Sadly, Noongar Elder Ellen Mary Hill peacefully passed away at 97 years of age on April 7, 2020 with her family by her side.
Ms Hill was born December 8, 1922, to Edward and Mary Hill (nee Isaacs) on a property beside a waterway near the corner of Bayview Terrace and Reynolds Street in Busselton. Ms Hill was the sixth child of 13. At about the age of 9, she was taken from Busselton by Native Affairs along with her sisters Rose and Alice and brothers Felix and Ted as part of the Stolen Generation. When her father heard that the family was going to be split up because some had fairer skin than others, he came to Perth and insisted that the family should stay together, and instead of going to the Moore River Mission, the girls were placed in the Salvation Army Home in Cottesloe while the boys were sent to Seaforth.
The Salvation Army was where she was raised alongside other children both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. She was educated nearby at the Cottesloe State School. While she missed her family, she said it was a good life. Compared to others of her generation, she thought that she was lucky and held on to some good memories of those times - they had nice holidays, learnt to swim and went to Cottesloe and Garden Island. She felt that they were treated better than if they went to Moore River. Ms Hill might have been in a home, but she felt that they treated her well despite the hardship of being removed from her family.
Ms Hill remained there until about the age of 14 when she was put to work. At 15 she was sent to a family in Gnowangerup to be a housekeeper and carer to the children. Growing up she never felt particularly different to others, for the most part she felt treated respectfully. However, at work one day she hurt her hand and needed medical attention. The farmer's wife took her to the hospital and she was placed in a shed out the back of the hospital where the Aboriginal people were 'treated'. This was the first time that she realised that Aboriginal people were treated differently to white people. The farmer's wife came and told the hospital that they should put her in a ward inside the hospital and so they did.
After one year with this family, Ms Hill was transferred back to the home and was then was placed in a few other positions. During her time with a Mrs Saunders in Mount Lawley, Ms Hill became pregnant with her daughter Gloria at the age of 19. Gloria was taken from her a few weeks after her birth. She was put on a train bound for Tarden Mission where she grew up.
During that time Ms Hill had reconnected with her mother and was soon expecting with her son Robert on the way two weeks later. At this time Ellen lived in Kalamunda with her mother Mary and father Edward along with some of her siblings.
Around 1945, Ms Hill met her life partner, William (Billy) Webb. They lived together with a young Robert at Marybrook working for the Rose family. Ellen, Billy and Robert lived in a humpy on the property. No power, no running water, outside campfire for cooking, dirt floors and needing to cart water from a nearby weir. Here they also fished and walked along the river spending time with the family. They lived here for five years before moving into a proper house closer to the homestead until relocating into town, living in a house on Bussell Highway beside the Vasse diversion drain. Ms Hill loved watching Billy and the rest of the family go fishing and camping out in the bush along the coast. She fondly remembered the salmon run in March as a significant cultural time frame as well as being a great part of the family tradition. The family all went to the beach to catch the fish.
Darryl Ogilvie, her nephew, was an important part of Ms Hill's life. He lived with her on and off over the years and always spoke of this time fondly. Ms Hill's siblings would often visit with their children in Busselton sharing some great times together. She also welcomed in her sister Alice's family when her husband went off to war.
In 1970 her partner Billy Webb passed away. Ms Hill then moved in with her daughter Gloria who she only reunited with in 1960 when Gloria was 19 years of age before living by herself in East Busselton and later in Busselton on Edward St.
In the 1980s she began to lose her hearing but this did not stop her getting involved in community organisations and activities. Along with her older sister Rose, she was a member of Gnuraren Aboriginal Corporation, involved in Aboriginal heritage surveys and was a widely respected elder of the Wardandi community opening a number of public artworks and exhibitions in the South West.
In 2000, she met Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Busselton.
She was a keen investigator into her family's history and has boxes full of archival documents and family trees that paint a detailed picture of life in those times.
Ms Hill was a big walker, all the taxi drivers in town knew her well. She never had her license. She was a big shopper and loved to play lotto and scratchies. She enjoyed tending to her gardens and was also keen knitter with a sharp sense of humour. She also enjoyed watching the footy on telly, her team was West Perth Falcons then when West Coast Eagles joined the AFL she became a fan of theirs and continued to watch on the weekends.
She came to live her son Robert and daughter-in-law Doris in recent years where she spent a year and a half before passing away.
Ms Hill leaves behind her two children, Gloria and Robert, daughter-in-law Doris, four grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren and fourteen great, great grandchildren, with another on the way.
Her niece Robyn Weston said Aunty Ellen was the oldest Aboriginal Elder to live in Busselton.
Through Gnuraren Aboriginal Corporation Management Committee she advocated for people needing housing to Homeswest; provided support and financial assistance to Aboriginal students for sports registration.
As she got older, she lovde to participate in Gnuraren's Easter and Christmas activities and the annual NAIDOC evening meal for Elders. If she could get involved if she would, and if not, enjoyed a cup of tea and appreciated the enjoyment others were having.
She was often invited to visit schools as an Elder, and she might say a little but had a calming presence with high school students, and gentle interaction with young students.
Ms Hill was invited to unveil the first of the Settlement Art Project sculptures, the Whalers Wife, and was a member of the Advisory Group that decided on the Aboriginal sculpture and then approved of Gaywal. She was updated with photos of the sculpture as it progressed and came down from Perth to reveal the sculpture at the unveiling ceremony.
She was part of the South West Boojarah Native Title Settlement group and attended South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council meetings when they were held locally.
Ms Hill was often seen in town and did her own shopping while she lived in Busselton. She enjoyed outings and catching up with family and friends all over the place. She was very accepting of circumstances and she didn't annoyed or angry when things got moved around. It was her way to be accommodating and going with the flow.
Underneath a gentle temperament, she was still a fiery lady when she wanted to be - if she wanted to speak her mind, she would. She is fondly remembered by many for her generosity in sharing her house when people needed assistance.
And while she enjoyed travelling up to Perth to see her family and friends, she was always happy to come home to Busselton because "home was home."