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Dawkins Grace May

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Grace May Dawkins was born on the 9th March, 1917 as the 3rd youngest of seven children of Jessie and Hermann Hissey who lived on a small farm on the outskirts of Gawler – in those days half an hour by horse and cart and these days about a minute and a half into town.

The family enjoyed farm life with their parents, helping them with the chores and doing a weekly trip by horse and cart to Gawler for the shopping. Their father was probably tending his beloved garden to feed the family when he was not at their other property near the Barossa Valley.

When the kids were due to go to school, they attended the one at Sandy Creek – something like a three kilometre walk from the house and I suppose horse and cart when the weather was bad. It always intriguing that the school was at least two kilometres from the little village of Sandy Creek but it was probably done was done to try and cater for the farming families in the area.

After their primary school education, the kids went into Gawler for their high school education and this is where Grace May would have met her future husband, Harry. After finishing high school, she stayed on the farm helping her mother with the various household jobs and farm chores such as milking the cows, making butter and feeding the chooks. Harry meanwhile had gone to the University of Adelaide studying to be an accountant and receiving a job in a government department after graduation.

She was a keen tennis player and apparently was pretty good at the game, playing for Sandy Creek, Gawler East and St. Georges clubs. We don’t know when she actually retired from playing competitive tennis but after many years, she made something of a comeback with her son Peter and his wife Judy when they decided to play for St. Georges. They all played on the same team – she was still reasonable for her age. From July 1940 Harry was enrolled in what was known as the Empire Flying Training School based at Parafield Aerodrome and he graduated as a pilot and travelled to Pt. Cook in Victoria in November of the same year for final training.

She and Harry had been stepping out together (as was the way to say it in those days) and were married on the 26th December, 1940. Prior to the wedding, Harry had been transferred to the Cootamundra Air Base in northern NSW. After the marriage, they undertook what would have been a daunting road trip back to Cootamundra. Harry owned a tiny car called an Austin 7, not much bigger than a doll’s pram – a two seater with a canvas roof. I don’t know the distance from Gawler to Cootamundra but it would have to be something like 1000 kilometres or more. Presumably, they would have gone through the Riverland, and Mildura, across the Hay plain and eventually to Cootamundra. The roads of course would have not been like they are now and who knows how long it would have taken to get there. So, it was a great effort in car of that size.

She had become pregnant immediately with John and after some months, she chose to return to Gawler for his birth in late September 1941. Then in December, Harry was transferred back to South Australia and the Mallala Airfield as a flying instructor and there he stayed until July 1943 – presumably he was able to get home to Gawler when not on duty, as Mallala is only about 20 kilometres from Gawler. This situation would have been an improvement from previous times. As due to Harry being transferred quite often to other air bases they would have been apart for some months at a time during those confusing and testing times in the early stages of the war.

Later in July, Harry volunteered for active service and was transferred to New Guinea to fly Boston Bombers – his plane was shot down in September and he became a prisoner of war of the Japanese and tragically passed away on 22nd July, 1944. – 71 years exactly before her. She was expecting their second child, Peter who was born late December 1943, and she knew at that time that Harry had been reported as missing in action – his whereabouts would have not been known at that stage – it would have been a really tough time for her and not made any easier by the fact that three of her brothers were on active duty with the army in the Middle East and later New Guinea.

Thankfully she was given a lot of support by her parents and the rest of her family as she bravely battled bringing up two young boys without their father. In a brave decision, she decided to become a teacher and travelled to teachers college leaving the boys in the care of the grandparents on the farm. She first taught kindergarten and then later infant school classes at the old Gawler Primary starting 4/10/1950 then eventually at the Evanston Gardens Primary School.

She lived on the farm with her parents and when John was ready to go to school, she rented a house in Gawler at 28 Cowan Street. At that stage it was shared with another family who were renting the other half – she eventually bought the house. She became a very well respected teacher, known by hundreds of kids she taught at both schools. While still working, she learnt to play contract bridge and enjoyed playing it for many years, hosting bridge parties of an evening for her friends.

In 1970, the first of Grace May’s grandchildren was born – Jane, then in 1971 Karen arrived and late the same year Phil also arrived. They were the apple of her eye and she enjoyed seeing them when they visited. She was even more pleased and excited when the seven great grandchildren started to arrive.

She became an extremely loyal supporter and member of the Sturt Football Club and spent many a Saturday afternoon watching their games having driven to Adelaide or hitching a ride with a man called Lloyd Chapman and his family. She also became an Adelaide Crows supporter and went to many games with Lois Cowham who was Harry’s sister.

She managed a couple of overseas trips – one with her sister Sylvia Hallam when she went to the UK and Europe on a guided tour. She also went on a cruise with Lois when the ship sailed to the North Pacific – a highlight for them, but sad for both, was when the ship anchored off Rabaul Harbour in New Britain – they visited the Australian War cemetery and saw Harry’s grave. A couple of years after retirement, she made a decision to move to Adelaide to be closer to the family and bought a unit at Glenelg North. She passed her time playing lots of bridge, working with Meals on wheels and also attended the local Anglican Church.

A car accident in 2010 which could have serious but thankfully was not, resulted in her not wanting to drive again. About the same time she was finding it difficult to live in her unit, the family tracked down a nice retirement village, Sutherland Court, Woodville. With a little bit of encouraging from the family she eventually agreed and grew to like the place due to the wonderful staff giving her care and attention.

Grace May Dawkins passed away suddenly but very peacefully on 22nd July 2015 – in fact she had her evening meal as normal at 5 o’clock and was bought coffee to her room at 7 o’clock as per normal. The staff helped her to bed around 8 o clock which was the rule with older people. She was found deceased at 4 o’clock in the morning when the staff were doing their routine checks. Her ashes have been placed in the family grave with her parents and brother Laurie Hissey at the Willaston Cemetery.

Please click here for photos of May Dawkins.


Grace May Dawkins 2000
Grace May Dawkins 2000
May Dawkins aged 6 with 12yo Sylvia Hissey
May Dawkins aged 6 with 12yo Sylvia Hissey
May Dawkins home 28 Cowan Street 1945 - 1981
May Dawkins home 28 Cowan Street 1945 - 1981


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