“Nan’s giant heart finally gave way last Friday night. She was 97.
She was loving, courageous and faith-filled. And she threw everything into her life’s passion of raising six boys – a task that required her to be a comforter, a worrier, a culinary expert, a referee, a psychologist and a soother of bruised hearts and bodies….
She was a proud girl from Peechelba East – one of the Hiskins clan – which comprised eight siblings. It was at Noorong Central on 10th July 1918, that she came into the world, delivered by her grandmother.
Her six elder siblings – Vin, Roy, Kath, Stan, Dick and Nora had also arrived via grandma Clohessey’s expertise, whilst Dorothy, the baby, did it in style, at the Wangaratta Hospital.
They used the family’s Horse and Gig, to get to school at Boorhaman. By the time they’d get home the cows were ready to be milked. Homework was put on the back-burner.
It didn’t matter, anyway. As soon as Nan finished school she was pressed into work on the farm. There was never any hint of pursuing scholastic brilliance.
The Hiskins’ sporting pedigree was well-known. Nan’s dad, Jimmy, was one of nine brothers who had played O&M football. Four of them became League stars.
Nan’s brothers were mad-keen on footy. The girls learnt the rudiments of tennis by belting a ball against the chimney of the family home. They became experts at manoeuvring players around the bitumen courts of Peechelba, Boorhaman and Bundalong.
Dorothy, the sole survivor of the family, remembers Nan and Nora forming a lethal doubles combination. Nora, would slice opponents to ribbons on the net while Nan, on the baseline, would handle anything left over.
“They teamed perfectly and had plenty of success when city players came up for the ANA tournament. There was never a cross word said between us girls on, or off the court”, Dot said.
Pa was playing football with Waratahs, alongside Nan’s brother Dick. Romance blossomed and Pa showed how fair dinkum he was, by riding his pushbike out to Peechelba after the game each Saturday night, to spend time with her.
He would complete the round journey by heading back to Wang on Sunday evening.
When they married in 1941, she had a fair idea that she’d be consigned to a life of sport.
But soon she was too busy rearing kids to worry about much else. Bryan arrived a year later, followed by Frank, and then Kevin in 1947. Eight years later three more had been added to the family – Denis, Alan and Graham.
By now, Pa had taken the plunge, with Frank Hayes, and started a furniture business. Things were incredibly busy, the kids were boisterous and lively and Nan’s battles with anxiety and depression were always just around the corner.
She was never able to declare victory in her war with the dreaded ‘Black Dog’. The boys reckon one of the most beautiful sounds of all when growing up was to finally hear her whistling and watering the garden at day-break. They’d know that, at last, she had overcome her latest ‘downer’.
It took a lot of guts to keep her health under control, but how the hell did she manage to keep a lid on the goings-on in the backyard?
She would often have to intervene in the endless games of backyard cricket. Many a spell at the crease would end amidst accusations of ‘Bloody Cheat’ or ‘Not Fair’.
There was a window in the neighbor’s house which was tantalisingly close when you were playing the lofted on-drive. On a few occasions a hushed silence came over the usual noisy proceedings when the sound of shattering glass could be heard. It would force a cessation of the day’s play and Nan’s apology to the understanding Mrs Wickham.
And the kick-to-kick in Morrell Street would end around dusk with someone being shoved onto the bitumen road, with resultant skinned knees which needed to be repaired.
The boys were all fairly good on the tooth and Nan’s cooking rarely fell below their high standards. One of her specialties in the old days was her rabbit stew. She could gut and skin a rabbit before their eyes and cook it up as a mouth-watering delicacy. Her raspberry-slices and lamingtons were unsurpassed, a fact agreed upon by three generations.
Her favourite pastime was burying herself in the garden. She could ‘talk’ to the plants and was happy to spend hours re-potting, weeding, or on the end of a hose. In fact, after her tennis career with St Patrick’s had drawn to a close, the boys used to joke that the only time she left the house was to go to Mass or take an occasional trip up the street to buy some new underwear.
Pa was a mover and shaker in business and sport, but Nan preferred to stay in the shadows. He could rarely coax her to attend a function.
But she was shrewd enough to know that if she didn’t follow Pa and the boys in their sport she wouldn’t go anywhere.
She might hold the unofficial record for attending the most Rovers games. Pa took over the coaching job mid-way through 1947 and she saw a fair portion of the 1370-odd games they’ve played since then.
For decades her spot was on the fence, near a light pylon, half-way between the Clubrooms and the Barr-end goals. When she got beyond going to away games in the last few years, she would listen avidly to the radio descriptions. She would complain how the commentators didn’t seem to give the Rovers a ‘fair go’ and pounce on any negative remarks made about her two grandsons.
She saw all the stars come and go. She liked Clarkey, Newthy, Akky and Bugs. She loved Rosey and Neville and thought the world of Boydy. Then there was Farmer and Eddie, Laurie, Robbie, Pas, Karl and the Wilsons.
She was a knowledgeable cricket fan. At one stage the Rovers side contained Pa and four of the boys. It brought about some interesting post-match discussions at the tea table.
Particularly if someone had played a silly shot to get out that day, or dropped a catch off Pa’s off-spin bowling. She often had to use her negotiating skills to defuse the situation.
The family was fortunate that, after Pa passed away in 1986, Frank decided to return home to live. For the next 29 years he provided terrific companionship and care. They bounced off each other like a pair of old fogeys.
Their highlight each Saturday, in recent years, after the footy and Mass, would be a visit to the RSL club, where they would attack the pokies. They would regularly boast of getting on to a lucky machine and striking a jackpot. You rarely heard of the nights when they ‘did their money’.
Pa conned her into playing Bingo when the Rovers kicked it off in 1978. She sat at the same table, with basically the same mates every Monday night, until a couple of years ago. The following few days would be spent talking about the latest gossip she’d heard.
Nan kept tabs on the progress of them all, taking delight in their achievements and sharing in the multitude of christenings, first communions, confirmations, birthdays and weddings.
And she’d always be working overtime on the rosary beads, praying that all their dreams would come to fruition.
Although she fell three short of the magical ‘ton’, it’s worth raising the bat to acknowledge a fine and well-played innings. ”