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Rita Phyllis MODRA nèe ZWAR (C8,8)

  • Born: 2 September 1923 at Port Pirie, South Australia
  • Parents:
    Charles Jacob (Jack) and Emma Marie Louise Zwar (nee Staehr)
    • Married:
    • 3rd November 1945 Alfred Sydney Modra in Crossville Church
  • Lived:
    Port Pirie, Mangalo, Cleve, Yeelanna, Cummins, all in South Australia
  • Died: 14th April 2009
  • Buried: Cummins cemetery

Detailed Biography

Port Pirie

Rita was born at Port Pirie, South Australia on 2/9/1923, as the youngest child of Charles Jacob (Jack) and Emma Marie Louise Zwar (nee Staehr). They lived on a farm 5 miles south of Pt. Pirie, towards Warnertown.


When she was 4 years old, the family moved to Mangalo, north of Cleve, on Eyre Peninsula where Jack share farmed for his brother in law Fred Will. The farm was a little over 5 miles (8km) from the Mangalo Hall (which was also used as the school) on the main road to Cowell. It was customary to go shopping in Cowell every Thursday afternoon, as that was the day the boat arrived from Adelaide bringing fresh food supplies. The fishermen also knew the town would be busy, so were always on hand with fresh fish, which needed to be scaled and cleaned once the family were home. Rita was fond of fresh fish meals, and told her children in later years how she occasionally pretended to have a fish bone stuck in her throat, thereby causing her mother to panic until the laughter came.

The family only got their mail twice a week – on Thursday shopping trip and Friday evening with the mail delivery run to Mangalo. The closest Lutheran Church was at Crossville some 22 miles (35km) away and the trip would take an hour each way in the old Chevrolet utility at 25 miles per hour (40kph) on the dirt roads, and when it was wet, they sometimes had to use tyre chains to be able to make the trip, but the family never missed attending Church because of bad weather.


Rita started school at 6 years of age, and with her brother Rex, who was 2 ½ years older, travelled to Mangalo in a horse and cart that had steel rims on the spoked wheels (no rubber tyres) and this would take an hour each way, but was better than walking. Rex did most of the driving, but occasionally would hand the reins to his younger sister. On one occasion she steered too close to the edge of the road and a wheel hit a tree stump and flipped the cart over. Rex walked to a nearby farm for help, and with the cart back on its wheels they headed for home, with Rex driving. Another time, the leather traces wore through, and “Bob’ the horse kept jogging along while cart and passengers remained where they were.

If it was raining in the mornings when they woke, the children would hope to be allowed to stay home that day, but mostly her father would check the weather and say, “Rain before seven – fine before eleven”, so off to school they went.

When Rita was 11 years her brother Rex suddenly took ill with double pneumonia and died the next day, only 14 years of age. Since she now had no companion for the school trip, her parents decided that as she had 5 ¼ years of schooling, and could read and write, it was sufficient reason for her to leave school.

Teenage Years

Rita then helped at home with housework, milking cows, feeding calves, trapping rabbits, and sometimes chopping wood. She loved music, and was able to have music lessons at Cowell, but after only nine months her teacher married and left the district, so to her disappointment, that was the end of music lessons. However, she persevered and eventually was able to play most of the hymns in the tune book. For 7 years she was the only organist in her congregation, and even played for the service the day after her wedding.

When she was 13 years, a week long stay in Cowell hospital as a patient convinced her she would like to become a nurse, and this desire became stronger in her teen years. Although her mother was supporting, her father discouraged the idea. The family doctor encouraged her, and even spoke to her father about it, but her dream of nursing never came to fruition. However, many years later, her own youngest daughter became a nurse, much to Rita’s delight. When Rita was 19 years, her parents moved from the farm to their retiring home on the outskirts of Cleve.

21st Birthday

The Port Lincoln newspaper recorded the celebrations under the heading


To celebrate the 21st birthday of Miss Rita Zwar approximately 50 young people of the Lutheran congregations of Cleve, Yadnarie, Crossville and Cummins gathered at the supper room of the Cleve institute on Sep 11th. Miss Zwar, unaware of the arrangement, was much surprised when brought to the room to find herself the guest of honor.

Games, competitions, and community singing were indulged in, and special items were rendered by the Misses Edna and Thelma Jericho, and a song by the Misses Stolz.

During Supper, Pastor C Stolz honoring the toast of the guest, also presented her with a golden key, the gift of her parents. Congratulatory reemarks on behalf of their respective congregations were made by R. Jericho (Yadnarie), C. Lienert (Crossville), W. Modra (R.A.A.F on leave, for Cummins).

Miss Zwar, assisted by Mr. A. Modra, suitably responded. The guest was the recipient of many valuable gifts and a beautifully made posy by Mrs E. Kraehe. The singing of “God Save the King” brought a most happy evening to a close.


Chronicle Sat 20 Oct 1928

Chronicle Sat 20 Oct 1928


At 22 years of age Rita married Alfred Sydney Modra from Yeelanna at Crossville Church on 3/11/1945, exactly 10 years after they had both attended confirmation lessons in that same church. Their first home of four very small concrete rooms was built in the corner of a paddock of Alf’s parents farm at Yeelanna. There was just a rain water tank, a ‘Dunlight’ wind-operated generator which charged the bank of batteries for 32 volt lights, a heap of mallee stumps, and the essential ‘long drop dunny’ complete with spiders and the occasional snake. Until there was a bathroom added, they needed to go to the Modra homestead on Saturday evening for a bath. They did not own a vehicle for the first nine months, either. They lived in this home for 10 years and their first 3 children (Alan, Leon and Elaine) were born during that time. In October 1955, after 10 ½ months of building, their spacious new home was ready for occupancy, complete with indoor toilet. Two more children (David and Christabel) completed their family.

Cummins And Yallunda Flat Shows

When the children were older, Rita developed an interest in entering exhibits at the Cummins And Yallunda Flat Shows. Her specialties included uncooked slices, Genoa cakes and vegetable preserves. Over the years her preserves tended to take on an artistic flair, with new creations being ‘released’ each year. Daughter Christabel recalls watching her complete a jar of peas and carrots, the carrots cubed to the same size as the peas and arranged in a checkerboard pattern. As she rotated the jar to check her masterpiece, she noticed a pea near the bottom had been slightly squashed and lost its rounded shape. To Christabel’s amazement, Rita tipped it all out and started again!


In February 1985 they moved to their retiring home in Cummins. Rita’s priorities were her family, church, home and garden. Alf passed away on 10/2/2003.

Rita taught Sunday School, and was an active member of the Ladies Guild. She was often convenor for Sunday School picnics, and rarely missed spring cleanings and catering functions. She doted on her grandchildren and they enjoyed her sense of humour and fun and also the endless supply of baked treats always available. Despite her age, she was able to amaze them by bending over to touch her toes, despite having just consumed a large Christmas dinner.

After several months in the Cummins Hospital, Rita passed away on 14th April, 2009, and is buried alongside her husband at Cummins.

©  Supplied by her family from Rita’s notes and obituary.