Final farewell for CQ soldier, father and dear friend
AMONG friends and family of Neville Tickner to gather today, in celebration of his life and humanitarian works, are his three children and nine grandchildren.
What is remarkable about this close family is how generously they shared Mr Tickner's attention and affection with the people of Vietnam, where first he fought but, later, returned as a philanthropist.
In the last decade, Mr Tickner mainly resided in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. The people of that town, and especially his partner, Heather, gathered to show their respects after Mr Tickner suddenly passed away in Vietnam on Australia Day. His ashes have been borne back to Rockhampton on a wave of love commensurate with the good works he carried out on both continents.
The following notes about Mr Tickner's life comprise part of his eulogy which will be delivered during a Memorial Service which will take place at The Rockhampton Girls Grammar School's McKeague Hall at 2pm on Saturday, February 22.
It will begin to the sounds of the song 'Old Man Emu' as his family members carry in items - his Royal Australian Artillery jacket, a crib board, a Cities rugby union jersey, a book about Gandhi and his favourite, green jelly beans - as diverse and interesting as the man himself. It will conclude with the Last Post and Reveille.
Neville Tickner was born in Mt Morgan Hospital to Winifred Cynthia Lee on June 28 1945, and raised on the family farm with help from his grandparents Bill and Ethel Lee and his Aunty June who was only four years older than him. The family farm is at Kanora on Oakey Creek between Mt Morgan and Dululu. One of Mr Tickner's proudest and favourite moments was helping Grandad Lee build the old windmill at Oakey Creek and he used to love taking his children out to see it. Tomorrow, his family will gather nearby to spread his ashes.
He attended Allenstown School then Central Boys State School - it used to be where the fountain is on Gladstone Road - and Port Curtis State School until 1959 when he left at 14 to work as a station hand. In 1990 Mr Tickner organised an old boy's reunion for Central Boys which was a great success.
At 17 years and three months, Mr Tickner joined the Australian Army. After recruit training at 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Kapooka, he was posted to the School of Artillery North Head, where he completed his initial Gun Number course on the 25 Pounder Gun. Mr Tickner's first unit posting was to Wacol in Brisbane with 4th Field Regiment in March 1963.
Mr Tickner worked with 101st Field Battery and was employed as a Signaller. After nearly two years with 4th Regiment, he was posted to 111 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery which had deployed to Butterworth Base in Malaya as part of the protection unit for the Base. He remained with the Battery and occasionally worked as part of an Infantry style platoon attached to B Company, 3rd Battalion to work in an Infantry role.
Mr Tickner returned to Australia with elements of the Battery in June 1966 and was posted back to 4th Field Regiment in Wacol where he joined up with 106 Field Battery. This Battery, along with 108 Field Battery were scheduled to deploy to Vietnam the following year.
They were based in Nui Dat which was the main base for Australian Forces in Vietnam although throughout the year, the Battery deployed to the Horseshoe, and many temporary Fire Support Bases throughout the Australian Area of Operations.
Mr Les Winton said of Mr Tickner, "I found him helpful, open and forthright, and I liked him for it. Although he was a bit older and an already experienced regular soldier, he seemed to welcome us national servicemen for who and what we were, younger blokes just doing what we were expected to do, and I learnt a lot from him, and memories of him have popped up many times over the past half-century."
Mr Ron Thorpe remembers: "He was a real gentleman and me being new to 106 Battery, Neville kinda looked after me and gave me plenty of dad advice, I was just 17! Nev was a magic bloke in my eyes."
Mr Tickner returned to Australia and took his discharge from the Army in 1968. He was out of the Army for some five years but re-joined on January 8, 1974 when his younger brother Jeff was conscripted. At this time, Mr Tickner was again posted to 4th Field Regiment but this time in Townsville. He remained with the Regiment for three years, during which time he played Rugby for the Regiment and tried his hand at athletics. He took his discharge again in 1977.
His Honours and Awards include: Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 with Clasps Malaysia and Vietnam; General Service Medal 1962 with Clasp Malay Peninsula; Vietnam Medal; Australian Defence Medal; Vietnamese Campaign Medal; Pingat Jasa Malaysia; and Returned from Active Service Badge.
Post army discharge, Mr Tickner raised a young family in Blackwater, Central Queensland, in the late 1970s and 1980s. Nev galvanised the community and among other activities, was an active member of the RSL, heavily involved in local Anzac Day commemorations, raising funds and organising the construction of the Blackwater RSL Club (later the Workers Club) with a war memorial he designed. Mr Tickner was always available to help his 106 Battery mates and was instrumental in helping several mates obtain their entitlements from the Department of Veteran Affairs. In 2017, Mr Tickner returned to Blackwater to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Blackwater Basilisks Rugby Union Club.
His daughter, Chelsi, remembers the night her father came home with news of a cave-in at the mine, in which he lost his mate, Mick Partridge, and others. She remembers having people over their house to pore over plans for the fundraising and construction of, among other local tributes, the fallen miners' monument which was sculpted by Antone Bruinsma. "I realise now that Dad was the original social entrepreneur, before the term was even defined," she said.
"How fitting that Dad went on Australia Day - not only was he a great Australian, but it was his grandfather, Billy Lee's birthday and his wedding anniversary to Mum."
Mr Peter Crane, a former Rotarian, will speak at the Memorial Service about nominating Mr Tickner for the Paul Harris Fellow. Mr Tickner was guest speaker at a Rotary meeting in 2017 during which he thanked the club for providing the funds to fit a prosthetic leg for a Vietnamese woman who was injured when her village was napalmed in 1954. In a thank you note, Mr Tickner wrote, "Caring has its own reward, part of which is always to set an example that others may follow."
During his citation for the Fellow the next year, the Rotary Club recognised his contribution "which erases perceptions that all foreigners are the enemy… and the scars of mistrust arising from those historical associations with war."
In the six months before Mr Tickner passed away he was working on his most ambitious and heartfelt project yet - for a little 5-year-old boy, Dat, from the remote mountains of Vietnam, who was born without sight. Against all odds, Mr Tickner galvanised the fundraising with the help of GiveAsiaKindness, raising more than $40,000 for Dat to have corneal transplant surgery. The surgery took place successfully at the end of November and Mr Tickner's partner, Heather, is accompanying Dat and his mother back to Singapore in March for his next check-up.
How to sum up such an extraordinary life?
In the words of Summer Sandercox:
Not how did he die, but how did he live?/ Not what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth/ Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.
Not, what was his church, nor what was his creed?/ But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer,/ To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,/ But how many were sorry when he passed away.