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Celia Mary Thiel (nee Hanckel)

(as read by Roger Hankel and Rebecca Thiel)

Early Years

Celia Mary Thiel, nee Hanckel, was born on the 3rd of December 1939 at Henty, near Wagga Wagga in NSW. She was the fifth of nine children born to Erhard Christoph Benjamin and Elfrieda Gertrude Hanckel (nee Koch). Her mother recalled that the hospital was a weatherboard building, unshaded, no air conditioning or fans – iron bedsteads were hot to touch! Fortunately, Celia was born in the cool early morning before sunrise.

Celia’s early childhood was spent at Waldeck, a 1000 acre property, selected by her grandfather in 1884. She was a golden girl, fine flaxen curly hair, hazel eyes later, fair skin. She was usually happy, smiling and laughing. Celia walked and talked early – constantly encouraged, in my mothers’ words “by the gang of four [her older siblings Margaret, Mark, Rosemary and John]. They took her for walks in the gate paddock with its spreading box trees, numerous birds, wild-flowers and carpets of buttercups.”

All families have their games, and spoonerisms were big in the Hanckel household. At the age of 5, Celia walked into a shop and requested a frocolate chog. At this time, frocolate chogs, or chocolate frogs even, would have been in short supply. These were the war years, a time or strict rationing. Being on a large farm, the family was well supplied with milk, butter, meat and eggs, and Elfreida grew as many vegetables as she could to keep her family healthy, but even water was in short supply.

When Celia was 6, their ex-Army truck was packed with a piano, a dining table, 7 children and other possessions. Waldeck had been put onto the market so the family could move to South Australia, to better attend to the children’s education needs.  Celia, with her four older siblings rode on the back of the truck, and could talk to her parents through a hatch in the cabin roof. It was an arduous journey, but exciting too. There were a few nights of roadside camping on rugs under the stars.  

After several temporary homes in the Hahndorf area, the family purchased “Akoonah”, a 100 acre farm at Verdun.  Predominantly a dairy farm, there was also a pear orchard, and large areas of untouched stringybark bush. With numerous ferny gullies, shady springs and creeks, it was a wonderful place for adventurous children. The Adelaide to Melbourne rail line bordered the property, and Celia and some siblings once ran through a long nearby tunnel – very brave, even if there was a train strike that day.

During her school years, Celia was sometimes called "Cherub"...due to her goodness and sunny disposition. Beneath her angelic demeanour, there was great strength of character and a steely determination to stick to whatever was right, fair and, above all, honest.  Celia “dinked“ her little sister Lois to school on the back of her bike for a year, and thereafter the  three sisters, Celia, Eleanor and Lois, and later Roger, rode the 6 mile return trip to school in Hahndorf every day. Sometimes they would take a shortcut through our neighbour’s orchard; although Mr. Schmidtke’s militant geese made this a route not to be embarked on lightly.

At Mount Barker High School, Celia was dux of all her First Year classes and house captain. She also excelled in athletics, winning the Senior Cup - which sat proudly on her desk for many years. 

In 1955, again due to educational requirements of the children, “Akoonah” was sold, and the family moved to Myrtle Bank. Celia boarded during the week with Mrs Wittwer in Hahndorf, a long-time family friend (and piano teacher) for the rest of the year until she finished her intermediate at Mt Barker High.

Youth

After leaving school, Celia gained a position at Harris Scarfe’s, and then was asked to become secretary in the “Lutheran Hour” Office, where she worked for 8 years.  Her work included management of a Correspondence Sunday School for children in remote areas.  Here, Celia met her lifelong friend Erika. 

Erika has been kind enough to share some memories and special insights from those youthful years in Celia’s life. So, in her words:

“To me, at the age of 14, Celia was a first encounter as a workmate, the senior girl in the office, who was kind and sensitive in her mentoring, but firm as well, and always with that quick smile, a slight turn of her head, and a giggle, too.

Celia lived in a rambling home, always full of a great variety of children and interesting young adults, a strong and stable household, not perfect, but vigorous and warm, held together by faithful parents whose lives had not been easy.

Celia was a searcher and she was a thinker.  Her cultural interests were broad - she loved music and singing, she listened to and understood classical music, and her family was blessed with capable and gifted people.

It was with Celia’s encouragement and planning that we attended the first ever Adelaide Festival of Arts.  We saw exotic films from all over the world and plays and exhibitions of fantastic Australian paintings.  We attended free lectures on high minded subjects and during those heady days, sat on the lawns along the Torrens River, listening to music and languidly smoking cigarettes!

Celia  and I spent a few days together at a Guest House at Port Elliott.  This was such a special holiday  - we lay on the beach, we read books, we talked and we watched the clouds.  The world was lovely; our heads were full of ideas and hopes. Our hearts had ventured just a little in the realms of romance…. Into these dreamy moments, the harsh reality of life delivered severely sunburnt legs!”

We thank you Erika, for sharing these special memories with us.

In about 1964, Celia went to New Guinea for two and a half years, as secretary for several American Missionaries amongst the Enga people at Wabag in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. She attended a three-month Enga language school, and in Pidgin English she taught six young New Guinean men typing, and other office skills. I can remember her teaching us a few words of Pidgin English, but the only thing that has stuck is “dis pella emmy long long true”, which I think means “you’re not quite right in the head”.

On returning to Adelaide, Celia looked into the possibility of training as a social worker or a Deaconess, but eventually took up the position of Secretary to the Director of Overseas Missions at Lutheran House in North Adelaide.

Marriage and Motherhood

Celia met Peter in a car park. None of us are quite sure on the finer detail of this, but I can remember mum saying “he was sitting in his car, looking at me with his ducky beak eyes”. I’ve never really understood exactly what that meant, but we do know it was a precursor to a life-long partnership with Peter

The Wedding took place on 21 June, 1969 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide, with the reception in North Adelaide.

I’m sure it was a wonderful event, with many special memories created for Celia, Peter, family and friends… it seems that one of the most lasting memories for many was the “kidnapping of the bride” - a German tradition where the bride kidnapped by family, and returned only after the groom negotiates  a “ransom”. Peter’s Sister Anita, her husband Fred, and Celia’s brother Roger duly kidnapped and photographed mum at Victoria fountain, but Anita tells us they were so upset at being separated, that the negotiation process was waived, and mum returned to her husband forthwith!

A yearlong honeymoon travelling around Australia in a Morris Minor followed, with much sleeping in the back of the car. During our childhoods, we had slide nights of these times mum and dad spent together. Mum loved the Australian countryside, and seeing them enjoying this and each other’s company up on a screen in a darkened lounge room is a special childhood memory.

They settled in to 8 Bellevue St, Vista, and over the next three and a half years Joanna, Rebecca and Benjamin joined them. Amos came along four years later.  

Mum’s intense desire to raise us in a pure, pollution free environment led to us to move to Yandi, near Mt Compass, in 1980. This run down old property, complete with outside bucket toilet, had its challenges, but I think mum took great pleasure in watching us grow fitter and stronger, roaming barefoot over 30 acres until the bottoms of our feet were like leather. Mum gave excellent foot massages.

We moved to the Barossa Valley in 1983, then on to “Bimbadeen” in Northern NSW in 1985. The pure spring water, gentle climate and sheer beauty of the natural environment was just right and this remained the family home until 2009, when they returned to South Australia to be closer to family. After spending some time on Kangaroo Island, they purchased a home in beautiful Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills – with its’ own creek and a reserve out the back. Here, mum immersed herself in the lovely family atmosphere of the church she had left behind so many years before. This was something she had missed, and gave her much fulfilment and pleasure. Here, she was known and loved by all for her dedication, social skills and hard work.

From the moment we were born, Celia’s career was the upbringing and nurturing of her children. Taking on the task of home educating four children, with their varying educational requirements, demonstrates the level of mum's dedication to us. As Ben and Amos needed a little more attention in the early years of their education, Joanna and I were sometimes left to our own devices. I was smart… smart enough to find the answers in the back of the book, anyhow. Mum would have been horrified had she known the extent of my cheating at maths. But many were the times we had heard her say ‘be sure your sin will find you out”.

I think we have demonstrated that our mother was entirely up to the task of our education. Between us we have two University Degrees, an Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy and a Minister of Religion qualification. I will admit to a very wobbly start in Statistics and economics - my sin did indeed find me out, eventually. As at the age of 27 as I painstakingly mastered the basic algebra I should have learnt in year 10, I at least had mum's excellent advice to fall back on: “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again". 

Spirituality

An avid reader and self educator, mum kept copious notes, for which she kept recycled paper, carefully cut to A5 size, by the phone.  In her last notes, we found her research on funerals, which we are incredibly grateful for.

Mum took diet and health very seriously, and in her last notes we also found the words “eat yourself smart”. This sums up beautifully mum’s ongoing self-education on food and herbs. She studied carefully the specific aspects of each nut, seed, herb and other food that came to her notice, wanting to truly understand not only their nutritional value but also their other health benefits. She was far ahead of her time. Whenever the latest wonder food hits the market - quinoa, chia, almond milk, goji, you name it… the odds are we have already learned about its benefits through my mother’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the blessings of nature.

Many people have commented over the years and more recently, of the beautiful nature of my mother. The quiet helpfulness, the non-judgemental listening skills, and the gentle understanding that she exuded was no accident, but was arrived at through many hours of Bible reading, meditation and prayer. Again, with her natural curiosity, intelligence and ability to self-educate, I think my mother often found that peace that passeth understanding, and was able to share it with those around her. Of course she had her struggles, as we all do. She once told me about her struggle with pride. I remember telling her I certainly didn’t see her as overly proud… and she confessed that sometimes, she was proud of being humble….and in my view, rightly so.

For someone so grounded, so thoughtful, and so organised, the time and effort it took my mother to choose an outfit always amazed me. What shall I wear today? she would ask. Her chosen victim would follow her into the bedroom to see several outfits laid neatly on the bed, and be required to discuss the merits of each at length. When Erika told me she had the dubious honour of helping  mum shop for a special new frock for her 21st birthday, a story she finished with the words “The things we do for love!”, I realised this was a lifelong idiosyncrasy.

Hearing the stories of how Celia has helped and encouraged so many of us over the years with her soothing presence,  non-judgmental listening and kind and gentle advice continues to be a great comfort to all of us.

If we continue to practise and share these skills that she so humbly demonstrated throughout her life, not only will we be helping others, but we will also keep her in our hearts for many years to come.  



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