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Bound through time by words

"It was the magic of theatre that sucked me in."

It was art and creativity that drew Nick Hughes and his late wife Deidre together and, despite her passing away over a decade ago, it’s still the hobby that binds them.

That is evidenced by the poetry pouch, a collection of poems by hundreds of writers that now sits attached to a bench erected in her honor at one of her favourite places – the Woorabinda Bushland Reserve at Stirling.

The idea for the pouch sprung from a tribute that Mr Hughes solemnly made following Deidre’s death in 2010, leaving a poem on the bench that described her personality and love of art and nature.

“In the last few years of her life she worked with Aboriginal groups on the APY Lands, working with artists and working out ways to empower them,” he says.

“Deidre was very wise … she was a person who could see around corners, she could analyse a problem, work out what needs to be done, and then work out how to suggest to people that it should be done.

“She was very perspicacious.”


Nick grew up on the Wirral Peninsula between Liverpool and northern Wales in the UK and his fascination with the arts started at age nine, when his mother took him to see a stage adaptation of The Snow Queen at the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre.

He particularly recalls the final scene, in which the characters gathered to melt the evil snow queen with the “warmth of their hearts”, as having an impact on him.

“She disappeared into the stage and (at the time) I didn’t know about trapdoors or anything like that, so it was magic … it was the magic of theatre that sucked me in,” he says.

He went on to complete a degree in drama and sociology at Birmingham University and later worked with Interaction, a community arts organisation in London.

“There were lots of different departments, I worked as a stage manager in a small studio theatre called the Almost Free Theatre down in the West End,” Nick says.

Tired of life in the UK and inspired by a co-worker who had recently returned from a six-week holiday in Thailand, he bought a cheap ticket to Singapore and toured around the Pacific for a while.

He came to Australia in the early ’70s following a lengthy immigration process and met his future wife while he was the artistic director of the Pt Lincoln-based Harvest Theatre Company in 1981.

The two didn’t “hit it off” right away, but did so later when they were reunited while Nick was working on a play with a theatre group in Adelaide.

“I moved from Sydney to Adelaide to be with her,” he says.

The pair were together for 16 years, until Deidre’s death in 2010, three years after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Nick says she was “knocked around” by her treatment, but went back to work in the APY Lands during a period of remission.

“I went with her the first time, but the second time she drove herself up – she was a very determined woman,” he says.

Later the cancer returned, cutting Diedre’s life short and leaving Nick stricken with grief.
In the days after her passing, he received a call from a friend working with organisation Tutti Arts, who asked if he wanted to join a walking group to help deal with the trauma.

“That was so healing, walking through the Hills with those people,” he says.

Nick later had a park bench installed at Woorabinda – a place Deidre loved to walk – in her honour.

“During our walks we stopped for morning tea halfway through, so after the bench was in position we did a walk (through Woorabinda) and stopped there,” he says.

“I took a poem that I’d written about Deidre and read it to them … when I finished it I thought it would make me cry, then I turned around and saw that one of the walkers was in floods of tears.”

Nick left the poem on the bench as a tribute, but what he didn’t expect was for the piece to become immortalised with the bench.

“The next day I saw that someone had read it and it had been folded and inserted into the armrest … I took it out and re-read it … it was very wet so I didn’t think it was going to last long,” he says.

“The following day it was gone … but two weeks later I was amazed to see that someone had taken it away and dried it, … laminated it and brought it back to the bench and attached it with cable ties.”

After adding a few more of his own poems, Nick decided to preserve them by attaching a canvas bag to the bench, creating the first poetry pouch.

“I put a few poems in it and some paper and pencils … since then there’s been over 400 entries left from all around the world,” he says.

The pouch has gone through several iterations, with the current being a wooden box that was created by Nick with help from the Aldgate Men’s Shed.

Nick says looking back at all the poems contributed by both locals and those passing through, there was one in particular that stood out to him.

“There was one where someone had just sat down and written about their attitude to life … and that really struck a note in me,” he says.

“I photocopied it and put it on my pin board at work and I thought, ‘that’s what I get for doing this, I get these amazing thoughts from other people’.”

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