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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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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.”

Stories from Thirroul

A friend, Joe Davis, once commented to me, that lots of interesting people have lived in Thirroul. DH Lawrence stayed here, Gary Shead painted here, as did Brett Whitely who also died here. Mostly it has been males that have received recognition.

But Thirroul has influenced, & been influenced by, many interesting women – some I’ve known, some I’ve read about, or listened to the stories told by my mother. As a child I had been fascinated by these stories, however all too often we are too busy to collect these stories.

By chance I had come across Mary Phyllis Nicol’s story when searching on the Internet during my years as a Local Government Councillor. It seemed that there might be many such stories – so the time finally came to start to collect and share. As is the nature of a village like Thirroul, there are many family interconnections in the list.

Thirroul’s women have had diverse backgrounds, as they juggle many responsibilities and so to give them only a single tag is too constraining. The list will grow, and the spaces fill, with the stories I’d like to collect and share ….

Arts

  • Grace Cossington Smith
  • Judy Bourke
  • Juanita Bailey
  • Margaret Coen
  • Joanne Handley

Business & Professional

  • Sue Chapman – public and private sector executive
  • Anita Comelli – business woman & swimming instructor
  • Judy Stubbs – consultant social planner
  • Maureen Dignam – business woman
  • Margaret Bowen – CEO Illawarra Disability Trust

Community Activists

  • Delwyn Jones – community activist & scientist
  • Shirley Nixon – community activist
  • Cate Wilson – community activist, artist & teacher
  • Ann Ellicott – community activist – Thirroul Village Committee
  • Bonny Martin – community activist – NIRAG
  • Anna Whelan – community activist & consultant social planner
  • Edie Swift – community activist & oral historian

Community Leaders

  • Lyn Jones – Thirroul Village Committee
  • Lenore Gray – Thirroul Village Committee
  • Irene Redfern – Thirroul Senior Citizens Centre
  • Joan Callcott (Adams) – various community groups
  • Marjory Tolner (Joy) – various community groups
  • Marj Hargraves – Thirroul Neighbourhood Centre
  • Dot Sefton – local history
  • Wendy Joliffe – librarian

Educators

  • Pat Bowyer & Wendy Bowyer (Akhurst) – primary teachers
  • Betty Gibson, Pearl Lewis & Mildred Gibson – primary teachers & secondary teacher
  • Chris Campbell – lecturer – Notre Dame Uni Sydney

The Factory

  • Women from Hardies – from northern suburbs tales by Mick Roberts

Good Food & Wine

  • Gaye Kirkman
  • Lisa Ackerman & Suzette DeVille – The Flying Duck Cafe
  • Betty – MARS

Legal

  • Peta Glynn – Lawyer

Nearly Forgotten

  • Beatrice Southwell and Lucy Callcott
  • Mary Hicks

Performers

  • Margaret Fagan – musician
  • Chloe Roweth – musician
  • Amanda Baker – musician
  • Ruth – Thirroul Music & Drama Academy
  • Margaret Wolfe – Eisteddford administrator

Politics

  • Mary Reuben Hargrave – 1st Woman Alderman & Deputy Lord Mayor – Wollongong City Council, publican
  • Helen Gray (Kuiper) – Councillor – Wollondilly Council
  • Kerrie Adams (Christian) – Councillor – Wollongong City Council, technology manager & TJSC mum
  • Alice Cartan – Councillor & Deputy Lord Mayor – Wollongong City Council- Wollongong & TJSC mum
  • Karla Sperling –
  • Betty Woodward – wife & minder of Ald Fred Woodward
  • Sally Bowen – union offical, political & community activist
  • Carol Medcalf – unions, political & community activist, local government executive
  • Di Dixon – union official & TJSC mum

Science & Technology

  • Mary Phyllis Nicol – physicist
  • Florence Violet McKenzie – electrical engineer
  • Karen Fraser – ohs manager
  • Joanne Glynn – environmental scientist

Sports

  • Kerryn McCann – athlete
  • Taurie & Kari Kristiansen – Surf School

The Shops

  • Nelly Parson – Dressmaker
  • Mrs Frost – wool shop
  • Mrs Martin – draper

They Came & Stayed

  • Mrs Vasakos
  • Mrs Crittle
  • Evie Joubert

Writers

  • Baroness Frieda Von Richtoffen (Frieda Lawrence )
  • Susan McCreery
  • Jody Duffy
  • Christine Ambler (Sutton)
  • Jacqueline Coyle-Taylor
  • Mary Ijall
  • Inga Lazarotto
  • Amanda Kunkler

Youth Activities

  • Wendy Momsen – Girl Guides & TJSC mum
  • Rosemary Kettley – Girl Guides
  • Ann Ellacott – Girl Guides & doctor
  • Liz Elliott – Girl Guides & IT manager
  • Girl Guides – international ambassadors
  • Sue Plumb – Scouts
  • Danielle Foster – junior soccer official – TJSC