Gladys Gilbert Nicholls
The writer has been fortunate to meet with Judi Lay (daughter of John and Joan Lay) who cared for Gladys in her last years, and a friendship of a life time for Judi, she has passed on Glad’s story to us, and we have received many of Glads photos and heard many of her stories. (These can be viewed at History House, 18 Price Street, Torquay.
Judy in her own right is a first class historian, being a toddler in the fifties, she went to all the Ladies Auxiliary meetings with her mother Joan, soaking up the Surfing atmosphere through the first wave, second wave and third wave of the amazing women who helped their men establish the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club. The women’s stories range from the first formation of the Club, Forming the Ladies Auxiliary and raising money to go towards the Club, the 1956 International Surfing Carnival held in Torquay as part of the 1956 Olympic Games and much more. Gladys Gilbert, Sister of Surfing Legend Rex China Gilbert was very early member of the Surf Club.
This is her story.
Gladys Violet Nicholls, was born in 1928 in Albert Park, Melbourne and lived her younger life in Ashworth Street, just across the road from the Albert Park Angling Club in a little single front terrace.
Born to Gus and Gladys Gilbert, her siblings were Joyce, Graham (China) Rex, and Frankie. Gladys enjoyed a childhood of very limited money but endless love and acceptance. As Glad always said that the table for dinner was always set for an extra two people. Mrs. G. just collected all the waifs and strays, some came for a meal, others depending on what the drama was would stay for days through to months.
Gladys, even at a young age was “the enforcer”, and her role within the family started early. If Gus needed to be brought home from the pub it was Glad who brought him home. When the boys were fighting the fight would end when Glad stepped in.
Friends of Glad reminisce about Glad saying she was sassy, strongly independent, stubborn, passionate and feisty. A woman’ right’s campaigner well before the first bra was ever burnt. She was a great raconteur, very funny with a great sense of humour. She also had a very caustic tongue if the need arose. In the words of her friend Charles Lynne, She was very straight forward, friendly and sincere lady and will be remembered as a “true blue Aussie”. Adding to this description and on reading the following story you will see that she was fiercely loyal and made life time friends with the three waves of the early women of the Surf Club.
The Torquay Surf Live Saving Club began in December 1945 and by 11th January 1946 was up and running with a full committee. China first visited early 1947 on the way to Lorne. He was riding his bike to Lorne with his friend Graham Beck. On the way they came upon the township of Torquay, and decided to sleep in the sand dunes and continue the next day. Needless to say they never got to Lorne.
So began China’s love affair with Torquay and of course his sister Gladys also. He and friend Graham Beck convinced their mothers to allow their sisters, Gladys and Joan to come to Torquay with them. Saying that their big brothers would chaperone the girls. China and Graham, being very trustworthy big brothers, their parents gave in and Gladys and Joan were allowed to travel to Torquay.
China visited an Army disposals store and purchased and Army Bell tent which came with 40 army fold up beds. They also bought a smaller tent for Joan and Gladys, and they slept in their tent guarding their virtue with a hockey stick and a star picket.
Gladys and Joan were accepted by the more established girls, Phyl Wall, Cath Hussey, Norma Walker, who had been coming to Torquay, some before the war in the 1930’s with their men and who established the Club in December 1945.
She became a member and supported the Surf Club for the rest of her life. Through the Surf Club and camping in the Torquay Public reserves she met Judy Browne, Rita and Helen Black, Mary Joyce, Beryl Blewett, Esther Pittard, Mavis Bennett, Cath Hussey and Eileen Lovelock, and many more that came later. These women were to form Glad’s social scene and life, and centring on the camaraderie and friendships that was borne out of meeting these people at Torquay and the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club.
The fundraising support of the Torquay Ladies, wives, partners and girlfriends of the men that started the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club, continued through all the years from 1945 and subsequently during Phil Bennett’s turn of office as President in 1966, he introduced the Torquay Ladies Auxiliary, who gave a huge contribution to the Club and, of course, Glad Nicholls was there along with a number of yet another generation of younger women. Many friends were made during these times including other newer members of the Ladies Auxiliary, Mick French, Joan Cairney, Lesley Taylor, Val Coulson. Between them they raised many thousands of dollars for the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club.
DONALD JEFFREY NICHOLLS
It was at Torquay that Glad met her husband Don Nicholls. Glad was 19, laying on the surf beach at Torquay with a friend, she had been eyeing off the handsome, very debonair stranger, the two girls were trying to get the gossip on who he was, when he approached with the line “hold my sunglasses for me, I’ll be back” , as he was heading into the surf. From that day Glad was a “one man girl”. Don became one of Torquay’s Champion Boat Sweeps.
Glad was always involved in the Surf Club and is particularly remembered during the 1956 Olympic year Australian and World Surf Life Saving Carnivals held on the Torquay beach, a huge project for the Torquay group, which also made up much of the Victorian State Centre, Graham Patrick took on the Secretarial and publicity duties and was closely supported by Glad. This was a very special contribution and cannot be forgotten. Glad Nicholls with a number of people received a special award for that amazing event in 1956 which saw 70,000 – 100,000 people at Torquay to watch those two events.
Don and Glad had a tempestuous relationship to say the least and spent many happy times with friends, playing cards with the Lays, and when their engagement had been in play for some time, Don who had purchased a house in Gardenvale for he and Gladys, saw that this was becoming a threat to his bachelor status sold his house to John Lay so that there was no reason to be married. A threat of a breach of promise law suit saw Gladys on a world cruise for 6 months on the P&O “Iberia”. However, Finally Don flew to Freemantle, and they were married six months later in Sydney on 9th January 1958.
Their first home was a flat in Coogee, and they started their married life in Sydney. Used cars bought better prices in Sydney, and Don had taken cars to Sydney to sell. After the war the Americans had left a lot of equipment including jeeps in New Guinea, Don could see that he could make money out of these cars and arranged to buy two jeeps and had them shipped to Townsville, and he drove them from Townsville to Sydney.
Happy times were shared in Sydney with the Clymers, and the Patricks. Eventually Gladys and Don returned to Melbourne where Don started Christies Motor Auctions and they lived in South Yarra. Business issues necessitated a move to Adelaide, where Don set up Mid City Auctions, and after working on a tuna boat at Port Lincoln, he set up a business in Port Lincoln selling four wheel drives. He had a Government contract to sell Government cars once they were twelve months old.
Many years were spent in Adelaide while Glad retained her home in Melbourne, she lived in Adelaide with Don. Don had interests in sailing with their great friends, Mc Nichol family, and life was good. Don and Glad had racehorses and regularly attended the races and Don bought a hotel “The Somerset”. They mixed with people such as Pro Hart and Wolf Blass.
Returning to Torquay in the summer they experienced Halcyon days, the sun was always shining, the waves were glassy and perfect and the weather warm. Well a little poetic license. They had their regular Australia Day parties where there was always a theme and the girls dressed up. Such themes included The Gulf War Day, National Treasurers Day, Crab Day, American Independence Day, Australia Day awards day, where Glad was named The President and the Minister for Communication and Gossip.
Every Easter was the Easter Bonnet Parade. Such fun the girls had over their lifetime in the Surf Club and Torquay Public Reserves. Glad stayed in the camp area fondly known as “Varicose Valley”. But Don hated camping and bought a house in Darian Road, it was the perfect arrangement, he stayed in the house, Glad stayed in the camp in her dearly loved caravan.
In 2002, Glad received a Gift voucher to fly in the tiger moth over Torquay and of course, always up for everything, she went.
Glad first travelled OS in 1948, on a cruise ship with Phyl Wall to of all places, New Guinea, and that was the beginning of her love to travel and with her dear friend Judy Browne she went on so many trips all over Australia and the world. (Phyl’s brother was a bomber navigator and was killed off Lay in the last few months of the war and this explained the first trip as they wanted to visit a plaque in his memory at Lay.)
She loved a drink or three and a party, beer to start. They turned to champagne piccolos in later years, only French. She would wear full skirted ball gowns to the town hall to disguise the gear. (the drink under the full skirt)
She loved music, Cranky Frankie, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole, she loved fine dining, the theatre, live shows, art galleries, and collecting antiques. Glad loved shopping, clothes, shoes, (40 coats in her wardrobe,) She was also very chic and loved sport in particular her beloved Swans, she was a MCC member and regularly went to the games with another great friend Joan fox.
She also loved watching the races, the cricket and tennis on TV. Glad received a fifty year membership award in July 2010 of the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club at Torquay.
Glad was a good card player and played solo with the Torquay girls regularly. She loved to chat, and keep in touch, she would spend hours each day on the phone to keep up and share any news. If you wanted to know anything about anybody Glad was the contact. A very loyal friend with a phenomenal memory, she never ever forgot a name, but woe betide if you crossed her, she could really hold a grudge. She hated Carlton, and why? They beat the Swans in 1945. Glad became a member of the Melbourne Cricket Club when this bastion of male held club relented in the late eighties and allowed members to convert their ladies tickets to full membership tickets. She spent many a day at the MCG watching her beloved Swans.
During her active years in the Surf Club, her brother China, the Legend that he became, was part of the D’s Club, and of course the girls played a big part of the D’s. Not being able to be a member, just being women, they formed their own club, known as the Lady D’s. The D’s parties were legendary, and the women held their own party on the same day, tradition had it that they all met up later. One such party was “The Ladies Pageant” held in the camping ground near Spring Creek, (Called the Torquay Riviera) all the girls dressed up singing and performing amongst themselves. The men, dressed as gladiators in armour rowed a surf boat down Spring Creek and joined in the fun, their aim to kidnap the girls, rape and pillage. Who did they “kidnap” Glad. What fun they had. *
Later once the men had all passed on the girls only had Russell Mole left. He was wonderful to the girls arranging trips for them and went with them to places like Noosa, Fraser Island, Mount Macedon, Bright to mention a few.
Glad collected people, there were no strangers ever in her life, everyone was a friend that she hadn’t met yet. In memory of Glad, people were having a drink for her on the day of her celebration, from Port Douglas to Port Lincoln, and in NZ and in London. Glad spent 18 months in Montclair Aged Care facility, before she passed away.
Glad lived well, laughed often and loved much, She is sorely missed. R.I.P Glad.
Compiled and researched by Lorraine Marshall and Judi Lay
People in this article: Beryl Blewett, Cath Hussey, China Rex Gilbert, Donald Nicholls, Eileen Lovelock, Esther Pittard, Frankie Gilbert, Gladys Gilbert, Gladys Nicholls, Graham Beck, Graham Patrick, Grahem Gilbert, Gus Gilbert, Helen Black, Joan Cairney, John Lay, Joyce Gilbert, Judy Browne, Lesley Taylor, Mary Joyce, Mavis Bennett, Mick French, Phil Bennett, Rita Black, Val Coulson