k. Chapter 11: Rita Hicks.

Written 28th April, 2017.

Margaret Ann Hicks, known as  Rita, and her twin brother Roy (Charles Binden) were born at home on 5th June, 1905.  Rita was born first and never let her brother Roy forget it!

Roy and Rita

Roy on the left and Rita on the right.

Barbara Pavone (nee Hicks) says that apparently the twins were famous for getting into mischief. They grew up together on the farm and were very close all their lives.  Rita was a tomboy and very accomplished in many sports both at school and as an adult.

The twins Rita & Roy Hicks aged 14-15years (467x640)

Rita and Roy on the farm at “Truro Grove”.

At the Echuca High school she was in the basketball and tennis team and would often have friends out to Truro for tennis parties.  Her tennis was of an excellent standard and at some stage she also took up golf and was also very good at this. She also rode horses in dressage competitions.

 Rita, second from the left – back row.        A “Truro Grove” tennis party.  Rita                                                                                                    back row far right.

Rita did not marry, but there is a family story that she wanted to, and had a suitor.  Permission was not given by her parents,  it was assumed that she was “barren” because of some gynaecological issues.  Who made this decision I wonder and how did Rita feel about it?  Was she heart-broken or pragmatic about it? Was Margaret (her mother) disappointed for her daughter?

Sisters, L to R Florence & Rita Hicks (421x640)

Rita with her sister Florence, nine years her senior.  Rita would have been about 23 when Florence went to America.  Even though the sisters were quite different, you can see affection in this photo.

Photos show Rita on “Truro Grove” with a pet dog, with lambs and with turkeys.  There is no mention of her being musical or artistic like her mother and sister, however she did love flowers and became an expert delphinium grower and did sell these too. She loved her flowers – particularly her geraniums, delphinium pelargoniums and entered both turkeys and flowers in various shows, often successfully.  Imagine my joy when I googled “Rita Hicks – Echuca” to find a newspaper clipping from the Argus from 1952 stating that Rita scooped the pool at the Royal Agricultural show for her Turkey entries.  The Turkeys were an American Bronze breed.

I assume that Rita probably stayed living with her parents until her twin Roy and his wife Edith bought the property and moved into the house in 1946.  With Margaret and Charlie, Roy and Edith, their nine month old daughter Barbara and Rita in the house it would have been challenging for space. Barbara remembers the turkeys at Truro and her Mum trying to keep her out of the poo! Barbara remembers Aunty Rita wearing Jodhpurs when she was working on the farm. Aunty Rita was tall, about 5 foot 10, like her mother and very active.

Rita purchased a property on what was then called Boundary Rd in Echuca which backed up to the Campaspe River.   Barbara remembers the original home as a weatherboard home with accommodation out the back for about 500 turkeys. Barbara and her younger brother Duncan used to throw stones on the “Gobblers’” roof to make them Gobble and they made a great noise. I wonder how she was able to finance this, whether her parents were able to assist or whether she had employment and savings of her own?

Rita Hicks as a young woman (402x640)

Later on, Rita bred Romney Marsh sheep.  Barbara remembered that she named the sheep after the royal family. There was Elizabeth, Phillip and Margaret and Alexandra.  Barbara gleefully recalled statements at the farm such as:  “Margaret needs crutching and so does Alexandra, but Phillip is ok.”

Barbara says that Rita loved Charlie Pavone (my Dad).  Rita had been very supportive of their decision to marry in 1966, which had been opposed to by both their families due to the clash of religion and culture with Charlie (Pavone) being an Italian Catholic and Barbara, a protestant.  Barbara says that Charlie (Pavone) used to help Rita with odd jobs around the property and was always happy to visit her and chat with her.  Barbara says that when they did marry, in the Catholic church in Echuca, the church was bursting with Rita’s delphiniums!

When she retired she subdivided the property into house blocks and “Hicks” Crescent was created and she built a new home out of cream brick.  When Barbara’s brother Duncan was a baby – Charles and Margaret Hicks were living with Roy and Edith and requiring care. Charles had dementia and it became too much for Edith who was expecting her daughter Lorraine. Margaret and Charles then moved in with Rita before the subdivision in the early 1950s.

Margaret and Rita

Margaret Hicks (nee Fegan) and her daughter Rita.  This photo shows their physical similarities.

Barbara remembers Grandpa Charlie had dementia and one night he disappeared fom Rita’s home to find “Truro” and there was a search party – he was found tangled up in a barbed wire fence out near the airport the next day.  He possibly was admitted to hospital around this time as he had become to difficult to manage at home. Nursing homes didn’t exist in Echuca then and in those days if care was needed then people went to hospital.

When Margaret Hicks (nee Fegan) died in 1952 she had her children around her as previously mentioned.  Barbara says that at this time, Margaret took Roy aside and asked him to specifically look after Rita.

Rita Hicks, in her 50's

This photo of Rita was taken on her trip to London in her late 50s

Rita travelled to London in her late 50s and visited the Chelsea Flower Show – I remember seeing countless flower photos which had been kept, when I was ratting through a drawer at “Truro Grove” one day.  Roy married Edith comparatively late at 39 years of age. Barbara remembers her mother Edith had to often field phone calls from Rita to Roy.  Roy had mental health issues after his world war 2 experiences and would often worry and become distressed, particularly if there were issues on the Truro property. Edith felt that at times Rita’s requests of Roy for help on her property didn’t take this into account. I think Roy’s late marriage would have been a factor in the closeness of the relationship between the twins, particularly in her reliance on him, as he was potentially able to offer more help prior to going to war and having his own family. This dependence on Roy  was also thought by Barbara to be one of the reasons for Billy and Rita clashing. Roy was very devoted to his twin however, and Barbara remembers that when Rita died, unexpectedly at home in 1972 at the age of 67 of a heart attack, Roy was distraught.  It was his wife Edith and Charlie Pavone and Barbara who had to take charge of funeral arrangements sorting out the property after her death, Roy couldn’t cope.

I remember the blonde brick home in Hick’s Cresent so must have visited the house  with my parents as a child, but I don’t remember “Aunty Rita” – I was six when she died.   As I write about her I think about her life, her love of animals and plants, her pursuits and her support of my own parents. I feel a solidarity with her and admire her for her achievements as a farmer, and possibly a feminist.  Whilst ‘m not enamoured of turkeys, I do love my ducks and chooks and pet sheep and love to be in the garden.  Barbara believes Rita did had  a certain naiveté and eccentricity which may have been the reason for the concerns shown by Margaret, her mother, on her deathbed towards her daughter.  Barbara says that Rita loved her brother Roy’s children, was very kind to them and she enjoyed spending time with them.