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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 10 – Strong Woman

March 4, 2020

Professional genealogist and podcaster Amy Johnson Crow has put out the challenge to genealogists and family historians, to write stories about 52 of their ancestors in 52 weeks.

I am happily taking up the challenge, and look forward to writing stories, that will collate many years of research results. In most cases, the research for my ancestors is not complete, and possibly never will be complete, but I’m hoping to build a story of the lives they lived with the information I have to hand. I’m hoping to publish these stories in a book at the end of 2020. Each week a prompt will be given as the theme for the week.

Week 10 – Strong Woman

Mavis Taylor being presented with her Australia Day Ambassador certificate

MAVIS VICTORIA PURTON was the wife of THOMAS LLOYD TAYLOR (known as Lloyd) who was my grandmother, EMILY TAYLOR’s cousin. My father had no contact with his mother’s family, for what reason, I really don’t know. In fact, when I told him that I was about to research his mother’s family, he told me not to bother wasting my time, as his mother had no family. This didn’t deter me, and you can imagine my surprise, to find that his mother was one of ten children. Each of those children had large families, as did the previous generations so I was able to tell my father that his mother had a huge family, and continued on with the research.

I don’t know the reason for Emily’s isolation from her family, but when I met Mavis in about 2002, she very quietly told me that I had the wrong family, as there was no Emily amongst her husband’s extended family and she knew and had contact with them all. I showed her my grandmother’s birth certificate and she was able to say that, yes, I certainly did have the correct family. Mavis was very puzzled as to why Emily seemed to be separate from her family.

When I heard that I was going to be meeting Mavis Taylor, I was very excited. I had been following her story and listening to her being interviewed on the radio for a few years, having an idea that, because she was from Yarrawonga, she may belong to my Taylor family, but not absolutely sure, until the day that I met her. The following newspaper article, describes Mavis Taylor and her strengths so much better than any words that I could find.

from: Herald Sun, Saturday, January 24, 2004, page 25

Don’t Mess With Mavis, written by Neil Kearney

Mavis Taylor is almost 90, but this gritty little fighter continues to stick up for the downtrodden. Her latest crusade is East Timor.

Mavis Taylor is a stirrer. She likes being described that way, this cock sparrow of a woman, a gritty little fighter, who is just six months shy of her 90th birthday.
As we chat in her sunroom, where Mavis candidly dispenses frank opinions on the issues of the day, she acknowledges cheerily that, not everyone is going to agree with her beliefs or her observations.
“It is a wonder they haven’t tried to shut me up,” chirps the great great grandmother from Yarrawonga, who Premier Steve Bracks has appointed as one of this state’s Australia Day ambassadors.
“I like Mr. Bracks,” she says “but I wish he wouldn’t try so hard to be popular.”
The Premier gets off lightly. The Prime Minister has copped some scathing letters from Mavis, especially during the children overboard affair.

“It amazes me how he can go to church and pray – I’d like to know what he prays about,” she says.
Of Australia’s biggest ally, she remarks, “as far as I’m concerned America is a rogue nation.”
“Why is it all right for the Yanks to drop the mother of all bombs on people when, if anyone else does it, they’re called terrorists?”
Mavis’ late husband Lloyd, reckoned the Yarrawonga Chronicle was her pulpit.
“I used to go to bed incensed,” she recalls. “So I’d get up, write a letter to the Chronicle, then go back to bed”.
“Lloyd always said I was bashing my head against brick walls.”
However stiff the resistance or obstacles she has had to overcome, she’s never backed away from saying or doing what she believes in.
Between fighting for causes, and writing hundreds of letters on humanitarian issues, Mavis bore nine children. She has 28 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.
Even in her 90th year, Mavis is still fighting against social injustice, crusading for change, and helping people in Australia and overseas to lead better lives.
Her role as an Australia Day ambassador takes her around the state, speaking at functions about what it means to be Australian.
“I’ve got to admit I do say what I think,” she grins, ever so politely.
“I preach a bit and make no apology for that.”
Her recurring theme is world peace, and she’s been outspoken against the war in Iraq.
“Nobody wins a war.”
But, if we show people that we care about them, learn to love our enemies, we’ve got a better chance of influencing how they act”.
Her audiences range from school prefects in Gippsland, to craft groups at Kaniva, to businessmen in Melbourne, to Probus club members in her home town. She was approached to join the local Probus club but declined.
“I’m too busy – that’s something I’ll do when I’m old,” she smiles, fluttering her eyelashes.
Though the travel is tiring, often involving a series of train and bus connections to speak at a single function, she says the audiences have given her more inspiration than she has offered them.
“It’s wonderful to see so many positive people because, to be honest, I was down about this country, about losing our democracy, about how a leader can just join in a war, without the people having a say in it. Our government, particularly in it’s dealings with migrants is appalling.
“How a supposedly Christian nation can treat people that way – sticking children in detention centres – is criminal”.
As our conversation gallops over dozens of topics and fills an entire morning, her vivid memory can even pinpoint the day she became involved in humanitarian issues.
She was 17, working in a haberdashery store in depression-era Yarrawonga, when she came across a book titled Social Justice by Henry George. Mavis has been fighting for the down trodden ever since, and has a special sympathy for the long suffering people of East Timor.
What makes Mavis exceptional is that she has carried out some of her most demanding and risky work at an age when even the most committed carers would be forgiven for quietly seeking a place in the shade.
Four years ago, at age 86, Mavis packed up her haberdashery, craft and clothing store in Yarawonga, loaded the goods into a shipping container and headed for the war ravaged East Timor.
She spent about $100,000 of her own money, taking sewing machines and materials, to help give the East Timorese women the skills for independence.
Several of her children were understandably aghast at the thought of her going to one of the hottest and most dangerous countries on earth.
Mavis naturally, gave them her little-old-lady smile, waved a handkerchief dismissively, and handled the primitive conditions like a trooper.
She and daughter Elwyn battled the sort of corruption that would blunt all but the most enthusiastic missionaries. Through their perseverance, they established 23 sewing centres in East Timor.
While the stout-hearted Elwyn lived on the island for three years, Mavis rallied the forces back home, mobilising women of Yarrawonga and surrounding areas to make or gather the goods to fill containers.
they sent over a hundred sewing machines, in three years, and the campaign inspired a powerful documentary and stage play, titled, Mavis Goes to Timor.
Last month, Mavis and Elwyn sent their 21st and last container to East Timor. “We’ll keep giving – but probably no more containers,” Mavis says.
She wants to do a computer course. She enrolled in 2001, but had to withdraw because of surgery for bowel cancer. “I’m in good health now – for one so ancient – but I hate being computer illiterate,” she smiles. “I want to get with it.”
She attempted the course, so she could put her life’s story on paper.
Unfortunately, the memoir is on hold – because she can’t find time amid her Australia Day duties and many other tasks.
Friends ask why she hasn’t kept a scrapbook of her East Timor involvement, but she says she doesn’t even have time to read the papers.
If ever she gets around to writing her life story, it will be the work of a remarkable agile and active mind, and a humanitarian worthy of Australian of the Year.
When asked what advice she would give to young people, she replies, “Nothing beats experience – the best teacher of all is life.”
Her worst trait, she admits, is her impatience.
“When I talk to people, I often finish their sentences.”
But she’s trying to be more patient, and says she has plenty of time to change, seeing as she expects to live to 106.
She explains her community service, in terms of mankind’s responsibility to their fellow citizens.
“Whenever a person is in trouble, it’s sinful if you don’t give them a hand. We are all here to help one another.”
Her nine children are all still alive – Lois, who was born in 1936, Allan in ’37, David in ’38, Elwyn in ’40, Coral in ’42, Sandra in ’44, Shirley in ’46, Bruce in ’49 and Jo in ’50.
“The doctor gave me a hysterectomy in 1951, because he said it was the only way to stop me (having more children.”
“I might tell you, I tried a few interesting ways (to prevent falling pregnant), but they turned out to be old wives’ tales.
Asked if her work for the East Timorese people had been the most rewarding contribution of her remarkable life, she replies, “I have nine children. They are all people who stick up for the underdog. And I’m proud to say the world is a better place because they are in it”.

from: The Yarrawonga Chronicle, Wednesday 12th December 2001.


Yarrawonga people have again generously donated to Mavis Taylor’s plight to help the East Timorese rebuild their country. A twelfth freight container left the Taylor residence last week, bound for the East Timor capital Dili, packed with Christmas gifts for the street kids and orphans living in poverty. Yarra-Mul Apex Club helped pack the container, while children painted Christmas messages on it’s exterior. Pictured above is Mavis Taylor standing beside Yarra-Mul Apex president Craig Murdoch and Apex members, Jason Corboy, Scott Murdoch, Damian Appleton and Brody Jarman closing the full containers door.


from: The Age March 14, 2007, written by Andra Jackson

  • 1999 Decides to help the East Timorese by collecting and sending them household items
  • May 2000  Takes a container of goods to East Timor, gives sewing lessons, to local women, and sets up sewing centres around the country
  • January 2001 Documentary Mavis goes to Timor screened by SBS.
  •  2002              Chosen as ‘global face’ by the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing
  • January 2004 Named one of Victoria’s Australia Day ambassadors by Premier Steve Bracks.
  • March 2004    Named a National Treasure by the National Trust


Following is one of the many obituaries that were published for Mavis Taylor


A Victorian woman who was made a National Living Treasure, for helping the East Timorese people has died.
Mavis Taylor died early yesterday at the age of 92.
The retired seamstress started collecting household items for the East Timorese, after violence erupted in the former Indonesian colony eight years ago.
Her son, Bruce Taylor, says she was a remarkable woman.
“It was a life well lived, let’s be honest about it,” he said.
“Yes, particularly towards the last part of her life, from the time she was about 85, 86 that she just determined that she was going to do something, and away she went and did it.”

 My Memories

I will never forget the day that I met members of the Taylor family, and especially Mavis Taylor. She spoke to me very kindly and was genuinely interested to hear of my father’s childhood as an orphan, after the early deaths of his parents. She seemed to be truly upset that she knew nothing about this family that was closely related to her husband.

Mavis Taylor left an indelible mark on me in a very short time, and I will never forget her. I am postive Mavis Taylor qualifies for the title of Strong Woman.

Links to my other blogs: Best Bookish Blog and Next Phase In Fitness & Life

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From → Family stories

  1. What a great lady. I especially loved your memories of her.

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