Robert Hickling?s siblings lead the four-year-old?s funeral procession yesterday carrying a photograph of their brother.
Robert Hickling?s siblings lead the four-year-old?s funeral procession yesterday carrying a photograph of their brother.

Deadly illness claims child

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

FOUR-YEAR-OLD Robert 'Robbo' Hickling should be counting down the sleeps until Santa arrives with his very first bicycle.

Instead, his grief-stricken family yesterday said goodbye to their 'little angel' at his funeral after the bright and cheeky Tabulum boy was killed by Meningococcal disease last week.

The close-knit Jubullum Village community was yesterday united in shock as 150 family and friends wept at the sight of the small, white coffin containing the body of a little boy who just last week was so full of life.

Robbo's death has sparked warnings from the Director of Public Health for North Coast parents to be on alert for symptoms of the deadly Meningococcal disease, which can strike quickly.

"Sometimes, even with early treatment, the disease can be deadly and it can strike out of the blue," director of Public Health, Paul Corben, said.

Robbo's death is the eighth case of Meningococcal reported on the North Coast this year, but the first reported death.

Mr Corben urged parents to be aware of the symptoms (see breakout) and seek vaccinations for Type C Meningococcal.

Children at the Tabulum Preschool that Robbo attended have been offered vaccinations for Type C Meningococcal, and two more children from Jubullum Village were hospitalised at Lismore Base Hospital last week as a precaution.

However both were discharged after being given the all-clear of the disease.

However, at Robbo's funeral yesterday there was little said of the tragic circumstances of his death, and instead much heartwrenching memories of the energetic boy everybody loved so much.

Robbo came into this world as suddenly as he left it ?- arriving earlier than expected and catching his aunt Michelle Torrens off guard as she acted as an im- promptu midwife, delivering Robbo at home before the ambulance had even arrived.

"I had flashbacks of conversations Mum, Ma Walker and Mother (Aunty Una) had told me over the years of their encounters with home delivery, which was just about to come my way," she said.

"Since the first moment I saw you, your tiny little beady eyes looked straight at me and pierced the core of my heart ... that day you changed my life for ever," she said.

"I will never forget, Robert, how in a short time you enriched my life with an experience that was so precious as I was the first to hold you the day I delivered and presented you to your mum."

Those gathered yesterday under the blue and white-striped marquee remembered Robbo's cheeky personality, and his nickname of 'little motor'.

"He should have been called starter motor," joked one relative fondly.

"He was always starting up the trouble."

At the funeral were many mothers holding damp, cool cloths to eyes red from crying, and dozens of children, ranging in age from babies to young teens, who fidgeted through the service -? too young to realise their little friend was truly gone.

One child played with his toy robot on the lid of his friend's coffin.

Many children were his mates from pre-school and Sunday School, and his church teachers recalled the joy Robbo had as he and his brothers travelled in the Sunday School bus, singing all the way, to a nearby swimming hole.

"He was always playing outdoors, always wanting to go to the river to swim," recalled one relative.

"He would have got his first bike for Christmas this year."

The tragedy of a young life cut short was returned to again and again during the service.

"When you suddenly slipped away, little did we know that day what sorrow it would bring," read a written message from Robbo's parents, Neil and Marie, both too overcome with grief to talk at the service.

"When your heart of gold stopped beating, and we could not do a thing.

"It breaks our hearts to lose you. For, a part of us went with you the day God called you home."

Two of Robbo's grandfathers, Cecil and Earnest, were unable to attend Robbo's ceremony, but sent this message to 'everybody's little mate'.: "Never mind that you never made it to the turtle drivers Team (Tabulam's rugby league team). We know you're scoring points in heaven."

At the end of the service, as tears streamed down her face, Robbo's grandmother made the most poignant plea: "My message here today is this ?- look after your precious little ones."



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