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A tribute to...

Audrey Fernesa Wicks

Published: Tue 26th Apr 2022

When Cheryl Woods remembers her Mum, she remembers growing up at Tugun back when a beachfront house on the Gold Coast was $20,000, spending countless hours on the beach with her brother Rowland and the sound of her Mum ringing the dinner bell on the balcony and calling them in for sustenance at lunch or dinner.

Cheryl and Rowland's Mum, Audrey Fernesa Wicks (nee Bretherton) passed away peacefully in her sleep at John Flynn Private Hospital on November 3, 2020. She was 96.

Audrey was a remarkable woman. A graduate of St Michael's Church of England College, Audrey enlisted in the WAAAF as a Wireless Operator in May 1942.

She was posted to the Signals Office at Point Cook in Victoria, then No.1 Flying Training School where she became an instructor in Morse code to the bomber pilots. She also served at No 1 Wireless Training School, Ascotvale and at NEATCU 4 South West Pacific Area, Townsville.

When the war was over, Audrey returned to Victoria where she was a member of the Victorian Ladies Australian Yacht Club in Sandringham, holding the position of secretary while also teaching young women to sail. Her sailing achievements included being a crew member of the 32ft yacht Te-Repunga in the last Trans- Tasman Race from Auckland to Hobart.

She was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to study medicine, however Cheryl said due to family commitments her Mum was unable to take up the award and instead studied Physical Education and Science before taking on a teaching role at Hampton High School in Victoria.

In the 1960s Audrey and her husband Douglas moved to Tugun. In the late 70s, Audrey signed up as a radio operator for the Air Sea Rescue where she served for 20 years. The family lived across the road from the beach - taking up the top floor of a house with their beach units for rent underneath.

Her experiences in the war and as a radio operator inspired her to become a historian and Audrey compiled and published a book entitled The Battle of the Coral Sea. She also took the role of Executive Secretary of the Coral Sea Battle Commemorative Association in the late 80s and early 90s. She resigned that position when her eyesight started to deteriorate, however remained active with the Currumbin RSL.

Cheryl said her Mum and her Dad had separated when she and her twin brother were about five-years-old. She said her Mum had raised them pretty much on her own and could turn her hand to most things.

"She was always very active, and even made her own Sabot sailing boats at one stage," Cheryl said. Audrey was preceded in death by her husband Douglas (in 1980), parents Harold and Linda Bretherton and her brother Wilbur.

She is survived by her daughter Cheryl, her son Rowland and his wife Alana, and her grandchildren James, Lauren, Tegan and Corey. For Cheryl and Rowland, their Mum is simply "too well loved to ever be forgotten".

A portrait of Audrey wearing her WAAAF uniform.
A portrait of Audrey wearing her WAAAF uniform.

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