Nancy Hillier: Profile of a Community Activist


“This world was only loaned to us, then we pass it on to future generations”. Nancy Hillier

Tribute to Nancy produced by Jane Castle (11.29 minute video) was first screened at NSW Parliament House at The inaugural Nancy Hillier Lecture  on 10 August where speakers included Johanna Garvin, Tanya Balakumar, Ron Hoenig MP, Member for Heffron, and Mehreen Faruqi MLC, and Associate Professor Paul Brown discussing the future of citizen participation.

Over the last 40 years Nancy Hillier was known throughout Botany and much further afield for her tireless activism and commitment to local environmental issues.  Her campaigning began with protests about ICI’s (later Orica’s) groundwater contamination and chlorine leaks, and continued during the expansions of the airport and Port Botany.  She was passionately concerned about industry’s impact on our environment and our local community.  Nancy was famously referred to as ‘the Ratbag of Botany.’

Nancy once said: “We have a right to complain about improper planning.  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.”

Nancy (Annie Newall) Hillier (nee Patrick) was born in Waverton, North Sydney on 16 June 1924.  After her father’s death, when she was eight, the family moved to Matraville.  It was Depression time and Nancy’s older sister could only find employment with The Australian Paper Mills near Botany.  Nancy later moved to Botany when she was seventeen – and never left.  She married Ernest Hillier in 1944.

In 1973, concerned about industry’s impact on Botany, Nancy, with a small group of locals, formed the Botany Independent Action Group.  Nancy was also the founder and President of the Botany Environment Watch.  She chaired Botany Bay Council’s Senior Citizens Advisory Committee for many years, was a Trustee of the Lionel Bowen Scholarship Selection Committee, and a member of the Botany Access Committee.  Nancy was also a member of the Botany Emergency Committee and the Community Consultation Committee.  She was a founding member of the Botany Historical Trust and served as President from 2002 to 2011.  Nancy also served on numerous other committees.

Throughout her campaigns Nancy was subjected to personal threats and intimidation but she refused to be silenced. Nancy rallied her troops of local residents and continued to battle Government and industry alike.  She wrote many letters and organised many protests.  Nancy was not afraid to ask questions or voice her concerns and opinions.  In Nancy’s own words “progress that destroys the quality of our life is not progress.”

Her contributions to victories were many. Port Botany achievements included preventing the coal loader from being built and prohibiting the entry of the oil super tankers into Botany Bay.  In response to protests Premier Neville Wran established the Botany Bay Enquiry in 1976 to ensure a scientific study into the ecology of the Bay.  The enquiry influenced the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (NSW) of 1979 which included a procedure for considering public submissions into Environmental Impact Statements.

Among her greatest victories was when Orica withdrew its application for the $70 million plant to destroy HCB waste in 2004 as the procedure could not be proven to be safe.

In 1985 Nancy was named as Botany Council’s Citizen of the Year.  In 2006 she was awarded an OAM for her services to conservation and the environment in the Botany Bay area and community.



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