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Deaconess Win Hilliard – a remarkable life!

January 10th, 2012 · No Comments · NSW-ACT Synod, Obituraries, SA Synod, Vic-Tas Synod

Deaconess Winifred (Win) Hilliard – born 1922, died January 2, 2012 in Nowra (aged 90).

A great Australian has passed-on and her memory deserves to be treasured by all who love charity and justice. Rosemary O’Grady, Lawyer (Melbourne)

Win trained in Melbourne as a Deaconess between 1948 and 1950 and was commissioned in 1951. She had short placements at Carlton, Victoria (1950-51) and Albury, NSW (1952-54). Win was hoping to follow in her aunt’s footsteps by working as a missionary in Korea, but she was asked to go to Ernabella. This became her life’s main ministry, and she lived for 32 years in Ernabella, from 1954 to 1986. Until then, she had had no real previous experience of Aboriginal people and had only lived in large cities and towns. Yet she had an amazing ministry amongst the indigenous community at Ernabella, especially with the women.

It was the policy of the Presbyterian Church that the missionaries learnt Pitjantjatjara, so for several months after arriving, Win had instruction in the local language. She retained fluency in the language for the rest of her life.

Win took over the role of the arts centre co-ordinator at Ernabella (established 1948), and the centre remains the longest continuously running aboriginal arts and craft organisation in Australia.

For the first 28 years of the arts centre, artists worked almost exclusively spinning and weaving wool, and making hand pulled floor rugs incorporating the distinctive Ernabella designs (anapala walka). Win introduced different media, always with an emphasis on the quality of production. In particular, she introduced batik into Ernabella in the late 1960’s, enabling the women to translate traditional art and designs onto fabric and thus setting up a profitable business. It quickly became a signature art form for Ernabella. The batik technique has more recently been adapted for ceramic pieces made in the ceramics studio at Ernabella (opened 2003).

Win’s background made her the ideal person to teach the women various arts and crafts, with her training including two years learning various art and craft techniques at the Presbyterian Ladies College which she did as part of her deaconess and missionary training. She was able to demonstrate various arts and crafts to the women so they could experience them and choose what they wanted to do. Specialists and practitioners were brought to Ernabella to teach the finer aspects of the arts and crafts and to resource the women and help them develop their techniques.

ABC photo for 60th anniversary celebrations

Of her time in Ernabella, Win reflected:”I love that I’ve had the great opportunity of living and working with the Aboriginal people in Australia. It’s a privilege that has been shared with others who have lived with the Aboriginal people – in every case you’d find they’re grateful to have been given that opportunity to live with these people and learn to understand their point of view.”

Win was able to travel to Ernabella to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Ernabella Arts in 2008. (Also ABC report here).

During her 32 years in Ernabella, Win was able to gather a remarkable collection documenting many aspects of Ernabella’s history including the church and school. The most significant components of the collection are the many examples of art and craft including batiks and other decorated fabrics, children’s drawings, paintings, and various other wooden implements and carvings. Read more about the National Museum Deaconess Hilliard collection here, Deaconess Hilliard Collection and the book written by David Kaus about the collection.

As part of Win’s contribution to the religious life at Ernabella, she illustrated lessons and stories with her distinctive drawings. Similarly, her drawings were used on Christmas cards which were sold as a way to raise funds for Ernabella.

Win was also a very competent photographer, and with her keen sense of history, was able to photograph many aspects of the life at Ernabella, the physical surrounds and flora, and the women and their art. In 1963 she was awarded a certificate of excellence in the Kodak International Colour Picture competition!

Win’s contribution to the life at Ernabella was recognized in being incorporated into the local social organization and given the name, Awulari. She was awarded an MBE in 1977 (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1989.

Win wrote several publications including the book The People in Between, published in 1968.

Her nephew Peter, a mechanic, also spent most of his life at Ernabella and is now retired in Alice Springs.

Win’s memorial service will be held prior to her burial at Ernabella, . (For more information, contact Win’s nephew Grant Hilliard on 0415 432 431 or email her niece Susan) .

Win Hilliard was one of our diaconal pioneers whose life and ministry and we celebrate her remarkable life!

(additional information about the Ernabella arts sourced from Tjukurpa Pulkatjara: The Power of the Law by Ananguku Arts, and from the National Museum article – link provided in article above)

Other related links:Nyukana (Daisy) Baker, Ernabella artist, who refers to Win when she travelled with her to a workshop to develop her skills in weaving and tapestry.



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