Maureen Higgs Obituary
Maureen Higgs, who passed away peacefully, on Sunday 10th January, 2016 at the age of 85 years lived an exuberant, colourful and sometimes eccentric life enriched through her artistic talents and her sociability. Throughout her life, she exhibited a passion for the arts, both performing and visual, which manifest in her various roles as collector, performer, artist, administrator, fund-raiser and journal editor.
Maureen was born Maureen Olga Edwards at Red Cliffs in Victoria. She was the daughter of Roy William Edwards, an orchardist, who established a farm as part of the soldier settler scheme at Red Cliffs in the years immediately after the Great War. Her mother, Mavis Olive Scott, was a milliner of Mildura. From her father, Maureen inherited a love of animals and from her mother, she inherited a creative flair. From both her parents, she learned the essential country values of hospitality, generosity, sharing and the ability to make strangers feel welcome.
Maureen’s mother was determined to preserve the family’s Scottish ancestry. Like a good Scottish lassie, Maureen learned to play the fiddle from a very young age. She also learned highland dancing and was always dressed in the family tartan for special occasions. Although her mother, who was an accomplished pianist, also taught Maureen piano, it was the violin that was Maureen’s first love.
Educated at Cardross State School and Mildura High School, Maureen played violin for the School Orchestra as well as the Mildura Orchestra. She also loved drawing and toyed with the idea of becoming a graphic artist, but was instead encouraged to become a primary school teacher. Her friends recall the amazing chalk drawings of Australian birds that decorated her classroom blackboard.
In 1952, Maureen married Geoffrey Higgs, a law graduate, who she had met several years earlier while Geoff was working as a fruit picker on her father’s farm. The couple settled in Jeparit in Victoria’s Wimmera district where Geoffrey established a law practice and Maureen taught at the local primary school until the couple started their family. Five of the couple’s six children were born in Jeparit.
Geoff and Maureen may well have settled into a convivial country lifestyle, however the country lass was destined to become urbanized. As Geoffrey’s law practice grew, he was spending more time in Melbourne and away from the family. In the early 1960s the family moved to Melbourne and settled in Beaumaris where their youngest child, Margaret, was born.
With a large family to raise, Maureen had little time to pursue her interests in music and painting. However, Maureen indulged her passion for the visual arts through collecting. Both she and her husband shared a love of Australian art, and throughout the 1960s they began acquiring paintings by both well-known and lesser-known Australian painters. At its peak, their collection included works by Drysdale, Pro-Hart, Streeton, Conder and Sawry.
In 1975, Maureen’s husband died suddenly leaving her a widow at age 45 years and with the responsibility of raising her youngest children who were still school age. Undaunted, in 1976, Maureen decided to foster a secondary student from Minnesota, under the American Field Scholarship program. Many years later, that student, Julie Brown, married Maureen’s youngest son, John Higgs, thus becoming a permanent member of the Higgs clan.
Around this time, and after a hiatus of almost 30 years, Maureen once again took up the violin. Her children recall that Maureen’s first tentative bowing efforts were painful to the ear. Yet, she persisted and before long she had joined the violin section of the Frankston Symphony Orchestra and the Zelman Memorial Orchestra. She taught violin to private students and also established a Chamber Quartet which performed at local senior citizens clubs, fetes and festivals. Occasionally, she would announce proudly that the Chamber Quartet was, “getting paid for this gig!” Paid gigs were rare indeed. Yet, Maureen and the other members of the Chamber Quartet were happy to perform on a voluntary basis for a good cause.
Maureen had a big heart, and was a tireless worker. It was not enough for her to be involved simply as a musician. Instead, she was actively involved as a volunteer, fund-raiser and committee-member. Between 1988 and 1992, she was the National Editor of the Australian String Teacher, the then journal of the Australian String Teachers’ Association (AUSTA) having served her apprenticeship as the Advertising Editor between 1986 and 1988. As an editor, Maureen was more like a ‘hands-on’ roving reporter and photographer, travelling all around Australia to attend music camps and workshops in order to gather stories and photographs of AUSTA events. As editor, she also introduced a number of innovations including games and puzzles for younger string players and a very chatty letter from the editor in every issue.
In the 1990s, Maureen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which progressively affected her mobility. With much reluctance, she gave up teaching violin but continued to enjoy painting and drawing well into her final years.
Maureen will be remembered for her warmth and generosity, her prolific entertaining, the lavish Christmas Concerts staged by her music pupils and the many paintings which she gave to friends and family. She is survived by six children, twelve grand-children and five great grand-children.