Ella Simon | A lady of distinction

FROM bridges and parks to mountains and lakes their names live on, but have you ever wanted to know more about the people behind these place names….  

ALONG the Pacific Highway, just north of the Taree turnoff, you will hit the Ella Simon Bridge – but who was Ella Simon ?

She was born in 1902 in a tent on the edge of Taree to an Aboriginal mother and white father.  

Her autobiography Through My Eyes was published in 1978 and tells of her years growing up around Taree and Gloucester.

“My mother used to go into town to work for my father’s well-to-do family.  He was her employer.  Yet, well-to-do or not, I was still born out there in that tent,” she recalled in her book.

Although she did not learn the identity of her father until she was about 11 she was regularly taken to Wingham to visit him.

The cover of Ella Simon's autobiography.

The cover of Ella Simon's autobiography.

“My father was a saddler by trade.  He was very good at it too.  One of my aunts used to take me up there to visit him and there I’d be, wondering why I had to go so far to see this old man who meant nothing to me then.”

When she was 11 her dearly loved grandfather died and she was sent away by her grandmother to live in Gloucester.

She felt extremely lonely and homesick but did experience a time of happiness when working for a Scottish family – the McKinnons.  

“They proved to be really pleasant to me and even treated me as one of their own.”

It was there that she taught herself to sew.

“I used to get the good makings of a frock for half a crown from the old Indian hawker who came around there with his wagon.  I had determined that if I couldn’t have many clothes, I was at least going to have them nice.”

In later years she spent time working in Sydney and Kempsey and in 1932 returned to Purfleet to nurse her sick grandmother, Kundaibark. 

She married Joe Simon in the mid-1930s, and they travelled around the region helping Aboriginal people.  

It wasn’t until 1957 that she was granted her 'certificate of exemption' from the restrictions imposed by the Aborigines Welfare Board.

In 1960 she formed a branch of the Country Women's Association on Purfleet reserve and became its president. She opened the Gillawarra gift shop selling Aboriginal artefacts. She improved the living conditions on Purfleet, by supplying new stoves and introducing electricity.

 In 1962 she was named Lady of Distinction by Quota and appointed a justice of the peace.

Ella passed away on February 13, 1981.

This story What’s in a name | Ella Simon Bridge first appeared on Manning River Times.