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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.

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Mary Ann Hicks – A Thirroul Pioneering Woman – 1839-1930

Mary Ann Hicks nee McKenzie 1839 – 1930 of Thirroul. 



Born at Fairy Meadow, in 1839, Mary Ann McKenzie was the first Illawarra-born child of Alexander McKenzie and wife Anne. She married Henry Thomas Hicks on November 5 1861, and so would be described on her death as one of the grand old pioneers of the district.  On marrying Henry Thomas Hicks she became a member of the pioneering Hicks family of the northern Illawarra. The family lived in various locations : Russell Vale (from 1842), Austinmer – North Bulli (from 1843), Wollongong, Towradgi  and Thirroul – Robbinsville (circa 1880’s). 



Above – Mary Ann Hicks (with cap) and daughter Edith Florence Joy (nee Hicks) – circa 1920’s

Parents Alexander McKenzie and Anne McLean
Alexander McKenzie, father of Mary Ann McKenzie,  was born on the Isle of Skye in 1803, and had married Anne McLean in 1829 at Armadale,  on the Isle of Skye in the Parish of Sleat. They travelled to Australia, on a bounty ship in 1837  (the William Nicol), with their elder 4 children:  

  • Daniel b 1831 Armadale, Isle of Skye
  • Donald b 1832 Armadale, Isle of Skye
  • Alexander b 1834 Armadale, Isle of Skye
  • John b 1835 Armadale, Isle of Skye

Four more children were born in the Illawarra :
  • Mary Ann b 1839 Fairy Meadow, NSW
  • Catherine b 1842 Berkley, NSW
  • Agnes b 1843 Springhill, NSW d 1844
  • Another child, Anne, died 1846 Berkeley 

Settling in Ellengowan
In Australia, Mary Ann’s father, Alexander McKenzie of Ellengowan became active in the Illawarra Agricultural and Horticultural Society for much of the 1850-60’s. Ellengowan was in the Fairy Meadow – Parameadows area – which was the site of a battle between the Bong Bong tribe and a Wollongong tribe 4/3/1827 – known as the Battle of Parameadows

Following first wife Ann’s death, Alexander had  remarried in 1849 at Parramatta to Elizabeth Hanks, they had eight children :
  • Elizabeth b 1850 Balgownie, NSW
  • Robert b 1851 Balgownie, NSW
  • Hugh b 1853 Balgownie, NSW
  • Thomas b 1854 Bulli, NSW
  • Anne b 1858 Bulli, NSW
  • Flora b 1860 Bulli, NSW
  • Charles b 1861 Bulli, NSW
  • Christina b 1863 Taralga, Goulburn

Marriage of Mary Ann McKenzie to Henry Thomas Hicks
On 5.11.1861, Mary Ann McKenzie married Henry Thomas Hicks,  the eldest son of James and Margaret Hicks of Austinmer, then known as North Bulli.

Mary Ann  and Henry Thomas Hicks lived on Hicks Farm in Thirroul,  with their ten surviving children, four did not survive – 14 children in total! One wonders how much time Mary Ann had for herself in bearing 14 children over the twenty five years of  1862-1887 ?


Above : Mary Ann Hicks (aged 75 years), daughter Edith Florence Joy (nee Hicks), grandson Kenneth Charles, unknown girls  at  her home, “Everest”, Seaview Terrace or Hicks Farm(?) Thirroul 1915. 


Children of Mary Ann Hicks 

As kids we heard that Mary Ann and Henry Thomas Hicks had the orchards, also known as Hicks Farm. There were also stories of Mary Ann Hicks living at “Mount Hope” near the Thirroul Railway Station –  Mary Ann’s Bible  shows her address as “Mount Hope”.

Many of the children of Mary Ann and Henry Thomas Hicks had left Thirroul over the years, moving to Sydney and further north. Daughter Mary Alice Hicks remained at home, caring for Mary Ann for many years at Thirroul, before finally marrying widower Alfred Cook in 1929 when she was in her late 50’s. Alfred was also the brother of Alexander Cook, husband of Mary Alice’s oldest sister, Margaret Minnie. Another daughter, the widow Edith Florence Joy, appears to have returned to care for her mother in her last years.

Death of Mary Ann Hicks
Years ago, I recall seeing a beautiful tribute to Mary Ann, written in an old Church Parish newsletter (St David’s Thirroul). Mary Ann had lived past 90 years of age, until her death in 1930.  And the March 1930 Church Parish newsletter had later been  safely stored away by her great granddaughter, Joan Adams (nee Callcott – who was also my mother).  In working through my late mother’s papers and books, I took some time to find the obituaries. Predictably among the last items to surface, at the bottom of large chest of drawers, finally enabling a window into some of Mary Ann’s personal life. Re-reading them maybe 2 or 3 decades since I last saw them, these tributes now have even more meaning for me. Click to read tributes to Mary Ann Hicks nee McKenzie.

Mary Ann Hicks died at her home, “Everest”, in  Seaview Terrace Thirroul on February 23 1930 – see death notice Sydney Morning Herald February 24 1930.

HICKS -February 23, 1930, at her residence, “Everest”, Seaview Terrace, Thirroul, Mary Ann, relict  of the late H. T. Hicks, in her 90th year.

 Also funeral notice – Sydney Morning Herald February 24 2012.

HICKS- The Relatives and Friends of the FAMILY of the late MARY ANN HICKS are kindly invited to attend the Funeral of their late beloved MOTHER; to leave her late residence,Everest, Seaview-Terrace, Thirroul, on TUESDAY  AFTERNOON at 3 o’clock for St Augustine’s    Church of England Cemetery, Bulli. W J WILLIAMS, Undertaker. (includes corrections)

Husband Henry Thomas Hicks of Thirroul – 1836-1909
Note – Mary Ann’s husband Henry Thomas Hicks is mentioned in the Illawarra  census of 1881, along with William Fry, Henry Stumbles, Michael Shannon, Thomas Francis Lindsay, George Brown and William Osborne. 

Henry Thomas Hicks chaired a public meeting in 1865 for the establishment of  Bulli National School. He was elected as an alderman to North Illawarra Council in 1887 and 1888 – a separate Bulli Shire Council would not be formed until 1905, although lobbying for its formation had occurred in 1889, with Henry Thomas Hicks and Mr Farraher actively involved.  Henry’s son, Alexander Henry  Hicks, elected Mayor of North Illawarra and president of the Illawarra Miners Association in 1905, at the unveiling of the Mount Kembla Mining Disaster Memorial. It is interesting to note in Mary Ann Hicks’ Obituaries, that she could, and would, discuss politics, and was committed to voting. Note – Henry Thomas Hicks’ great granddaughter Kerrie Anne Christian (nee Adams) was narrowly defeated at the city-wide election of Wollongong City Council in 1989 – but was successful at Ward One elections in 1991, 1995 and 1995 – she did not contest the 2004 elections.


He was also actively involved in the early days of Thirroul Public School, where he presided over the opening in 1889; also at St Augustine’s Anglican Church in Park Rd Bulli. He was a Captain in the Bulli Reserve Rifle Club from 1890, and also the Executor of a number of wills for local Northern Illawarra residents, including William Kirton. Also, possibly JP (Peter) Orvad, a member of the Bulli Progress Committee and owner of the Denmark Hotel, according to Rita Roberts one of Orvad’s descendants (as told to Kerrie Anne Christian during the Back to Bulli” celebration of 1989).

Cate Wilson – A Strong Champion for Thirroul

It seems that Thirroul is losing a few too many strong women lately this November 2012, firstly my own mother Joan Lois Adams (nee Callcott) on November 5 2012, followed by the indomitable Cate Wilson on November 17 2012.

I first heard of Cate in her role in the Thirroul Action Group in the early 1980’s – fighting to save Thirroul from being overcome by a series of 3 storey walk-ups, and higher, of an unending series of unit block after unit block and even what seemed then to be ever encroaching risk of high rise development. I had just moved back to Bulli and my mother, Joan Adams (nee Callcott), showed me some community newsletters put out by the Thirroul Action Group. In the north we were so lucky to have her fighting to preserve the character of the area, when it was under such serious threats.

Around 1984 I encountered Cate when we went to debate the future of South Thirroul when it was destined to be overrun by coal transport facilities including  40 metre high coal storage bins. It was clear that Cate was forthright in her opinions and did not suffer fools at all. I recall being at her home towards the late 1980’s as we battled on for the South Thirroul area. Cate and partner Eric Wilson were actively involved in CANS, Community Alliance for the Northern Suburbs – a Coalition of Community Groups established by then Alderman David Martin.

Also in the late 1980’s, Cate was fighting with Anna Whelan to save the Maternity Ward at Bulli Hospital, whilst partner Eric  was fighting on a different front to achieve better planning outcomes for the northern Illawarra.

Cate and her partner Eric were strong supporters of the Active Community Team that David Martin had initiated with Arthur and Jelly Osborne.

Cate and Eric continued to battle the war of attrition that seems to be inevitable in community politics – you win won round but the issue just keeps bouncing back again and again.

Around 2000 the Sandon Point debate had morphed towards a broad social movement that the local Wollongong City Council totally failed to appreciate. The internet and email facilitated collaboration across so many different community groups. This period saw the establishment of the Sandon Picket Line and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy of which aimed to protect the Sandon Point area from development. Cate Wilson became one of the leading members of the Sandon Point Picket, which unfortunately burned down after a number of years.

In the 1980’s Cate, and partner Eric, had restored a beautiful old home on Cliff Parade on McCauleys Hill in Thirroul. I recall some friends would refer to the house as “the one that had been done up by the two teachers” – Cate was a teacher of the Deaf and a strong member of the Teachers Federation.

Cate also painted beautiful watercolours of the northern suburbs area – I have a small one that is evocative of  the coast from Thirroul up to Coalcliff, looking up from  Norfolk Island Pines towards the cliffs. I also marvelled at the beautiful hand-knitted items that Cate often wore – another indicator of her talents ?

I doubt anyone ever ever intimidated Cate. She was always forthright in her views and you knew where you stood with her. An amazingly strong and inspiring woman.

Joan Adams – One of the strongest women Thirroul has ever known. A Eulogy 13.11.2012.


From the EULOGY for JOAN LOIS ADAMS on behalf of her children – Kerrie, Julie & Daryl – read by David Christian
 Joan loved life – a real people person. Family was very important to Joan and she was a real caring and practical Mum and Nan to all of them.

 Joan was born Joan Lois Callcott at Hornsby on 16th October 1932 – although she lived nearly her entire life in Thirroul, where many of her family lived. She was the second eldest child of Mary Constance Callcott (nee Joy) and, like her mother, and grandmother, Edith Florence Joy (Hicks), she was a battler, or a tough little bantam hen, as her husband Ross described her.

Joan shared 1932 as her birth year with the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – in fact she “walked” the opening of the Bridge in her mother’s womb. Little wonder that Joan would go on to walk the bridge herself in 1992, do a Harbour Bridge Climb, walk the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and the Great Wall of China, fly over Uluru Ayers Rock, and then fly in a hot air balloon to celebrate her 60thbirthday.
Life in the 1930’s was tough for many Australian children with the Depression and then the start of World War 2.  During that time, Joan’s mother was bringing up her 5 children, mostly singlehandedly, with help from her own mother, Edith Florence Joy.  Joan attended Thirroul Public School, which was opened by her great grandfather, then North Illawarra Council Alderman Henry Thomas Hicks in 1889. As a member of the Hicks Family, one of the oldest Illawarra European families, Joan took pride in learning of her family in the Northern Illawarra which dated from 1842 – 170 years. There was also Scots heritage from the Isle of Skye too – Great Grandmother, MaryAnn Hicks, was a Mackenzie.   

Years later, Joan, and Kerrie’s husband, David, would share the latest family tree finds – gradually building up a huge amount of information and stories – Joan discovered she was descended from the First Fleet “Small” Family. Sadly, one of the biggest pieces, missing for years from our Family Tree, would only emerge in the days after her death.

Joan went onto the Domestic Home Science School for girls, and the building is still located at Wollongong Public School in Smith St Wollongong. Later her daughter Kerrie attended classes in the same building. Granddaughter Katrina did school holiday programs there too. Joan was a very good swimmer and represented her school at carnivals in Sydney. 

Joan worked as a Shorthand Typist at the CRM works in the 1950’s – it became part of BHP and then BlueScope Steel. She was the first of our family to work in the steel industry. Subsequently her husband Ross, daughter Kerrie and sons-in-law David and Laurie would work in the Steel Industry, spanning a period of nearly 60 years till 2011.

Ross Adams came into Joan’s life when they met at a dance.  Ross had been at Kokoda in the 2/16th Battalion of the 2nd AIF during World War 2. He came  down from Queensland, to visit his two aunts Mabel Tuckerman and Ivy Richardson, before heading off to Perth to catch up with his army mates. However he met Joan, and they married at St Augustine’s Bulli on December 19 1953. Joan found herself in the large Adams Family, many of whom lived in the Boggabilla – Goondiwindi area up north. In 1954 she and Ross got a War Service loan and so they moved into their own home in Redman Avenue Thirroul, where Joan lived for the rest of her life.  In early 1955, daughter Kerrie arrived, and Julie in early 1956. 

With two very young daughters, and still in her twenties, Joan was for a time also caring for her invalid mother and grandmother. Both had passed away before Daryl arrived in late 1962. Her aunt, Marjorie Joy, had by then become a mother figure for Joan, just as Marjorie’s late husband, Ken, had been Joan’s father figure, before his untimely death.

Joan was a great cook. She experimented with dishes beyond traditional Australian food. Her cakes, slices, desserts and Christmas Pudding with silver coins were legendary. She was also very good at sewing and knitting, stretching the family finances by making all her children’s school clothes. Kerrie and Julie were dressed identically, and seemed to many to be more like twins. Joan was fairly strict with them, and then along came Daryl, who was a “real” boy – escaping through holes in the back fence and coming home with muddy clothes.  

Joan loved reading, doing cross word puzzles and jigsaw puzzles – the 3D Titanic puzzle done in the days before her final hospital stay was the most challenging of all she said. Joan also did a lot of photography – she had saved up when she first started working to buy her precious Kodak Box Brownie camera. Joan was also involved in the School Mothers’ Club and local Tennis Club from the 1960’s – becoming an active office bearer in each of these.

In adulthood, life remained challenging for Joan, as husband Ross experienced what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after his time at Kokoda – often she had to be both mother and father to her 3 kids.  However she always encouraged them to do the best they could, with the talents they had, and the opportunities that came their way. Kerrie was good at school work especially Science & Maths, Julie was good at Art and Daryl was good with his Hands – and so they moved into these areas with their Post High School education & careers.  Joan was also a confidential sounding board for Kerrie in her 12 years representing the Northern Illawarra, as an Alderman on Wollongong City Council.

Kerrie and Julie had left home to pursue their studies in the early 1970’s leaving Daryl as the only child still living at home.  Ross had continued to experience post combat trauma and eventually moved away under the pressures, leaving Joan and Daryl, although he periodically returned at Christmas time.

 Life continued to be tough for Joan and Daryl – and around this time Daryl took up pigeon racing with Joan’s support. We knew never to ring home on a Saturday because it was pigeon race day.  

In 1976 Ross suffered a severe debilitating stroke and Joan brought him home. She nursed and cared for him until his death in early 1990. Anna Barnett came into their lives in the 1980’s to form the Northern Illawarra Stroke Recovery Support club – predictably, Joan again became an active office bearer, until her own ill health in mid 2005. Courageously Joan had taken Ross on a 23 day camping safari to the Red Centre and Darwin in mid 1986 – with Ross using a walking frame.  It was written up in newspaper and magazine articles. In 2010, Joan was honoured with Life Membership of Stroke Recovery Association.

Over the 1980’s and 1990’s Joan became the proud & loving Nan to Erin, Gavin, Clare and Katrina. 

After Ross’s death in 1990, Joan’s aunt, Marjorie Joy, introduced her to War Widows and Laurel Club. Her aunt had been supported by Legacy for many years following the early death of her own husband. Predictably Joan became an active Office Bearer in War Widows and Woonona Bulli RSL’s Laurel Club. 

After Ross’s death, Joan was rarely home, as she was now free to socialize, see live shows  in Sydney and Arcadians, to travel –in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. In 2005, son-in-law David persuaded her to join him, Kerrie, and Katrina on a trip to China. Joan walked on the Great Wall of China and saw the Entombed Warriors.

 Several months later, she became seriously ill, but by a series of miracles survived, when many would not. In the 1930’s, a Jewish Doctor Huber, under threat of Buchenwald, was amazingly let go by the Nazi’s in Berlin, and so he came to Australia with his family. In 2005, nearly 70 years later, his grandson, Doctor David Huber, performed cutting edge vascular surgery on Joan in Wollongong Hospital. This surgery was not approved in many American states then. We will remain forever grateful to Dr Huber, as his skill gave us a precious bonus 7 ½ years with Joan. She saw all her grandchildren grow to adulthood,  to cross the Nullarbor on the Indian Pacific with Kerrie in 2011, and to finally complete the sentimental journey to Perth for her husband, Ross – visiting the Kokoda Memorial to Ross’s 2/16th Battalion of the 2nd AIF, which has pride of place in Kings Park, the main Botanic Gardens in Perth.

Joan’s adult grandchildren Erin and Gavin travelled extensively overseas, and at our weekly Sunday night family dinners, Joan loved to look at the photos of their travels on Facebook, and also photos of Clare’s latest adventures.

Joan would bring over home-cooked steamed puddings plus cakes and slices – she was always looking for new recipes to try out. David and Joan shared a love of sport and would chat on about the tennis, rugby league and cricket. And when they came down from Newcastle, Julie’s husband, Laurie, would set up Skype on his computer so that Joan could see and talk to Erin and Gavin overseas.Erin’s highly secret and surprise return home from the UK for Christmas 2011 truly stunned Joan.

Joan had hoped to celebrate her 80th birthday with her children, grandchildren, brothers Ian and Joe, sister Joy, cousins Margaret and Kath, their families, and her friends, at a picnic last month. However over the last year, various health issues emerged, and Joan was happy to just make her 80thbirthday, which neither her mother, nor grandmother, had achieved.  We had a surprise 80th morning tea with close family in the hospital. Joan’s famous wide mouthed surprise and smile were there as usual. 

We could never ever thank Joan enough for all that she did for our family. Joan was a very special lady, a real people person who loved life, with a great sense of humour and fun, a battling, tough little pocket rocket, a great friend, always ready to help others. She was greatly loved and respected by her extended family and many friends. So we thank you for sharing this celebration of Joan’s life with us today.

Who is Alison Fettell – Community Activist -the latest to lead campaign for Bulli Hospital

It’s been 3 years since I last posted to LingaLonga – work and family commitments got in the way .. but at last there is more time to pick this up .. to share the stories of Women of Thirroul who have made a difference for their community.

I first met Alison maybe 10 years ago or so when I was still a Ward 1 Councillor for Wollongong City Council. Back then Alison & Jayne were lobbying hard for McCauley Park in Thirroul. I left Council in 2004 but still see them power walking the streets of Thirroul – often with their dog.

Then in February 2012 I was helping the NSW Asthma Foundation & University of Wollongong at local Shopping Centres with Asthma Awareness promotions for The Over 55’s. Alison just happened to wander past with her youngest daughter and we had a quick chat…

Alison had decided something needed to be done to Save Bulli Hospital Emergency Department – and I couldn’t sit back .. friends had been saved by treatment at Bulli ED. A number of us starting meeting at Cucina Coffee Shop in Thirroul & Save Bullli ED was born with Alison as its Convenor.

So Just Who is Alison Fettell ? Previously a Single Mum Fighter who didn’t collapse under the pressures ? An Executive Health Administrator Manager ? Sea Change resident ? A Tough Fighter for our Local Thirroul Community over the last 10 years ? What’s her story ? How is she honouring past campaigns for Bulli Hospital & spearheading the resistance to the latest attacks ?

Sally Bowen – Drover, Dressmaker, Steelworker, Unionist & Pacificist

Drover, dressmaker, steelworker, union official, political party member & state election candidate, anti war campaigner, health & aged care advocate … and yet, ten years after her 1999 death at Lawrence Hargrave Hospital in Thirroul, the name “Sally Bowen” might mean little to some in the Illawarra. And if they had heard of this pedigree, they may have, quite incorrectly, imagined a stern, forbidding, divisive & judgemental personality.

But to others, Sally Bowen was a woman respected and loved. A warm smile from this pioneering & legendary woman, who also became a dressmaker, able to do beautiful beading on Irene Arrowsmith’s wedding dress. I will always remember that warm smiling, caring face.

Born Sara Elva Gladys Phipps in Gunnedah 1918, the daughter of share farmers, she ran as a Communist Party Australia (CPA) candidate for the NSW seat of Bulli in 1953, 1962 and 1965. According to the biographical entry, under Sara Bowen, in the National Foundation for Australian Women’s register, “At the time of her two later campaigns, she was married to a miner and they had two young children. She was the Vice President of the South Coast District of the Union of Australian Women and a member of the Corimal Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary. A member of the Save Our Sons movement, Bowen was one of the participants who chained themselves to the railing in the gallery of Parliament House (Canberra). She also demonstrated against Australian Iron and Steel, a subsidiary of BHP, for the Jobs for Women campaigns. She had played a leading roll in campaigns for local government reforms.”

Sally Bowen’s story is featured in several books, including Mavis Robertson’s 1980 “Women, class and history : feminist perspectives on Australia, 1788-1978” under “Sally Bowen: Political and Social Experiences of a Working-Class Woman“. This work was later cited in the 1998 “Rebel Women in Australian Working Class History“. And Sally’s story was also told in Anne Deveson’s Faces of Change” under “The Women of Wollongong” – written in 1984, following a period of great upheavals in the steel and coal mining industries. That year she also featured in Tom Zubrycki’s 16mm documentary, “Kemira : diary of a strike” –more. Around that time she was also supporting the jobs for women campaign at BHP’s Port Kembla Steelworks, as she had done since the 1970’s.

The National Foundation for Australian Women’s register entry under Sally Bowen is more detailed, than that for Sara Bowen – “In 1950 she was elected the secretary of the South Coast District Committee of the CPA. She met her future husband, miner David (Dave) Bowen (died 1984) , when she spoke at Balgownie against Menzies’ referendum to ban the Communist Party. They married in 1954 and had two children. Bowen resigned as district secretary of the CPA in 1955 but remained on the committee, later to become president. She worked with the Women’s Centre in Wollongong and Miners’ Women’s Auxiliaries. It was the auxiliaries that initiated the celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) on the South Coast in 1938. In 1964 Bowen led a CPA women’s delegation to the USSR.

The northern suburbs of Wollongong had been a pocket of CPA activity for decades. Although for many of us locals, the CPA slipped under our radar with the dominating political influence of local RSL branches in the years through to the end of Vietnam War. The Illawarra, including Thirroul, was polarised on the issue, as was much of Australia. Sally Bowen had been an active member of Save Our Sons – which “protested against conscription of Australians to fight in the Vietnam war. The movement made conscription of men under 18, who were not eligible to vote at that time, a focus of their campaign”.

Known as a pacificist during the Vietnam War, in fact Sally had worked in the Port Kembla Lysaght Works, assembling Owen machine guns during World War II. The story of the Owen Gun & Sally’s involvement was recounted in the 1982 play “Diggers Darling” (refer Des Davis’ 2007 PhD Thesis). She also became the shop steward for the Ironworkers union. Before that, like my own father in Boggabilla, she had started out from Gunnedah as a drover – I hadn’t even realised that women had been drovers back then…. and yet there were a number. After WWII Sally left Lysaghts to work in a clothing factory, and found conditions oppressive there. Once again she became a union delegate, later becoming District Secretary for the Communist Party. In the 1950’s she became part of the Peace Movement and the Miners Womens Auxiliary.

It was in 1984 that I first head of Sally Bowen, from Barbara Quintrell, a leader in the Coalcliff Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary, when the Coalcliff mine closure was announced. At the time I had joined the fledgling NIRAG to oppose the construction of a coal conveyor, bins & rail loading facility at Sandon Point, Bulli – straight into the middle of a “blue” within the union movement, involving the Miners Federation, the South Coast Labour Council, as well as various other union bodies.

It was believed by some that the construction of this coal conveyor and coal bins infrastructure would save the NSW southern district coal mines, including the “Old Bulli” pit. In a bid to avoid destructive divisions between the unions and the environmentalists, I had gone along to various miners meetings. At one of these, Barbara Quintrell advocated approaching Sally Bowen to support the Womens Auxiliary at Coalcliff. After I was elected to Wollongong Council in 1991, I met Sally Bowen many times at various functions and meetings.

In 1992, Sally was still campaigning on public health issues, when the local Bulli hospital was under one of its many threats of closure. “ In fact Sally Bowen was also involved in the environmental movement and was prominent in promoting aged care issues. She became chairperson of the Healthy Cities Illawarra Aged Task Force for the South Coast area.” 1994 saw Sally Bowen recording her life experiences in the publication “A Garland of Poetry“, before Len Fox wrote of her in his 1996 “Australians on the Left“.

Below are two of my favourite poems that epitomise Sally in “A Garland of Poetry”

Sally’s daughter, Margaret Bowen, a Thirroul resident, followed in her mother’s footsteps to fight for those less advantaged, ultimately become CEO of the Illawarra Disability Trust, now known as The Disability Trust. In 2012 Margaret was declared Illawarra Business Woman of the Year, for her role in leading The Disability Trust.


Sally Bowen was a principled woman of the Left, a campaigner of various causes for her entire adult life until her death in Thirroul in 1999, reported in the Green Left.

POSTSCRIPT – Sally’s story has been included in a list to fundraise to help others at A Women’s Investment Blog – “Tribute: how your blog post can raise $1000 for people living in poverty – I have some great news to share with you! Over the next week Melbourne based business Incentive House will be contributing up to $1000 towards an Opportunity International microfinance fundraiser by donating $100 for every blog post you write for a special project.”

Alderman Rube Hargrave – Ward 1, Wollongong City Council


I’d always felt a connectedness to Ald Rube Hargrave, the first woman to serve as an alderman on Wollongong Council, 50 years ago in 1959, a century after local government had come to the Wollongong area. The council had been formed from an amalgamation of 3 smaller councils in 1947. It was 12 years before Rube broke the barriers as the first woman alderman, before going on to also become the first woman Deputy Lord Mayor. Rube also ran for the NSW State Parliament in 1965 & 1968. However the residents of the northern suburbs of Wollongong were not ready for a non ALP State Representative.

Local northern suburbs journalist & historian, Mick Roberts, quotes her maiden speech to the council “I come here humbly, as a representative of many women’s organisations. I would like to extend the warm hand of fellowship to my fellow aldermen. I will at all times be accessible, and I will try to be wholly impartial. I feel proud because I represent so many fine women, and I will not let them down.

We had both lived in Thirroul, represented the northern suburbs (Ward 1) on Wollongong City Council, as well as serving on the Illawarra County Council & Illawarra Electricity Boards respectively. It is very humbling to represent such a very special & fragile area, bounded by the Royal National Park to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east and the magnificent Illawarra Escarpment in the west. Rube had served from 1959-1971, and I from 1991-2004.

At the Bulli Lookout Kiosk, (now The Cliffhanger), during my high school & university years, I’d also worked for Rube’s nephew, Peter Chamberlain (& also a childhood neighbour of my mother – Joan Adams(Callcott) & of NSW Speaker – The Hon. Laurie Kelly). Having no children of their own, Rube and Uncle Jack Hargrave were understandably close to Peter and his brother Teddy. So at Bulli Lookout Kiosk there were often stories of Aunty Rube. Inevitably there was gently exposure to the realm of local politics; especially as Pat Williams and Iris Wheeler, daughters of former Mayor Albert Squires, also worked there.

At high school it was Ald Rube who inducted us as prefects at Bulli High School, where I’d also been in the same class as Sandra, her great niece. Sandra’s brother John, like myself, worked in the technology field in BHP Steel. Their sister Kerrie Ahlburg has been my daughter’s (Katrina Christian) Girl Guide Leader … and so on. And during my 12 years as a Wollongong City Councillor, Rube’s nephew, Peter Chamberlain, regularly dropped little notes on all the things he saw needed doing.

At Rube Hargrave’s funeral in 1996, Peter’s son, John Chamberlain, spoke very movingly of her long and rich life. So in 1997, when the then Wollongong City Councillors were asked to speak on themes to honour 50 years of the City of Wollongong, I chose to speak on Ald Rube Hargrave. Her nephew, Peter Chamberlain, and his wife, Bron, generously shared their memories of their Aunty Rube with me … showing many treasured items from her public life.

Speech by Cr Kerrie Christian at the 50th anniversary meeting of the formation of Wollongong Council – September 18 1997.

“Thank you Lord Mayor

Tonight I feel privileged to speak of a former deputy lord mayor of Wollongong, indeed the first woman deputy lord mayor of Wollongong, Rube Hargrave, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary.

Cr Franks I understand will speak more broadly on the role of women in local government and as the longest serving woman in local government in Wollongong’s history that is truly her honour to do so – but tonight I would like to say a few brief words about one, Rube Hargrave. Sadly she is unable to be with us tonight, having passed away at the grand age of 97 late last year. But those of us who attended her funeral last year will remember it as a very moving ceremony – a celebration of a very full and rich life.

So tonight I think that it is important that along with looking to the future that we acknowledge this watershed, that with the support of the Women’s Local government Promotion Committee Rube Hargrave became the first woman to be elected to Wollongong Council as an alderman back in 1959 – after nearly a century of local government in our city area.

Naturally there were other firsts for Rube hargrave – in 1970 she was elected as not only Wollongong’s but also nsw’s first woman deputy lord mayor. She also Served on the Illawarra County Council from 1968 from 1971 – the first woman from Wollongong Council to do so – an interesting feat in itself. It should also be mentioned that she was made a life member of the Local Government Women’s Association. She was considered to be a truly remarkable woman – but then what would you expect from the person who was also claimed to be Australia’s first woman driving instructor. She quite clearly deserved the Order of Australia that was ultimately presented to her by Governor Sinclair.

Wollongong, in 1959 when Rube Hargrave was first elected to Wollongong Council – nearly 40 years ago was indeed a different place. But I think that it was noteworthy that she had chosen to enter politics because she wished “to break down prejudice against women in the city, to prove women have brains equal to men and to prove that their advice, ideas and counsel in government can be valuable”.

She certainly must have demonstrated that and quickly cleared the way for others – because she was joined by two others – that is Alderman Ryan and Alderman Kelly in 1962. However, sadly there was a drought of women on council over 12 years from 1971 until 1983 before we saw Councillor Franks along with norma wilson elected to council.

On a personal note I guess that I must have experienced some sort of latent or vicarious inspiration as I worked as a teenager for Rube’s nephew in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s at the Bulli Lookout kiosk and as I listened to the talk of Aunty Rube’s doings at council – a highlight I remember at the time being her election as Deputy Lord mayor and her involvement in the visit of Princess Ann to our city.

It is also not surprising that given her involvement in running the Sublime Point kiosk and Clifton’s Imperial Hotel and her husband Jack’s employment in the steel industry that Rube Hargrave would have had an appreciation of key industries in our region.

I also noted with interest when I attended Rube Hargrave’s funeral late last year that two of her principle concerns had included the installation of pram ramps in the city and also the construction of a footpath along the cliffs in the northern suburbs from Clifton to Scarborough – an issue with which Councillor Martin will no doubt empathise. Quite clearly some issues still remain as important basic responsibilities so far as the community is concerned. Even as we near the end of the 90’s with all sorts of reform and buzz words in local government, we are still reminded of these fundamental needs of all our citizens.

But along with running the city and entertaining royalty she still found time to do the exquisite cutwork embroidery and to make knitted dolls to be sold on various stalls for charities such as Red Cross and Crippled Children. She was also a founding member not to mention president of the Northern Suburbs Meals on Wheels. In fact she retained her involvement with groups such as the Guides at Woonona even into her 90’s. And a number of Community organisations were very grateful when they found that she had remembered them in her will.

Obviously there are a range of interesting memories of Rube Hargrave – including some told by our general manager but I will say no more on that – I also understand that she may have also upset at least one other elected rep in the region – but to me that would seem to indicate that she was doing her job and making her presence felt as a strong woman who was working for the betterment of our city. I do think that it was notable that Rube continued to retain an interest in wollongong’s local government affairs – offering quite strong opinions even up until as late as 1995.

Now Rube Hargrave also had the reputation amongst her family and friends of being an excellent cook and so I think of the story of her memorable reply when she was told that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, not representing the people of Wollongong – she replied that she was just as happy in the kitchen as on the council. A true woman of the 20th century.

Perhaps it was to be expected last year when her nephew John Chamberlain spoke so movingly in delivering the eulogy saying that Rube Hargrave had believed that she had been elected to represent every man, woman and child, no matter what race or religion. I think that in this Rube Hargrave has left us a legacy for the next 50 years , not only for women councillors, but for all councillors, a legacy that seems to sit very well with the charter which earlier this year that we as a city invited leaders from across our community to sign – the charter proudly proclaiming that Wollongong is a city of access and opportunity for all.”

When first elected in 1991, I had written to Rube saying how honoured I felt to be following in her footsteps. In reply, Rube wrote a typically very practical letter of advice on being a female alderman. So especially evocative for me, are the photos of Rube in Thirroul taken over a period of 60 years … A young woman, Rube in a 1930’s photo, (taken near my current home), in what is now Hamilton St Thirroul. Her home at the bottom of Bulli Pass, (near my previous home), since resumed in the 1950’s by the Department of Main Roads. At the opening of the first Thirroul Library in 1960 (wonderful to have that little library building in Thirroul in the 1960’s), and a frail Rube receiving an OAM in 1993.

Mick Roberts has also written of her involvement as a past patron of “Thirroul Red Cross, Bulli Kennel Club (more), Poultry Club, Coledale Surf Club (Woman’s Aux), CWA, Wollongong Civilian Widows, Fraternity Bowling Club, Crippled Children‘s Society, Bulli Agriculture Society, Bulli High School and the Woonona Girl Guides. She was a life member of the Local Government Women’s Association, foundation Soroptimist Club president, was an active member of the Professional and Business Woman’s Association, the Crippled Children Society, Sub normal Children’s Society and Chesalon Home for the Aged.

A life truly well lived.