Local identity Don Dickson will be much missed in his Brunswick Heads community and by the many young people in Africa whose education he paid for.
Local identity Don Dickson will be much missed in his Brunswick Heads community and by the many young people in Africa whose education he paid for.

Don made huge impact on community

It’s an unassuming little cottage in Brunswick Heads, perhaps only remarkable for its existence in an era when home renovation and makeover reign supreme, but once inside it’s the photos all over the kitchen wall that catch the eye – photos of African people young and old, smiling at the camera.

“The Shack” was home for many years to local identity Don Dickson, who has died at the age of 82, and the photos represent his long association with World Vision as a sponsor to children in Africa.

In 2002 he visited many of “his” children, and fell instantly in love with the place and its people.

“Dad often said he felt he was a black man in a white man’s skin,” said daughter Maree Mackie, “and he had a lot of African clothes that he loved to wear.”

But besides paying for the education of children in Ghana, and also in the Philippines, Don was a giant in his own community, and in 1999 his community service was recognised with the award of an OAM (Order of Australia) medal in the Australia Day honours list.

“His whole life was the community,” said Maree.

Don was secretary of the local RSL sub-branch for 14 years, and during that time attendance at meetings increased enormously, thanks to his secret weapon of letter-boxing a notice of meeting to every member.

He held positions in Legacy, and had a number of Legacy widows he looked after (“his harem”), ever ready to go in to bat for any needing help and advice through the tangle of pension paperwork.

One of Don’s proudest achievements was being a member of the committee that established the Brunswick Valley Community Centre, and thereafter serving as its chairman for several years.

In addition, he was on the committees of Red Cross and the bowling club, and was a volunteer with Red Cross and Life Line. And with his trademark bushy white beard, he was the perfect Santa at many a family and community gathering, and dealt with good humour with the odd child who ventured to test out the beard’s veracity with a sly tug.

Don’s early life was one of hardship, growing up through the tough years of the Depression, but his close, loving family instilled in him the values that saw him through his life.

He brought up his three children, aged six to 12, as a single parent when his marriage ended.

“He was a strict parent,” recalled Maree, “but he instilled in us positive values.”

Don was in the air force for over 20 years, then worked for Goodyear tyres and in a big steelworks in Newcastle, but once he retired to Brunswick Heads 27 years ago, he knew that he wanted to keep active, and that his role was to be one of service.

“He was a very spiritual man,” said Maree, “and could often be moved to tears by choir music.”

“He was an instrument of love, hope, comfort, peace and joy in the lives of many people, an embodiment of Christian values, and his legacy will live on,” said Maree at her father’s eulogy.

Mr Dickson’s funeral was held on Monday in Mullumbimby.

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