Vaux Morisset Nicholson
Born on 18 November 1917 at Beaudesert, Vaux Nicholson had an impeccable rugby pedigree. He was the son of Fred Nicholson, a Beaudesert Solicitor, and former international rugby winger.
Fred Nicholson represented Queensland from 1903 to 1905 and played for Australia on the wing in the third test match in Sydney against Bedell-Sivright’s 1904 British team. Fred’s elder brother, Frank Nicholson, captained Australia against Bedell-Sivright’s team in 1904 and also played for Australia against the New Zealanders in 1903 in the only Test match in Sydney. Vaux’s elder brother, ‘Derick’ Nicholson, represented Queensland as a flanker from 1932 to 1936.
Vaux Nicholson attended The Southport School and was named on the School’s Sport’s Honour Board for 1934. To qualify, one had to represent the School in five sports, including rugby and cricket or rowing. Vaux achieved this honour by representing in athletics, rugby, cricket, tennis and swimming. He played centre for the First XV and was in the Firsts tennis team that won the GPS premiership in 1934. In that year, Vaux came second in the GPS swimming championships. In the previous year, he was a member of Southport’s winning athletics team at the GPS Sports Carnival, winning the Under 16 100 yards and 220 yards sprints.
On leaving School, Vaux enrolled in the University of Queensland for a combined Arts/Law degree. He intended to follow his father’s profession, but not in the Solicitors branch. Vaux intended to practise as a Barrister, hence the combined degree. Naturally, he joined the University Rugby Club.
At the start of the 1938 season, the 20- year -old Nicholson was a handsome, well-built young man with sleek, dark hair. He was 176 cms tall and weighed 76 kgs. Although he possessed blistering pace and a bewildering step, he faced stiff opposition from Jack Howard, Max Stark and Cyril Andrews for a wing position in the Queensland team. However, Nicholson’s claims could not be ignored and he represented Queensland on the wing in 1938 against New South Wales in Sydney and scored a try in his side’s 20-12 loss.
In his debut, Nicholson showed great promise that would be fulfilled in the next couple of years.
In the 1939 rugby season, the tour of a lifetime to the British Isles beckoned at the end of the year. By now, Nicholson was a certain choice for the State team and he repaid the selectors by scoring three tries in Queensland’s 32-15 thrashing of New South Wales in the opening interstate clash in Brisbane. Playing on the right wing, Nicholson showed great speed and completely outplayed Basil Porter, the boom New South Wales right winger. Unfortunately, Nicholson was forced out of the return match through injury and Paul Costello from Brothers replaced him and kicked a conversion and penalty goal in Queensland’s last minute 20-17 victory.
Having to select a team to tour Britain, the Australian selectors were granted a series of trials between two teams from New South Wales, and one each from Queensland and Victoria, followed by a match between Australia and the Rest. Queensland fielded a powerful side - Nicholson, Wally Lewis, ‘Blow’ Ide, Vay Wilson (captain), Bill Monti, Boyd Oxlade, ‘Cracker’ McDonald and Bill McLean were selected for the tour, while proven internationals Eddie Bonis and Graham Cooke were omitted. Nicholson was a star performer in these matches. Queensland beat New South Wales 21-14 to clinch the interstate series for the first time since 1913. Nicholson played in the final trial and was one of the four wingers chosen for the tour. The others three were Basil Porter, Max Carpenter and Jack Kelaher.
The Wallabies sailed on the Mooltan, which departed from Sydney on 21 July 1939. The tourists enjoyed shipboard life and built up a spirit of camaraderie through deck games, training and socialising that made them life-long friends. The ship called at exotic ports such as Colombo, Gibraltar and Tangiers, which provided plenty opportunities for sightseeing. Thus far, Nicholson had enjoyed success in his sporting life with never a setback, but all that changed when the Mooltan berthed at Southampton and War was declared.
The Wallabies helped fill sandbags but did get to set foot on the hallowed turf at Twickenham, headquarters of the Rugby Football Union. There they may have shocked some of the watching alickadoos by engaging in some mock tackling for the team’s camera club. In another disappointment, the British Sportsman’s Club had issued the team with an invitation to a sumptuous luncheon for 4th September 1939 at the Savoy Hotel.
Because of the outbreak of the War, this had to be cancelled. In compensation, the Sportsman’s Club gave the team a farewell cocktail party on 13th September at the Savoy. The guest list read like a ‘who’s who’ of British sport and included Dr Len Brown, former Queensland prop forward and Rhodes Scholar, who captained England. After this short interlude in England, the team returned home in a somewhat sombre mood. Some could not hide their bitter disappointment, while others like Nicholson and Bill McLean considered that they were young enough to have another chance later.
On returning to Australia, Nicholson resumed rugby with University and played brilliantly. Learning from past mistakes, the QRU continued organised club rugby during the Second World War and Nicholson was selected in a Queensland side that was listed to meet New South Wales but the proposed fixture was cancelled.
Nicholson married and enlisted in the AIF on 3 July 1940 and was promoted to lieutenant in the 2/10 Field Regiment. He was sent Malaya and arrived just in time to be taken in as a prisoner-of-war. He was sent to a prison camp in Borneo and suffered terribly at the hands of his brutal captors. Starved of food, he returned to Australia a shadow of his former self and his wife, Ruth, could hardly recognise him.
During the 1946 rugby season, Nicholson took to the field again, but the privations of the prisoner-of-war camp told on his physical abilities and he retired from the game. After repatriation to Australia, he continued his legal studies and received a Bachelor of Laws on 26 January 1949. He was then called to the Queensland Bar, where he practised as a barrister and earned the respect of his peers. Later, he was sworn in as a District Court Judge.
Early in 1976, he was on circuit in the Toowoomba District Court, when he received word that his sister was very ill and had been rushed to the Chermside Hospital. Nicholson was sitting on a trial with his daughter, who was his Associate. When the trial concluded, the two drove back to Brisbane that night to see his sister. At the time, the Warrego Highway passed through Gatton. Just outside Gatton, there was a dangerous hairpin bend. Nicholson’s car failed to take the bend and crashed into a tree killing both Nicholson and his daughter. Police searched all night to find Mrs Nicholson, but she was at the hospital with her Vaux’s sister, totally unaware of the deaths of her husband and daughter until the next day. The real tragedy was that Vaux’s sister was not seriously ill!
The legal and sporting fraternity mourned Vaux Nicholson’s death and his rugby obituary reflected on what an outstanding athlete he was, a champion winger and a wonderful sportsman.