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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968

TALE OF TWO FAMILIES - (BRODIE and NICKS)

By NELL CLIMIE

Last year the Paeroa Historical Society became the grateful recipient of a very pleasant oil painting - a scene of 70 years ago - "The Junction of the Rivers". (Ohinemuri and Waihou). by C.E.Woolley – 1899.

It is the more valuable because the story that lies behind it concerns both history and romance. Our donor, Mr. Alex Brodie of New Plymouth, explained how his father had sent the picture to his mother after they were engaged to be married. He also lent us a photograph of his mother, taken about 1897, remarking that we might find the period costume interesting. We do and are pleased to reproduce the charming study.

There are still people here who knew 'Martha Dulcibel Nicks" and they agree that she was the most beautiful girl in Paeroa. She was a "golden girl" in more ways than one, and made history at a very early age. Her mother was sister of Wm. Nicholls of Waihi mining fame, and her father frequently went prospecting with him. No one now knows whether the little girl was called after her Aunt Martha McQuoid or her Aunt Martha Nicholls, but family records establish the fact that the famous "Martha Mine" was named for her. Subsequently she was generally known as Dulcibel or Dulcie. There was also a "Dulcibel Claim" at Waihi.

Her parents, John and Marion Nicks had come to Paeroa at the time of the opening of the Goldfields and were the first proprietors of the original Ohinemuri Hotel in Cassrels Street. Then they moved to a two-storey house in Junction Road, (later occupied by Mr. D. Inglis, Manager of the National Bank and by Mr. Ned Shaw, County Engineer). They were neighbours of the Kenny Family (Dulcibel and Alice being close friends) and George Nicks and his sister attended the Paeroa School. (When George returned for the Paeroa School Jubilee in 1955 he searched in vain for the old Junction Road home, which had long since been burned down).

Their father died in 1886 and later his widow married John Hoey Moore who was accidentally drowned in 1893. Subsequently Mrs. Moore married Henry Christian Wick who was well known in Ohinemuri before the turn of the century, particularly at Waitekauri where he owned a Mine and erected a Battery. He was the first to buy ore from various mines, shipping quantities which had proved refractory to Europe where it was treated with excellent results. At the northern end of Paeroa he bought 380 acres of land which was later sub-divided. He already had three highly regarded daughters after whom he named streets - Flora being one. Early in the century the family moved to Auckland but maintained links with Paeroa. During the 1st World War, Mrs. Wick who was a woman of fantastic energy worked prodigiously to raise funds to help the Belgians as well as our own wounded. She received a medal from the Queen of Belgian.

About 1897 when "Martha Dulcibel Nicks" was 20 years of age she became engaged to Walter Brodie who was then a Teller in the B.N.Z. Paeroa. (He was a son of Alexander Brodie, the first Chairman of the Thames County Council, and in 1888 Mayor of Thames, being for long the most representative man in the district). Until 1905 Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brodie continued to live in Paeroa and were especially active in musical circles. Two of their children were born here - Alex, and John who was to become famous as a New Zealand writer under the name of "John Guthrie".

Mr. Walter Brodie was transferred to the Te Aroha branch of the Bank and remained for some years, three more children being born there, Alan, Mary, and Anne. Then for 5 years he was Manager at the Thames branch before taking a similar position in New Plymouth in 1919. After his retirement Mr. & Mrs. Brodie lived abroad. After his death Mrs. Brodie returned to New Plymouth. The eldest son Alex became a very successful Engineer and still lives in New Plymouth where he and his wife make good use of their talent for landscape gardening. Their delightful family of 6 are all interested in Music, every member playing an instrument. Mrs. Russell Matthews (nee Mary Brodie) is surely a replica of her lovely mother and with the same genius for hospitality. Mr. and Mrs. Matthews' extensive garden at Mangoei Road, is to New Plymouth what Mr. and Mrs. Tom Gordon's wonderful water-lily garden is to this district, something that is loved and shared. There are four children in this outstanding family. We did not have an opportunity of meeting Mr. Alan Brodie who also lives in Taranaki and has followed Journalism. Anne, Mrs. Nigel Palethorpe (dec.) spent much of her life in England and Sydney.

John Brodie had a distinguished career in many fields. With his brother Alex he attended Thames High School and then New Plymouth Boys High School where in addition to achievements that won him a scholarship he excelled in all sport, and became head day-boy at the School. Taking his B.A. degree and Diploma of Journalism at Canterbury University College he became a nominee for a Rhodes Scholarship. He was editor of the College Review and in 1927 joined the Taranaki Daily News, his talent for wit and sparkle being widely acknowledged. While in New Plymouth a football injury resulted in the amputation of his right leg and an operation that stiffened his left knee-joint. During many months of suffering he wrote his first novel "The Little Country" with New Plymouth as its setting, and followed with "So They Began". Moving to Wellington in 1933 he became assistant editor of the Radio Record, the predecessor of the Listener and in 1937 went to England.

When War was declared John Brodie was in New York on his way back to New Zealand. Instead, he returned to London and in spite of his physical handicaps, joined the Royal Air Force, received a commission and became an acknowledged expert in night-fighter tactics. The end of the War brought a return to Journalism and the writing of more books. His best known story is "The Seekers" which was filmed in colour by the Rank Organisation. With a plot based on the impact of Maori and European in New Zealand in the early years of the century, and with picturesque scenes of life in England and at sea in the same period, the novel lent itself to vivid treatment and adaptation as a film. Mr. Brodie married in 1952 and visited New Zealand with his wife. On the return journey in the "Rangitiki" when three days from Southampton, he died of Coronary Thrombosis and was buried at sea. His death at 49 years of age came as a great shock to both his family and hundreds of friends.

Mr. Alex Brodie has given us a copy of a photograph of his brother in his London office a painting of which commissioned by his wife, hangs in the New Plymouth Library - a fitting memorial to a talented New Zealander. He also gave us a copy of his brother's book "The Man in Our Lives" which is The story of "Father" - bank manager, and jaunty centre of a family of 5, a pattern of order, yet a piquant personality. His wife in contrast was a giver, idolised by her children and with a genius for home-making. On P. 9. we read, "My mother was engaged to father until she was twenty-five years old, partly because the bank would not let their officials marry until they had reached a certain salary scale-no doubt considering that otherwise they might dip into the till - and partly, I suppose, because father in those years was being good to his widowed mother. My mother was taken abroad for twelve months. During this separation father showed astonishing finesse by sending her a painting he had commissioned, at goodness knows what personal sacrifice, of a river bank caressed by willows where he and my mother had presumably done much of their courting.

This is the painting we now have, and we would here express our thanks to the Brodie family both for their gifts and for the opportunity to reconstruct the picture of a most interesting family.

We were in touch with George Nicks shortly before he died a few years ago. His cousin, George Nicholls had told him of our Journal and he hoped to contribute an article, remarking that he knew every square yard of Ohinemuri and had fond memories of its early days. He was a Timber Merchant at Takapuna where his son Logan now carries on the business. Another son became famous as a Surgeon when he was collaborating with Dr. Robb on blue baby operations in Auckland. "Mr. Nicks" is now in Sydney where he has a practice as a Thoracic Surgeon. Hence the names "Nicks" and "Brodie", once so well known in this district, have become notable in much wider fields.