Nancy Hillier

Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance Inc.:

  It is sad to announce that Nancy Hillyer, long time fighter for the rights of the people of Botany, has passed away peacefully aged 89 years. Nancy started her fight for the people of Botany, one Christmas Day when the family Christmas Dinner was spoiled by the chemical stench from Botany Industrial area. She was a long time representative on the Botany ORICA Community Committees and never backward in speaking her mind.

 The funeral arrangements are as follows

: Friday 13 September 
2013, 10.30 am 
Eastern Suburbs Crematorium, 

Nancy Hillier: Relentless rebel with many causesNancy Hillier: Relentless rebel with many causes
Sydney Morning Herald, December 2, 2013

NANCY HILLIER (1924-2013):

Frightened but unbowed: Nancy Hillier and other activists, including Botany neighbour Adele Apps, below left, on right, had their homes attacked and received anonymous death threats.

In 1976, when the NSW government proposed to turn Botany Bay into a deep-water port with a coal loader, Nancy Hillier led a campaign against it.

Leading the Botany Bay Independent Action Group, she collected 1400 signatures on a petition to prevent what she saw as a degradation of the region. Although her cause was winning popular support, Hillier was taking on powerful interests and they hit back.

She was told if she went out of her home into the street, she would be shot. Her house was broken into twice. She was “absolutely terrorised”, she said, but she stood by her principles.

“We have a right to complain about improper planning,” she said. “A country’s wealth must be assessed by the living conditions of its people and not be judged by how many millionaires it can boast.”

The campaign succeeded in stopping the coal loader. While other development did go ahead, Botany got Sir Joseph Banks Park.

In 1983, when the NSW government made moves to amalgamate Botany with Sydney City Council, Botany residents protested. There were rallies, songs and banners, and the campaign succeeded.

“The people should take whatever action is necessary to make the government understand this proposal is totally wrong.” Hillier said.

There was much to campaign about in Botany, including groundwater contamination by heavy industry and an extension of Sydney Airport.

Hillier, famously referred to as “the ratbag of Botany”, could be a formidable force.

Annie (known as Nancy) Newell Patrick was born in Waverton on June 16, 1924, the daughter of Scottish migrants William and Mary Patrick. William had come to work on construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but he died when Nancy was eight and she and her three siblings, Marie, William jnr and Ian, were brought up by Mary during the Depression.

The family moved to Matraville and Botany Bay. “It was a mixture of country and sea,” Nancy said in a later interview. “It was a child’s paradise. There was a beach where children could go to swim, with no fear of drowning. You would see the cows being driven home in the afternoon and vegetable gardens were widespread. It was a treat to take our vegetables from the Chinamen.”

Nancy’s older sister Marie got a job at Australian Paper Mills at Matraville and Nancy began working there aged 14, sorting paper for recycling into cardboard. She also took up her first issue. One of Nancy’s work companions said workers were not allowed to take toilet breaks in work time.

Nancy thought this was wrong, and she told her fellow employees during their break that they should take off their underpants and wash them in the hand basin. She then took the wet garments and hung them on a line at the bottom of the stairs leading to the boss’s office.

Naturally, the boss took offence, but Nancy said if employees were allowed to go to the toilet when they felt the urge, they would not wet themselves. Problem solved.

At 17, she moved to Botany. In 1944, she married haulage contractor Ernest Hillier. They had two children and after bringing them up, Hillier became aware of the march of industry across the suburb, with what she saw as “total disregard for the people”.

In the early 1970s, her enjoyment of Christmas dinner was ruined by vapours wafting into the house from the ICI-Orica plant.

“It seeped into everything,” she said. “Even the pudding tasted of chlorine. My son had a massive asthma attack. I said, ‘I’ve had enough of Orica!'”

She began writing letters to the council. The problem with industrial contamination was that some elements were linked with cancer. When construction work began on Port Botany, she, Ernest and two neighbours formed the nucleus of an opposition.

Hillier’s leadership and commitment to the environment did not go unnoticed by government, even if her direct action grated. She consulted governments at the highest levels. In 1985, Hillier was named as Botany Council’s citizen of the year, but that was no inducement to sit back on her laurels.

In 1989 she led a protest group against the construction of a third runway at Sydney Airport. There was a plan to block a runway with cars. The Herald said of her then: “In 20 years of fighting industrial developments in the Botany area, Nancy Hillier has been mocked and threatened with death, met prime ministers and blocked bulldozers.  “She has seen more defeats than victories, but remains committed to the principle that people matter.”

Hillier was given many public roles, including a place on the Botany community consultation committee, the Botany industrial park environmental committee, the Port Botany expansion committee, the senior citizens’ advisory committee and the emergency management planning committee. In 2006, she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.

Still she did not sit back. In August last year, the 88-year-old called on residents to fight and stop the state government’s plan to remove the container cap at Port Botany. She did not win that fight, but she would never be silenced.

“A lot of people don’t want to complain because they don’t want the name of a whinger. It doesn’t bother me … it would bother me if I didn’t speak up,” she said.

Nancy Hillier is survived by her sons Ernest jnr and Clive, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Malcolm Brown
Read more:

More articles:

Botany activist Nancy Hillier has passed away – Southern Courier, September 06, 2013

Thirty years on and residents are ready to rally again to save Botany Bay – Daily Telegraph, April 30, 2013

To Battle on the Edge of Adversity – The Eastern Herald, March 30, 1989

Video link:  Port Botany: A Planning Dilemma (1979)” featuring Nancy Hillier

Clip description
Botany resident and member of the Botany Independent Action Group Nancy Hillier reflects on her childhood growing up in a ‘child’s paradise’ in the 1930s harbour suburb. The impact of growing industry and a proposal for a coal loader in the area motivates Hillier to become an active citizen in voicing her concerns and writing petitions to the Council.

Curator’s notes
by Poppy De Souza
This clip gives an insight into how people can become motivated to act on issues affecting their immediate community. Hillier’s reflections on her childhood in Botany seem idealised, where she fondly remembers talking to the ‘Chinamen’ who ran the vegetable gardens. The change in landscape she has seen since the 1930s understandably threatens her sense of place. The development of the port and the growth of industry impact on community as well as the environment.