12 March, 2024

Miriam’s love of her community

Attending a dance in Kilcoy proved to be a major turning point in the life of Miriam Amanda Gittins (née Mills).

Miriam Amanda Gittins (née Mills).
Miriam Amanda Gittins (née Mills).

It was where she met the love of her life, Thomas Hedley Gittins, and they also got married in Kilcoy.

A mother of five, a grandmother of 15 and a great-grandmother of 19, Miriam passed away at Aloaka Aged Care on January 16.

The daughter of Robert (aka ‘Burt’) and Amanda (aka ‘Mandy’), Miriam was born in the NSW town of Murwillumbah on December 10, 1933.

She often said her ‘tough’ childhood led to her lifelong health issues and her drive to succeed.

When Miriam was around three-and-a-half, her family moved to Beryl Street in Tweed Heads.

Her brothers came into the family –Johnny in 1936, Patrick in 1937, and Billy in 1942.

Miriam started school at the age of four, before the family returned to Murwillumbah when she was seven.

Miriam, Johnny and Patrick attended St Joseph’s school until they were sent to public school for misbehaviour.

Things became tough for the family when Miriam was 12 or 13, as her father changed jobs.

Burt’s job at the sawmill provided a house, and his departure from this job resulted in the family losing the house and moving into two tents.

Mandy worked at a laundry – ironing shirts – and Miriam went along to try to help earn enough money.

But after Miriam burnt herself a couple of times, the owner ordered Mandy not to bring Miriam along anymore.

For many months, Mandy was the only one earning money for the family.

Miriam was hospitalised with viral meningitis, before the family moved to the nearby Main Arm, where Burt started another job.

Miriam contracted rheumatic fever when she was 14, and this had lifelong effects on her health.

In July 1951, the family followed Burt to Kilcoy, where they occupied half a house in Kennedy Street. Aged 18, she started her first full-time job as a receptionist and typist for the Brick Layers Union.

Having learned and excelled at ballroom dancing, Miriam attended the fateful dance in Kilcoy when an attractive young man asked her for dance after dance.

For their first date, Hedley treated Miriam to a box of chocolates while Hedley’s mother was chaperone.

Miriam had another bout of rheumatic fever at 19, before she accepted Hedley’s proposal in January 1954.

They were married about six months later and lived with their grandmother, as well as Uncle Harold, Aunty Iris and their four children.

They dismantled a workers’ cottage from Somerset Dam and moved it board by board, before it was reassembled by Mr Holsworth on the farm.

It was ready by Christmas of that year and became known as the little house.

Miriam’s children Merri, Cherry, Shane, Elizabeth and Jenny were born between 1955 and 1961.

In late 1959, the family moved to a property just 1km from the little house.

This remained the family home until the property, now known as Hedley Park, was sold in 2005.

Miriam started her life of community service with the organising of land, an old school, an old tram, and the start of ‘Kilcoy Kindy’, which remains in Taylor Street today.

While her children were in primary school, Miriam became the Kilcoy Show Society secretary and held the role for many years before earning life membership.

Miriam also became the Hazeldean-Kilcoy Race Club secretary and treasurer.

Miriam later became secretary for the Southeast Queensland Country Racing Association and was on the Hospital Auxiliary from 1976 to 2003.

Once their children started to finish high school, Miriam and her husband began travelling Australia and the world.

This fulfilled a wish of Miriam’s, since she saw atlases during her early primary school years. Miriam visited more than 60 countries and every continent.

Hedley’s passing was heart-wrenching for Miriam, and she carried this for the next 20 years.

Miriam sold the family home in 2005 and built a house at Twin Waters Retirement Village.

She continued to visit Kilcoy for book club, patchwork and the horse races.

As she missed the Kilcoy community, Miriam returned after a few years and built her home in Hedley Drive, Hedley Park.

Miriam’s love and commitment to the community continued until the end, and she cherished the achievements of her descendants.


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