Setting History In Stone-Hastings And Rye (Australia) Worlds Apart

Richard Holdsworth finds a similarity between history preserved in Australia’s tapestry and Hastings’ own Millennium Chronicles…

Successive generations will be indebted to the good souls who record our history so that it is never forgotten and I am fortunate that I have come across two such people even though they are twelve-thousand miles apart, one in Hastings, England, and the other Rye, Australia.

Ron (Nick) Nicola spent more than 2000 hours in creating the marvellous Hastings Chronicles, nine plates depicting the history of Hastings since 1066, while Rebecca Mouton, has done the same for Rye in Australia since the time of the early settlers.

Ron’s record of Hastings through the ages is done in a series of paintings while Rebecca Moulton has created her history in the form of a woven tapestry. Both are miracles of imagination and hard work in their very own right.Bildes6

Rye Historical Society Sept 2015 Pauline Powell and Prue

The difference between the two – and a very significant one – is that whereas the Australian tapestry is on display for all to see, sadly Ron has yet to find a home in Hastings for his Millennium Chronicle for the public to enjoy.

Rebecca Moulton’s tapestry is part of the Rye Historical Society’s display at the Old School House which in itself is in the grounds of the current Rye School. The tapestry is the result of Rebecca’s skills working as part of the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne, internationally acclaimed as a leader in contemporary tapestry. Founded in 1976, it is the only such tapestry workshop in Australia and one of only a handful in the world for the production of hand-woven tapestries.

The Workshop’s philosophy has been to employ weavers trained as artists to enable close collaboration with those whose work they are interpreting. Using the same techniques employed in Europe since the 15th century, the Australian Tapestry Workshop weavers work with artists from Australia and overseas to produce tapestries that are known for their vibrancy, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation.

Rebecca’s hand-woven tapestry – created with the help of fellow weaver, Joy Smith – was two years in the making. Consisting of three large panels each marking 50 years of the town’s settlement it includes many names of pioneers and those who helped form the Rye community. It shows streets and many well known Rye buildings and landmarks which are cleverly woven into the tapestry using the finest Australian wool dyed in over 300 different vivid colours.

In contrast, Ron Nicola chose watercolurs to depict Hastings in years gone by in a total of nine handpainted panels surrounded by 72 smaller paintings depicting events of the era. A lifetime’s work for many less skilled creators, it still took Nick over 2000 hours of his time.

Nick and Mayor Hastings unsung hero

However, there’s more to Ron Nicola – Nick to his friends – than this momumental achievement. Not content with joining the Army, Nick volunteered for the Paratroopers to wear the Red Beret with pride, and with the Suez Crisis upon us in 1958, Nick was in the advance party ready for action armed to the teeth including seven live grenades strapped to his body. He was with the 2nd Battallion on the advance party to land in the Labanon, but then the flight was diverted to Cyprus and on to Amman where they dug in to secure the airport. All turned out well but not before King Hussein of Jordan showed his gratitude and Nick was one of the men who received a handshake. A Royal handshake, not too many people can claim that! After nine years as a crack member of a highly respected team, Nick saw a future “Down Under” and as a Ten Pound Pom stepped ashore in Sydney, and immediately sought work and grabbed the opportunity of a vacancy with the City’s team of refuse collectors but he tells the tale of how on his first day he lost his mates and the truck!

More at home with telecommunications, Nick Nicola became a linesman for the Snowy Mountain Authority and with a bit of cash behind him, bought a secondhand Ford Prefect and headed for Mount Isa and the gold mines but when a strike loomed he swapped the Ford for a Land Rover and headed further inland where he stumbled across the railway track being re-laid across the Nullabor Plain – a distance of well over 1000 miles. That was a challenge Nick couldn’t refuse… then back in Queensland and open cast coal mining, followed by foreman of the Patching Gang looking after the thin sliver of Tarmac connecting Alice Springs to Darwin and the branch east to the Queensland border.

Unfortunately, the road passes through prospecting country and Nick took to that with his pick and shovel, camping under the stars – which just happened to include Skull Creek and ceremonial burial ground of the Aborigines and the mysterious Min Min lights – a tale which Nick let me tell in my own Aussie adventure, IN THE HOT SEAT.

Nick saw Tasmania and then New Zealand before returning to the UK living a more sedate life helping other people less fortunate than himself. He has been known to shop for older folks who don’t have their own transport, has done household chores for the infirm and still retraining his creative skills, Nick designed the front cover of an anthology for a local writer’s group which along with the driving force, Rosemary Bartholomew, raised £3000 for charity and was instrumental in creating two anthologies that won top National awards.

With this sort of background most other people would find themselves in the Queen’s honours list, certainly with local dignitaries queuing to shake your hand… King Hussein did! At least you would think that Hastings would embrace Nick’s wonderful portrayal of.

Hastings’ history in his Millennium Chronicle and find it a home for all members of the public to enjoy. Pride of place, in fact! But despite various promises, that is still to happen.

Come on Hastings – if the Aussies can do it for Rebecca Moulton – surely the authorities can do the same for Ron “Nick” Nicola our own local talent!

Richard’s Aussie adventure – IN THE HOT SEAT – is available posted in the UK for £11.95 inc p&p.


“Hastings Town” December 2015

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