Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ellen Dickson (1895–1984)

by Sheila Spargo

This article was published:

Ellen Dickson (1895-1984), community worker, was born on 26 July 1895 at St John Timberhill, Norwich, Norfolk, England, daughter of Robert Edward Hare, upholsterer-journeyman, and his wife Margaret, née Ryan. While working as a Red Cross nurse at the Norfolk War Hospital, Norwich, she fell in love with a patient, Roy Sinclair Dickson, a Tasmanian gunner with the Australian Imperial Force. On 19 October 1918 they married in the parish church at Cholderton, Wiltshire. Roy returned to Tasmania and Ellen soon followed. They settled on the Dickson family farm, Glen Ayr, near Richmond, and had three children.

Forced to sell the farm in the early stages of the Depression, the Dicksons moved in 1930 to Lindisfarne, on Hobart’s eastern shore, and started a small clothing business. Roy produced machine-knitted fabrics that Ellen made into fashionable garments. She also managed a shop that stocked her clothes in a Hobart arcade. Roy, who had never fully regained his health since being gassed during the war, died in 1938; Ellen ran the business until 1954.

In 1958 Mrs Dickson founded the Riverside Arts Club; the inaugural committee appointed her life patroness. The group’s meeting-place was an old barn in her garden at Lindisfarne. With the help of donations, hard work and ingenuity, members refurbished in a rustic manner what came to be called the Barn, and began popular social and cultural activities. Beginning with an alfresco production of Alice in Wonderland (1959), directed by Dickson, who also designed and made the costumes, the club gradually focused on drama. It became one of greater Hobart’s most respected amateur theatre groups, staging forty-six full-length plays in 1959-92, as well as numerous variety and charity performances. Dickson loved acting, directing, designing sets, and creating spectacular costumes out of remnants from bargain stores. Her infectious enthusiasm inspired many people, but some avoided her lest they be inveigled into one of her projects against their will. She was particularly adept at inducing reluctant men to accept roles in her productions.

Dickson arranged for the Adult Education Board of Tasmania to conduct classes in a variety of arts-related subjects in the Barn from 1958 until the building was demolished in 1971. She was active in the Australian Red Cross Society, first at Richmond, then at Lindisfarne, where she staged concerts and propagated and sold hundreds of plants for its funds. A supporter of the `Little Shop’, which raised money for St Aidan’s Church of England, Lindisfarne, she was a stalwart of local branches of the Penguin Club of Australia and the Royal Overseas League, and of the committee of the Queen Victoria Home for the Aged.

Small and slightly built, Dickson was fair, charming and vivacious, with an innate elegance. She related easily to all types of people but concealed her age, even from her family. Late in life she discovered a talent for painting in oils and also produced hundreds of `character’ rag dolls with expressive hand-painted faces. Survived by her daughter and two sons, she died on 10 June 1984 in her home at Lindisfarne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Spargo, Recollections of the Riverside Arts Club (1997)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Dec 1981, p 32, 28 May 1982, p 2, 12 June 1984, p 16
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Sheila Spargo, 'Dickson, Ellen (1895–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hare, Ellen

26 July, 1895
Norwich, Norfolk, England


10 June, 1984 (aged 88)
Lindisfarne, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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