Nancy Hillier OAM was a community activist and environmental warrior who fought passionately for justice for local residents, the community and the environment.

From the 1970s, Mrs Hillier led opposition to the expansion of Port Botany and Sydney Airport, fought residential and industrial overdevelopment and campaigned for an end to groundwater contamination by heavy industry. She also made significant contributions to legislation, such as the way environment impacts are assessed. 

“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,” Mrs Hillier once said.

Intimidation and even death threats failed to deter Mrs Hillier and she was still campaigning in her late 80s. She died in 2013 aged 89 but her legacy will live on thanks to an annual public lecture organised by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Botany Bay Council.

The annual Nancy Hillier Memorial Lecture, conceived by UNSW’s Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, will recall Mrs Hillier’s work and passion while providing an avenue for others to debate issues and focus on community participation to achieve social objectives.

The inaugural lecture at State Parliament on 10 August will feature Johanna Garvin, Tanya Balakumar from UNSW, Ron Hoenig MP, Member for Heffron, and Mehreen Faruqi MLC, Greens NSW, discussing the future of citizen participation. The moderator will be Associate Professor Paul Brown from UNSW.

“Nancy was and still is inspirational in Botany, and beyond. She was greatly concerned about how the baton would pass to a younger generation of activists,” Associate Professor Brown said. “Over the years, the lecture series will feature young and emerging activists reflecting on their work and the importance of local action.” 

The panel discussion will be preceded by a short film on Mrs Hillier’s life and community work by filmmaker Jane Castle. Ms Castle made the 2002 documentary Sixty Thousand Barrels, about the campaign Mrs Hillier led to compel Orica to move a stockpile of the toxic waste hexachlorobenzene (HCB) from the Botany Industrial Park.

In late July the multinational chemical company applied to the Federal Government to transport 135 tonnes of the carcinogenic pollutant, which has been banned in Europe since 1981, to a facility in Finland. In 2014 France rejected an application to send the waste there.

What: Nancy Hillier Lecture

When: 10 August

Where: Parliament of NSW Theatrette, 6 Macquarie St, Sydney

Bookings: Phone Botany Bay Council on 9366 3600 or email

Clare Morgan