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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Noel Fraser Hickey

1957
Nancy Menetrey

oil on canvas (frame: 100.0 cm x 75.0 cm)
Image not available (NC)

Noel Fraser Hickey (1921–2010) was born in Kensington, in Sydney, New South Wales, a stone's throw from the Royal Randwick Racecourse. His father, James Hickey, was a violinist, as was his elder brother, Lionel. The family later lived at The Rocks and Noel was educated at Fort Street Boys' School in Petersham. As a schoolboy, he got into the habit of making his way back to Randwick racecourse where he would watch Phar Lap train, sometimes convincing a sympathetic tram conductor to let him catch a ride from Circular Quay for free. He got to know some of the trainers, who let him ride their horses so that he could get a better look at the champion. Hickey got to know Phar Lap's strapper, Tommy Woodcock, too. On race days, he would scramble under a fence in a far corner of the course to watch Phar Lap race. After leaving school, Hickey found work as a photographer with Kodak. He served with the AIF in North Africa and New Guinea in the Second World War.

By the time he was repatriated to Sydney on medical grounds, Hickey's devotion to Phar Lap was commonly known. He laid a wreath at the entrance to Randwick Racecourse each year on the anniversary of the famed gelding's death, and in 1944 he raised £1 from other troops and sent the money back to the Daily Telegraph so that a wreath could be laid on his behalf. Hickey later told a journalist that 'I got into some tight spots in the war. It was the memory of Phar Lap that got me through.' He married for the first time in 1946; he had met his wife, Edna, when she was working as a photographic processor, and they had three children. By the 1950s Hickey appears to have had his own studio, specialising in headshots and portfolio photography for aspiring models from schools such as that run by the former Miss Australia, Pat Woodley (who is also represented in Nancy Menetrey's portrait of Noel Fraser Hickey). Hickey remarried after his divorce from Edna in 1970 and had another son with his second wife, Maree. When that marriage ended, he moved to Western Australia, where he trained racehorses.

Hickey nevertheless maintained his habit of honouring the anniversary of Phar Lap's death every year; and in 1982 having returned to Sydney, he went so far as to make a new headstone for the horse when the original one went missing. (The original headstone had been donated to the Australian Jockey Club in the 1970s). Hickey lived in Coffs Harbour towards the end of his life, and always arranged for a wreath to be laid when he was unable to lay one himself.

Gift of the artist 2021

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Nancy Menetrey (age 33 in 1957)

Noel Fraser Hickey (age 36 in 1957)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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