Rhymes with Reason

Flourish 04 May 2017

A passion to create beautiful things from her experiences has given multi-talented Liz Hicklin a rich life.

Liz Hicklin working at her desk

A mother and grandmother, Liz Hicklin has much in common with other residents at Morven Manor Retirement Community in Mornington, Victoria, but chat awhile and you’ll discover she has had the fortune – and misfortune – to experience more highs and lows than most of us read about.

Raised in Manchester in England, Liz studied nursing before moving to Cambridge, where she met young literature student Ted Hughes and they fell in love.

“We went out for two years and we were going to get married and come to Australia because he had a brother here,” Liz says.

Instead Liz visited her brothers – in the United States and Canada – and her life changed course. Possibly she dodged a bullet: Ted’s infidelities are described by his wife Sylvia Plath in her autobiography The Bell Jar and arguably provoked the murder-suicide of his lover Assia Wevill and their daughter.

However, Liz still describes him as “a lovely bloke”, adding: “He was so charismatic; the sort of guy who you’d leave a marriage for.

“In Calgary I met a girl going to Australia who asked me to join her. Ted had stopped writing but he’d always talked about coming to Australia, so I thought I’d come and might see him here. It was 1956 and the Olympics were in Melbourne, so I came down and got a job.”

Liz later lined up a job accompanying a child back to Europe, but again fate intervened and while visiting the Outback she fell in love with a Canadian. “I gave up the job, but he turned out to be terrible, so I got a taxi to Darwin with four other girls.”

Leaving the Canadian was a good decision: “The police called looking for him; it turns out he was an opal thief.”

Soon afterwards Liz met her husband Bill. “He had an MG car, desert boots and a duffel jacket, and I thought he was pretty hot.” They had three children.

For years Liz and Bill worked hard and focused on family. “Bill worked for a printing company but he wanted to work for himself so we bought a pet shop with a tax agency attached and for years I just worked in the shop and brought up three children. Our life was unexceptional.”

Liz Hicklin with the porcelain dolls which she hand painted and sculpted

An interest in porcelain doll making later became a career. Liz sculpted the moulds used to pour the porcelain and handpainted the dolls’ features, running classes from her studio in Brighton, Victoria.

“It was damn hard work; I was doing 12-hour days for years and I’d run across to switch the kiln off in my nightie.”

Ted Hughes’ legacy did linger though; not only did he leave Liz with a bundle of love letters she recently sold to the British Library, he also introduced her to literature, revealing her gift for poetry.

Somehow, Liz found time to publish two volumes of poetry, Dedicated to Dolls, which led to invitations to read at recitals around Australia.

But all was not well with their family life. Anxious phone calls from her daughter Leeza’s high school signalled that Leeza had developed behavioural problems, which quickly escalated. It was the start of a long battle with mental illness.

Then, in her late teens, Liz’s second daughter Jane developed signs of bipolar. Liz describes both girls as “clever and beautiful”. Jane, a gifted artist, took her own life about 15 years ago. Leeza followed a few years later, leaving a son and a daughter.

Yet even from this dark place Liz created some light. When Jane’s art was displayed at her funeral, Liz noticed each work featured a tiny figure floating under a parachute in the blue sky. Inspired, Liz and her son Boyd created a children’s book, Peter the Parachute.

The proceeds were donated to mental health research.

Liz moved to Australian Unity’s Morven Manor Retirement Community after Bill died three years ago. She sold her doll collection, retaining a few favourites and a sculpture she created of her three children. Three of her windows offer views of Port Phillip Bay and Jane’s bright artworks adorn the walls.

Liz’s latest book Can’t Drive a Car?, released last year, was inspired by a meeting with a tattoo-covered man driving a disability scooter. It celebrates the funny side of ageing.

Illustrated by award-winning artist Fred Gatte, it also reflects Liz’s need to stay busy.

“My greatest fear is having nothing to do,” she says.

words Jane Canaway
photos Dean Golja


Race with a view

By Jane Canaway

Published in The Weekly Review, April 2016

Many years ago I ran a race through London; it took me hours because I stopped and took photos of all the landmarks along the way.

So imagine running along the Great Ocean Road, where every bend reveals another picture-perfect scene; it would take me days.

Surprisingly, the best runners in the GMHBA Great Ocean Road Marathon complete the course in just over two-and-a-half hours; I’m guessing they don’t carry cameras.

For this trip, however, I cruise the stunning 44 kilometres between Lorne and Apollo Bay with the roof down on a Holden Cascada convertible. My mission is to find some fun activities for those cheering on the runners in next month’s marathon.

Caught up in Melbourne’s daily grind, it’s easy to forget that the relaxed villages along the coast are so close; leave after peak hour and you can be in Lorne for lunch.

The rainforest walk to the Sheoak Falls in the Great Otway National Park just outside Lorne rewards with a picturesque flow of running water. Walks from the picnic area range from one to three hours.

Wye River is our destination for the night, in one of the many accommodation options still open after the Christmas Day fires. Twisted metal ruins remind visitors of the homes lost and contractors are still cleaning up, but from Ocean Magic halfway up The Boulevarde, the view is as perfect as ever.

As it is from what must be Victoria’s most scenic pub, the Wye Beach Hotel (if you stop for dinner, I’d highly recommend the duck curry).

Ocean Magic. Photo: Supplied

Ocean Magic. Photo: Supplied

Old photos on the wall tell the story of timber felling and past fires, and remind us that the present scars will soon heal.

There are few better ways to start your day than with a swim followed by a gourmet breakfast in the sun, and the Wye River General Store is the perfect place for this.

Heading on to Apollo Bay, keep an eye out for koalas, especially near Grey River, and prepare to stop at Carisbrook Creek, where cairn building has spread like a rash across the beach and warrants a photo or 10.

Our night’s accommodation, Waters Edge townhouse, is aptly named. You can almost feel the sea spray from the deck with its view. Luckily the township is an easy beach walk, because my hubby has his heart set on the beer tasting paddle at the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse. They also offer a gourmet take on traditional pub meals, including a sampler of local goodies; heaven on a breadstick.


Great Ocean Road Brewhouse. Photo: Supplied

Next day we have an early tour booked at the Cape Otway lighthouse. By the time we’ve taken in a few million years of history in the dinosaur exhibition we are ready for the full breakfast on the cafe’s sunny patio.

Next it’s time to test the Cascada on some shady curves as we head inland. Off the main drag at Forrest, the brilliantly named Wonky Donkey is well set up for families, with a playground and kid-friendly meals.

Managers Ruth and Justin Mason also run the Forrest Caravan Park opposite, as well as the nearby Planet Mud outdoor adventure centre. There’s paintball for groups and, for $50, Justin will strap you into an inflatable ball, roll you down a slope and call it zorbing. But we chose the more sedate off-road Segway tour. What an excellent, easy-to-learn, low-impact way to explore the bush.

Inevitably reality calls us back but at least riding home with the top down in the Cascada makes the magic last a bit longer.









WHAT’S ON: GREAT OCEAN ROAD MARATHON, MAY 2016 The GMHBA Great Ocean Road Marathon offers a range of events, from a 60-kilometre ultra marathon to a 1.5-kilometre kids’ gallop, over the weekend of May 14-15.