankin became a foundation member of the Faculty of Medicine Admissions Committee and continued to serve as a member until 1984. The creation of this thorough and extensive selection process, which enables criteria more sensitive to personal attributes and attainments to be added to examination statistics, owes much to the input and sustained contributions of Mrs Rankin and continues to the present day. 

She was also active in the establishment of the first residential college on campus, Edwards Hall. As well, she served as the Council’s nominee to the Board of Trustees of the Community Child Care Centre, Kintaiba, in its formative years. 

Mrs Rankin continues to be interested in and active in the University life. She continues to work towards the establishment of a religious centre on the campus and is currently undertaking academic study in History. 

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Keith Morgan, said it was fitting for the University to recognise the achievements of such an outstanding citizen of Newcastle and valued supporter of the University,and it gave him great pleasure to present Mrs Rankin for admission to the Honorary Degree.”

The hopes expressed by the Australian Womens Weekly in July 1940 that Paddy Kirton (a former Thirroul girl) would continue to distinguish herself were certainly realised.


Mary Phyllis Nicol – Physicist from Thirroul

It all started with Mary Phyllis Nicol. I was intrigued, who was this former Thirroul girl who had made it into, not only a BrightSparcs entry, but also the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition. I wanted to know more about this amazing woman, & to redress that virtually nobody knew of her, in her birthplace, Thirroul.

Researching on some council related issues, Mary Phyllis Nicol surfaced in one of my Google searches. Joe Davis, who knows most stories of Thirroul had heard only a little of her. Robyn Hutton, Bulli resident & Science Teacher at St Mary’s Star of the Sea College, had encountered her in the Physics Labs & at Women’s College during undergraduate days at Sydney University.

For a long time I had been presumptuous enough to believe that I was the first girl in Thirroul to carve out a university graduate career in the non traditional fields of science, engineering, technology or medicine. I was wrong – Phyl Nicol, University Lecturer in Physics, had graduated over 50 years earlier in 1925. She was the second woman to have graduated in Physics from Sydney University, before being awarded an MSc in 1926!

The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition entry reads as follows.

“NICOL, PHYLLIS MARY (1903-1964), lecturer and demonstrator in physics, was born on 2 March 1903 at Thirroul, New South Wales, eldest daughter of native-born parents Walter George Phillip Nicol, teamster, and his wife Florence, née Reeves. Educated at North Sydney Girls’ High School, Phyllis won a bursary in 1921 to the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1925; M.Sc., 1926).

She shared the Deas Thomson scholarship (1924) and graduated (1925) with first-class honours in physics and in mathematics from a department somewhat unwelcoming to women students. Awarded an 1851 Exhibition science research scholarship, she wrote her thesis on the optical properties of selenium and published her findings in the Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales; she was to join the society in 1935.

In March 1927 Miss Nicol resigned her scholarship. She worked for the rest of her life in the department of physics. A full-time demonstrator (1927-33), reduced to part-time (1933-46), she became a part-time lecturer in 1946 (following the retirement of Professor Oscar Vonwiller) and a full-time lecturer in 1948 but with ‘temporary’ status. She had written with her colleague Edgar Booth, ‘Physics (1931, 16th edition 1962), a standard text for high-school students and undergraduates (KC note – now a collectible).

Nicol unsuccessfully applied in 1952 for the position of senior lecturer. Her status and that of other ‘temporary’ members of the department was reviewed by a senate committee in July 1953. Although she was damned with faint praise by Harry Messel, the dynamic new professor of physics, who considered that she ‘coached’ rather than lectured, but was worthy of consideration because she ‘had been here for many years’, the committee recommended that she be offered a permanent appointment. After almost thirty years of teaching, her reward was the position of ‘tutor demonstrator with the status of lecturer’.

Her devotion to the department was equalled only by her attachment to Women’s College, where she had lived from 1921 as student, tutor in physics and mathematics, and sub-principal (1933-54). Hindered by a lack of opportunity for overseas research, by limitations within the physics department and by her reluctance to take any public role of leadership, she remained as a subordinate within her department and college, voicing no grudge or criticism of others. The stereotype of the scholarly spinster, untidy, careless of dress and seemingly always running late, ‘Phylly Nic’ spoke on the benefits of eight hours sleep a night and exhorted her female students to dress in their best for examinations as a means of boosting confidence.

Nicol resigned as sub-principal in 1954 to live with her unmarried sister at Lane Cove. She underwent a mastectomy in 1953 and later suffered severe illness, but continued to work, resigning from the physics department ‘due to ill health’ only four days before she died of cancer on 13 June 1964 at her home; she was cremated with Anglican rites. Students were her vocation. Her genius was that, through her teaching, the most unpromising candidates could pass physics I, the first hurdle for many university courses. Her legacy was to help others on the path to opportunities she never enjoyed.”

Phyl Nicol played a role model to her student, Joan Freeman, although the advice was blunt – “It’s difficult enough for a man to get a job as a physicist…but for a woman the possibilities are very limited indeed” – Joan became one of Australia’s first female nuclear physicists at the CSIRO & then at Cambridge University in the 1940’s, before later going onto Harwell – British Atomic Energy Research Establishment; also the first woman to be awarded the Rutherford Medal, and only the second Australian.

Another student inspired by Phyl Nicol, whilst at Women’s College, Sydney University was to become Her Excellency Prof Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW – “She considers her years at the Women’s College were greatly enriching, intellectually, spiritually and socially. This was due to the outstanding influence of the Principal, Miss H.E. Archdale, the Vice-Principal and physicist, Phyllis Nicol

Select Bibliography on Mary Phyllis Nicol
D. Branagan and G. Holland (eds), Ever Reaping Something New (Syd, 1985); R. Annable (ed), Biographical Register, The Women’s College within the University of Sydney, vol 1, 1892-1939 (Syd, 1995); W. V. Hole, ‘Phyllis Mary Nicol, MSc (1903-64)’, University of Sydney, Record, 2, 1989, p 2; P. M. Nicol staff file (University of Sydney Archives); University of Sydney Senate minutes, 6 July 1953 (University of Sydney Archives); University of Sydney and Women’s College Archives. More on the resources

Author: Rosemary Annable
Print Publication Details: Rosemary Annable, ‘Nicol, Phyllis Mary (1903 – 1964)’, Australian Dictionary Biography,of Volume 15, Melbourne University Press, 2000, p. 478. “