3 Squadron LIFETIMES
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(13 March 1915 - 21 February 2004)
By Jill Hickson-Wran
Staveley Frederick Norton HICKSON was born in 1915 into a family of Darling Downs graziers. His grandfather, Edward Staveley Hickson, had come out to Australia from Manchester, where his father was a cotton goods merchant and his mother, Elizabeth Rachel Piccope, the child of a family of highly-educated Cambridge and Oxford church scholars:
Edward Staveley Hickson arrived in Brisbane as a paying passenger on the ship ‘Wanatas' in February 1863 at the age of 23. Six years later, in Maryborough, he married Harriet Elizabeth Shackles, the first Hickson born in Australia and a great matriarch after whom my daughter, Harriet, is named. Edward and Harriet settled first on a property called ‘Ellerslie’ near Maryborough and three sons, (Henry Staveley) Hilton, (Charles Albert) Bayley and, Dad’s father, (George William) Norton, were all born there.
Presumably they prospered because by 1881 the family had returned to England where Dad’s father and uncles were all educated. Around the turn of the century the family made its way back to Australia, this time via New Zealand where Bayley married, and Dad’s father, Norton, trained as a surveyor. Ultimately they returned to Queensland and Edward purchased ‘Parkhead’, a sheep run near Dalby.
Upon Edward’s death in 1908, Parkhead was divided three ways – and Dad grew up on that part of it known as ‘Uralla’. But first, in 1914, at Warwick, Norton married Ethel Agnes Coe, the sixth and youngest child of another Queensland grazier. Much later, about the time Dad left school, his uncle Hilton married Ethel’s older sister Florence, who then came to live next door at the original ‘Parkhead’.
(An only child like his grandfather, and the last male of the line, Dad was perhaps unusually sentimental about family life and family history, so forgive me for giving you what I know of it here.)
At the age of 9, Dad went from Dalby (by sulky) to live with his widowed grandmother, Dora Grey Coe, and her second husband, Charles Highfield, at ‘Northbank’, a gracious old ‘Queenslander’ overlooking the Condamine River on Mill Hill in Warwick. From there he walked the three miles to Warwick Central School every day. His aunts, Alice and Florence (not yet married to Norton’s brother Hilton) and a cousin, Cecil Joyner, also lived at North Bank during these years. Completing the household, there was much-loved Bessie, Dad’s very special mate and someone we would now know as one of the ‘stolen generation’.
Charlie Highfield, or ‘Granka’, as Dad called him, was the son of a respected Queensland engineer who ran a stock and station agency in Warwick with his wife’s eldest son, Lloyd Coe. He was, in Dad’s opinion, "a great fella". They had two cars, a rarity in those days, and summer holidays with all the Coe cousins at Wellington Point on the shores of Moreton Bay. Christmases were quite wonderful, jolly affairs at Northbank. It was nothing to have twenty or more people around the table and beforehand Gran always gave each of the kids a stir of the pudding just ‘for luck’.
In 1929, Dad passed Scholarship and was accepted as a boarder at Slade (now part of ‘Churchie’, Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School). Slade sat just along the ridge from his grandmother’s house in Warwick and indeed after Granka’s death, Northbank became Slade’s junior school.
The late Tom Gunn, who was at Slade with Dad, has written:
Hickson was a tremendously sincere and conscientious boy, and everything he did at Slade was done well.
As dux of the 1930 Lower 5th and 1931 Upper 5th Forms, he was the best Latin scholar in the school and also won prizes in classics, maths and history. In the records of the school, however, Dad is undoubtedly best remembered as the great mile-runner of his time. I quote:
Deep-chested, broad shouldered and long-legged, Hickson had the ideal build for a distance runner. While still under 16 years he won the 1930 inter-school mile in record time and broke the record again in 1931. When he loped in comfortably clear of the field in 5 minutes and 2 seconds, he was so little extended that his breathing could scarcely have extinguished the flame of a match. He also ran the 440 in record time. Hickson played lock forward in the 1930 and 1931 cup winning first XVs and, with his stamina and pace, was a player who was always on the ball.
No wonder Dad was so chuffed when Hugo started winning the odd foot race and chose to play Rugby. But I can’t leave Dad’s school sporting history without telling you a story I learned only the other day when the Slade Old Boys Union sent me Tom Gunn’s notes, and, again I quote:
The Magic of the Mile. At Warwick, Queensland, in the late 20’s and 30’s, the goal of the champion secondary school milers was to record an under five-minute mile. Ahead of his time a chap called A. R. Muir of Scots College had established a record of 4 mins 57.2 secs at the interschool sports in 1922. Staveley Hickson, a natural miler and winner of the inter-school mile in 1930, had set his heart on smashing Muir’s nine year old record in 1931.
The mile in those days was always the last point-scoring event on an Athletics programme. In 1931, the points score between Slade and its arch-rival, Brothers, was such that even if Hickson (the red-hot favourite) took out the event, Brothers would still win the school premiership; provided that their miler – Jack Bacon - could manage second placing.
The atmosphere was electric as the runners tensed for the start. Slade’s hopes of taking the cup (assuming Hickson would win) depended on Irwin of Scots or O’Hagan of High running second.
Early in the race, Slade’s chances were sensationally reduced when O’Hagan fell and was out of the race. Long-legged Hickson continued to lope along in the lead, closely followed by Irwin, with the heavily-built Bacon running last, but hanging on with bulldog determination. The same order was maintained into the final lap, and the excitement intensified. Could Bacon pass and outlast the taller but more slenderly-built Irwin, was the big question.
Hickson, as expected, won by a clear margin, and Bacon, in a never-say-die finish, could not manage to overtake the free-striding Irwin. Slade students and supporters showered congratulations on both Hickson and Irwin.
But little did the other spectators or the other competitors know that in this race unseen sportsmanship of the highest order had been enacted. It was only after the event that one of Hickson’s team mates explained that Hickson had made a last-minute decision before the race not to run away with the lead lest Irwin and O’Hagan be run to a standstill thereby allowing the dogged Bacon to come up into second place.
In other words, Hickson concentrated intently on keeping Irwin reasonably close even though he knew that this tactic would almost certainly cost him his chance of running a sub-five minute mile and thereby breaking the record. Without hesitation he had put Slade first. (It was fitting that a Slade runner, Max Imhoff, should be the one to finally crack Muir’s mile record, and this was not achieved until 17 years later, in 1948.)
The sad thing is that all this happened in the teeth of the Great Depression and it was inevitable that Dad would have to leave school before matriculating and go out and earn a living. "It was certain", says Tom Gunn, "that he had not then reached his school sporting peak."
What is also certain is that this kind of honour, this sportsmanship, was typical of Dad’s attitude throughout his life. He truly was a man who lived up to the Slade school motto – Patribus Digne Est – be worthy of your forefathers.
Of course with the advent of the Great Depression everyone did it tough, especially those on the land. Dad remembered the Chinese storekeeper in Dalby very fondly as he kept most of the families in the district in these years by giving them credit. Fortunately, through family connections Dad was able to get a job and joined the Bank of NSW in Gladstone in 1932.
Named 'Staveley' after his grandfather (and great grand-mother, and a village somewhere in Derbyshire) his name was always somewhat problematic. Indeed once on current affairs television I remember him being quizzed about this. "Your name is Staveley Frederick Norton," said the interviewer, "and your firm is Wade Hickson. Where in the world did you get Dick?"
In the annals of Slade he is remembered as "Jim" which was what ‘Granka’ called him (as in ‘sonny Jim’), or sometimes, as "Hicko". But as a man his friends always knew him as "Dick’’.
Why Dick? Well apparently, when first posted to Brisbane with the Bank, a certain Miss Pocock, head of the typing pool at the Bank, said "Staveley, they don’t call you that do they?"
"What do you want to call me?" asked Dad.
"Richard", she said. "Richard the Lionheart"; and thereafter, except in the family, it was always "Dick".
Little did she know that that lion-heart, a strong mind and inestimable courage would carry him through these last years of breathlessness when any other heart would long have given out.
In seven years with the Bank, Dad moved about with postings from Gladstone to Brisbane, Chinchilla, McKay, South Brisbane and finally to Sydney. During this time he qualified as a practising accountant and kept up his distance running.
In Sydney he lived close to the ferry wharf at Neutral Bay and, through the Bank, met my mother Jean Halse Rogers who also lived in Neutral Bay and happened to be one of the first two women appointed by the Bank in the glamorous travel department.
"She was beautiful," said Judy Paine, the other pioneering woman and grandmother to one of Hugo’s friends at Sydney Grammar School, "Not just in looks but in every way". And, though engaged to marry someone else at the time she met Dad, (Dad always liked a challenge!) Mummy married Dad at St Phillips, Church Hill, in December 1943 when he returned on leave from war service with the RAAF in the Middle East.
Before the war Dad was a member of the 17th Battalion of the Militia (as the CMF was called in those days). On the outbreak of war, however, perhaps because as a small boy he’d seen the birth of aviation in his home state of Queensland, he chose to join the Air Force. Unable to fly (because his sight wasn’t good enough), he started out as an Equipment Officer with the famous 3 Squadron and saw action in the Western Desert, and various parts of Syria.
Charles Wannan, a lifelong friend from 3 Squadron, has told me that Dad, "was universally respected by his Squadron mates". Certainly he was there during a very intense, bitter period and helped pioneer the ways of desert warfare and Squadron survival, indeed the leadership of 3 Squadron among its very gallant peers.
And from Perth, Eric Bradbury has also sent me a note that I wish I could tell Dad about. I quote:
"On Thursday 22nd January 1942, I was forced down into a tank battle south of Bengazi, in North Africa. Having been rescued, we were taken to Gazala and bombed. I was in a demented state and tried to run away from further bombing. Dick Hickson bravely chased me through the British minefield into which I had run. His passing is a sad reminder of a debt I owe this fine officer."
Returning to Australia after El Alamein, he was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to Melbourne, to the Stores Depot as Master Provisioning Officer. Newly married and living with Mummy in a flat in South Yarra this, he said, was the happiest year of his life. After completing a three months Staff Course at Mt Martha, where he topped the course, he was posted to Noemfoor in ‘the Islands’ and, from there, participated in the 3rd landing at Balikpapan in Borneo, thereby helping to make sure that the Allies had control of Indonesia.
(Just to tell you how sentimental he was, Dad picked up a US Navy teaspoon on the beach at Balikpapan and absolutely insisted upon using this to eat his dessert every single day thereafter.)
After the war, living at Pymble, Dad thought he might grow orchids - especially the rare native tree orchids - with a friend and neighbour, Phil (later Mr Justice) Woodward. Instead he found himself managing an engineering firm, Paull Roberts & Parsons Pty Ltd before going into real estate in 1951 with Doug Wade-Ferrell.
Wade Hickson Pty. Ltd. (as the firm became known) operated as a successful, independent business from its city premises at 173 Pitt Street, with a branch office at Mona Vale, for some 25 years before Dad finally stopped deflecting takeover offers (perhaps the most enticing from Harry Gorman of Hardie and Gorman whom Dad respected greatly) and merged the firm with an English company, Debenham, Tewson and Chinnocks. He retired finally, in 1995, aged 80, as Chairman of Debenham Tewson & Hickson Pty Ltd, Real Estate Agents, Consultants, Valuers and Auctioneers.
His is the story of a long and distinguished career with specialisation in the Industrial and Commercial property sectors, especially motel broking, and what is today called tourism. It is also the story of untiring service to the community.
Over a period of two decades in the 1960’s and 70’s Dad worked with great energy at the state and national level for the Real Estate Institute of Australia, eventually serving as President of the New South Wales office 1966-1968 and President of the national body 1978-1980.
As a mark of respect Dad was made an Honorary Life Fellow of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales in 1975 and this meant a great deal to him. Fifteen years later, at the Real Estate Institute of NSW’s Annual Dinner, it was announced that in recognition of the fact that Dad had provided 30 years of service on the Institute’s Board of Management, the Institute’s Board Room would henceforth be named the Hickson Room.
Whilst a great tribute to Dad, this seemed only appropriate to his peers because as Woodrow Weight, himself a state president of the REI, once said to me: "When Dick speaks everyone shuts up. There is authority in his thinking – never any shouting."
As he reaped the benefits of a successful career in Real Estate so he went on to serve the industry in ever broader spheres and from 1981 represented Australia on the executive of the International Real Estate Federation becoming Deputy World President, Asia Pacific, in 1983.
Throughout these years Dad was equally committed as a member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce moving from Councillor in 1968 to President in 1973-74 before taking on the role of President of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in 1975-77.
During his time as President the Australian Chamber of Commerce (ACC) took the initiative in the formation of a new body called the Assembly of Australian Business Organisations (AABO). The latter brought together a diverse range of business organisations which by themselves had little voice but collectively, by co-operation, carried considerable weight. AABO was, in effect, the first organisation to represent the tertiary industry sector as a whole, that is anything that was not primary industry or manufacturing. And in 1975 Dad was unanimously elected AABO’s inaugural Chairman.
He also managed the staging of the First National Private Enterprise Convention designed to give business interface with the Whitlam government although by the time the Convention actually took place Malcolm Fraser had become Prime Minister.
And, not limiting his interest to domestic affairs, Dad went out of his way to promote and support the Confederation of Asian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
"It was a very worthwhile effort", says Ray Pelham-Thorman, Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce for a total of 23 years. "In my opinion, Dick was the best President we ever had. When you talk about Dick you can only talk in superlatives. They were tricky times too, for business as a whole, at the end of the Whitlam years. His leadership came at a time of great need for a strong business voice."
There were various other commitments besides, all given the full and considered attention he was renowned for. A member of the Council of the Institute of Urban Studies from 1967, he Chaired the NSW Division of this important research organisation from 1969-1971. And for ten years between 1966 and 1976 he was a Member of the NSW Government’s Housing Advisory Committee.
Among all these activities he also managed to make a considerable impact first as a member then eventually as Chairman of the National Board of the Australian National Travel Industry Association between 1968 and 1975.
Graham Tucker, former head of the Australian Tourist Commission recalls that,
"Dick was very clear-sighted about the task. It was not effective merely to be critical of governments or go to them for hand-outs. Rather it was important for all the peak bodies associated with tourism to subject themselves to the discipline of thinking through strategies and solutions that would be acceptable all round. There should be no knee-jerk reactions. No just saying No. It was important to work with government to construct scenarios that would have minimal adverse effects and optimise outcomes for all."
Among other initiatives at ANTA, he was instrumental in the formation of regional tourism bodies and particularly successful in encouraging State government to provide incentives for these organisations to go out and promote themselves. He saw with some prescience that while there was considerable support for tourist facilities in the big cities in terms of hotel construction and the like, the regions were mendicants and therefore issues of regional tourism at this time were uppermost.
"Wherever we went, people had a profound respect for Dick. His reputation around the countryside and high standing in country areas through his motel business meant that he had a very big impact in this area. He certainly had a superior knowledge about the economics of the tourism industry but he was self- effacing too; never pushed his own agenda and had just the right temperament to deal with those who did."
In 1978 Senator Robert Cotton, then Minister for Industry and Commerce invited Dick to join the Council of Advice, Bureau of Industry Economics and the Australian Manufacturing Council, on both of which he served two very busy years.
In 1983 he was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) for service to commerce but did not even then begin to rest on his laurels. Indeed in the same year, with Bob Frewin among others, he formed the Society of Land Economists and served on the Board of that body until retiring from all active positions in March, 1990.
Real Estate was, in many ways, an unlikely career for someone who liked to describe himself as, "a farm boy from Dalby". But he gave it his best and, from that pitch, had a pretty good innings.
At Christmas-time it seemed that half of Sydney came through the doors for Dad’s office party. The "Cricket Match", as it was known, was legendary, with first ball bowled at 6pm and definitely no appeal against the light!
To the extent that Dad was a leader of men he credited his parents with having set him on a highly ethical path; emphasising (as he has done for me) that being respected by all and sundry in life and doing one’s bit for the community are much more important than making money or being a big-wig.
There is no doubt he was revered by all who ever worked with him. I can say this because even Neville is frequently stopped in odd places by all sorts of people who not only speak well of him but want to praise him highly.
Some remark on his civic-mindedness, on how public-spirited he was. But all want to speak of his human qualities, the immense dignity yet humility, his impeccable manners, his courtesy and gentility, his honesty, his straight bearing and attractiveness, warmth and good humour. "He was a pretty complete sort of fellow," said Charles Wannan when I spoke with him this week.
And yes, he was modest too. When Hugo began to show promise as a runner in distances of 100, 200 and 400 metres. "Ah," said Dad, "there’s not a race worth running under a mile!" And that was the first we knew of his own record on the track, the first time I fully realised that he had in fact been the Queensland miler. The rest all came to me only the other day in researching this eulogy.
He was, it is true, very strong-minded, quite judgemental really. There was only one way of doing things – the proper way. Insisting on acumen and integrity from himself as well as from others, he could detect insincerity or superficiality a mile off. Sir Robert Cotton says it was a bit of a standing joke on the Australian Manufacturing Council that Dad had a very low BS quotient.
Someone he admired like Granka was "a great fella," or like David Grout, his much-revered cardiologist, "a very decent chap". He admired achievement; but much more importantly: modesty, compassion and sensitivity, and simple decency. The highest praise, he said, quoting the immortal words of Bobby Burns, was that so and so was a "Man’s man for all that". That, he said, was his yardstick.
He was, of course, fiercely loyal to the Liberal party, a died-in- the-wool (‘Uralla’ wool) conservative, and not altogether overjoyed about my marriage. It was one thing, he said, for me to be a radical at university but quite another to institutionalise this tendency in marriage
Hugely self-disciplined, Dad was systematic and methodical in all matters; from his daily regimen around the house at home to running the office or a Board meeting. Always tea had to made in the old silver teapot and afterwards the tea leaves put out around the azalea bushes.
Whether it be feeding the magpie at the same time every day, setting the table, separating the garbage into renewables for the compost heap, recyclables and other, things always had to be done ‘just so’. Religiously ‘just so’. Joy Wheeler, his secretary in the early days, says he chose his secretaries on whether they could make a cup of tea; that is - make it his way, just the right strength, in the same old big cup.
Dad was deeply emotional, but like so many of his era better known for an almost Victorian kind of reticence when it came to expressing his feelings. About some things, "the less said the better."
At the same time he had a great love of the English language and, throughout his life, used it well. His letters to my mother in wartime make wonderful reading. He wrote numerous articles with wit and lucidity, was good on his feet, and it was not for nothing that at the Real Estate Institute of Australia they named the boardroom the Hickson Room on his departure as President.
Sport , of course, was always a major part of his personal regimen. Dad played squash at least once a week until he was nearly 70 and swam every day, all through winter even, at the ocean pool at Bilgola until he was nearly 80.
Mental tone, he told me early on, is a function of body tone. And actually, you know, he exercised every day until only about a year ago. The morning after Marie died I found him on the floor and nearly died myself. "Just doing my exercises," he said as he rolled from hip to hip!
He was very fond of women. Even the day he died he found really special smiles for his favourite nurses. And women - well, all the ones I know, adored him. Pat Pruden, a friend of Dad’s from those early days in Neutral Bay, once said to me, "when he came off the tennis court he just glowed with good breeding".
He was definitely the leading male among that flock of female cousins and aunts at Northbank – mostly Coes on his mother’s side. Dad kept in close touch with them all and weekly calls from Kath Reynolds, the oldest of the Coe cousins, who is now over 90 herself, marked a great friendship and lifelong bond between them.
But he was unlucky with wives. My mother’s bewildering illness, and unhappiness with his second wife Julie meant that only when he married Marie in 1963 did he truly find his ‘mate’.
Married for nearly 40 years, they worked together, travelled together, went to rugby matches together, even sailed a little boat on Pittwater together. Marie had worked in real estate before she met Dad so she was a great support to him in the business and for many years had a great deal to do with the running of the office at Mona Vale.
She was there at Government House in Sydney that sunny, lovely day in 1983 when Dad was awarded the AM for services to commerce and congratulated so warmly by the Governor, his old air force mate (Air Marshall) Jim Rowland.
When Marie was diagnosed with mouth cancer there followed a series of ghastly operations. They suffered through it all together and afterwards lived a semi-reclusive life growing more and more isolated by Marie’s misfortune.
But they were not unhappy, I think, sitting there together at Parkhead, Bilgola, looking out over Pittwater, identifying birds in Dad’s hand-illustrated edition of Cayley’s Book of Australian birds, and cultivating the bush that that they both knew and loved so much. As she faded, he faded; but with dear Helen’s help, he looked after her, held her and loved her to the end.
He loved the bush, and the sea, and always lived so as to be able to enjoy both. There was his beloved ‘Tige’, the tabby cat. Good whisky, Stilton cheese and a drop of red – always laid on its side and, in winter, turned carefully before the fire. Lunch at the Australian Club, Warringah Rugby with Marie, and his garden , especially the natives, these things were all important – and in an important sense, all matters of taste.
It was his personal qualities that set him apart, his particularity about things like presenting oneself with shiny shoes and clean fingernails - not to glorify oneself but as a mark of respect to others. And in any important discussion he would look at you with an open, steady gaze such that there was no mistaking his sincerity and honesty. These things went not just to good manners but the vital question of human decency.
In the last few months he was on oxygen at home and could hardly breathe, hardly walk yet he insisted on showering himself and got his own breakfast every day. Every day he braved those stairs and changed into soft, clean cotton pyjamas for his afternoon nap, his shirt hung on a hanger, the trousers folded in creases on the bed and shoes placed together neatly, pointing the right way.
It must have taken enormous courage to perform this same daily ritual, to do things properly right to the end.
When he gasped for air at the top of those stairs at Bilgola I saw how characteristic it was, that it was the same kind of heroism and sportsmanship, the same lionheart of that Queensland miler in 1931, 70 years before.
But his carers Helen and Leigh didn’t know about his boyhood success as an athlete. They just saw a really splendid human being, courageous, determined, unfailingly courteous, independent and proud. Thank you, Helen, Lee and Jenny too, for caring so much about him and for going way beyond the call of duty to care for him.
A very big thank you too to Dad’s neighbour Karen who has been such a good and close friend over these last, hard years. To some exceptionally compassionate doctors, especially David Grout whom Dad trusted totally, who managed and supported both of us with incredible skill, sensitivity and kindness.
As I have said Dad was a man of few words – well chosen ones of course – and I think he would not much like me telling you all this. For all his love of English he would probably prefer that I said only what he always said about Granka,
"A great fella, Dick."
A few of the photos that Dick collected during WWII ...
Dick marches out as No.2
Maintenance at Rayak
Can you see me in the dust storm?
Now can you see me?
Well what about now?
Where's the bottle opener?
French Aircraft beyond repair
3 Squadron LIFETIMES
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