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Tiller Nellie Elizabeth Sarah

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual
Date of birth 1910
Place of birth Grace Plains
Principal occupation Farming and Home duties
Date of death 2007
Place of decease Balaklava Hospital

NELLIE ELIZABETH SARAH TILLER passed away 31st May 2007.

Written and Presented by Anne Arbon (nee Tiller- Niece)

Some of this eulogy has been taken from Aunty Nell's own account of her life written in the year 2000. I make no apology for the length, as I don't believe that you can fit almost 97 years into a few short minutes.

NELLIE ELIZABETH SARAH TILLER, - MISS - by her own admission, “Too busy, or too fussy - the right one never came along.”· Nellie was born at “Tillevan” or "Grace House” as it was then known, at Grace Plains, on the 1st July 1910. She was the eldest child of Charles and Muriel. Elizabeth and Sarah were the names of each Grandmother.

She attended Grace Plains Primary School for 7 years and then Balaklava High School in its inaugural year. Nellie boarded with her Aunt Fan and Uncle Tom Warner while at High School. It was her first taste of living away from home, which did not suit her. “The only lesson I enjoyed was drawing” she said. She was happy to return home after just 1 year. Nellie learnt to play Basketball at High School but played tennis, for the Grace Plains Tennis Club, an outing that began by walking from home to the courts. Nellie stayed at home helping on the farm, milking cows, feeding calves, and pigs, keeping chooks and ducks and learning to cook for the family. When May and Delph finished school, each of the girls spent time working in friends and neighbours homes. She lived with the Broster family at one time and learnt a few short cuts. "We never swept the kitchen floor until the men came in for dinner, otherwise you had to do it twice - I did lots of fancywork while I was at Broster's.” Nellie worked in a grocery store for 2 years at Medindie. "The first time I had ever handled my own money,” she said "I would buy what I wanted - perhaps some stockings, and then hand the remainder to Father!”

Outside work was the way of life, and right up to latter years she would don her big bonnet and bag apron to do her chores. In the 60s when the practise of selling eggs and cream from the individual farms became unprofitable for the company, she indignantly informed the man who collected the weekly produce, "for as long as I can remember, eggs and cream bought a little extra, like a bag of apples into this home” As if the truck driver was able to change the matter, "Well it made me feel better anyway" she said.

At some time Nellie entered 2 floral items for judging in the Balaklava Show, "I gained a first and second prize - as they were the only two entries”- she always joked. Sewing or anything with the needle became her passion. Sewing clothes for local children, a shop owned by a Miss Johnson and one in North Adelaide, particularly smocked items, which were popular with the American soldiers who sent them home to their families became her, Delph and May's occupation.

At one time the "Tiller girls" knitted Guernseys for the entire Grace Plains Football Team. From wartime knitting of socks for the troops to the making of party dresses for local young ladies, handwork kept her busy. Hand-work was done for the Red Cross stalls and in recent years Nellie was awarded the "Laurel Wreath - 60 years service badge" with the Pinery Red Cross Branch.

Nellie, with her family was a back-bone member of the Grace Plains Methodist Church. From a Sunday school pupil she was a regular church and Sunday school organist, Sunday school teacher and Communion Steward . She was a member of the Guild, later Fellowship and the returns of some of her needlework were used to purchase many of the furniture items in the church at that time. When Grace Plains church closed, Nellie became a member of the Mallala Uniting Church Fellowship, until a lack of mobility kept her home.

As a child I remember many trips to "Town" and the material department buying all manner of remnants, braids, hanks of unwound wool, floral and plains as Nellie undertook sewing in aid of her beloved Guild. Aprons - in one year 200 aprons were made - pot-holders, cushions, dressed or knitted dolls, rugs, bears etc. all were made, some with purchased, but mostly scraps of material happily given by ladies of the district. The returns of her labours were always given for the good of others. Most Christmases Nellie had a box of her goodies delivered to Goodwill. All of her nieces received a fancy-worked tablecloth, and on visiting we were often given potholders - kitchen colours individually chosen - made of the tiniest scraps of fabric. Glenys, Melissa, Fiona, Teresa and Eleisha are the proud owners of beautifully hand-stitched bed covers.

In later years, her "Square-bears", became her passion. Hundreds of these colourful bears found their way to missions and people in need. She was rarely without her plastic bucket with wool and needles in the car and other outings - even though Helen gave her a fancy basket- the bucket prevailed. Whenever we visited, she would proudly show us all of her recent productions.

Nellie loved her food and was a hearty eater. "They'll miss me when I'm gone - if only to clean the pots", she would say, and only last Thursday Aunty Delph said "we miss Nell when it comes to the kitchen!"

Holidays were rare, apart from a bus-trip Nell and Delph took to Cairns in 1967 and a three week trip to Japan "in a great big aeroplane" in 1975, there was the annual Cricket Carnival stay at May's. Eating out was not high on the priority list. However Nell decided that she and Tom would stop for tea at the Bolivar Roadhouse Restaurant, on the way home from Cricket. "Over the years it always looked nice as we went by” Dressed appropriately and taking her pearls to put on at the right time, they arrived only to find that the restaurant had been closed for good. "So, we went home for tea!" she said.

I recall Nell, Delph, Tom and Gordon visiting us while on a caravan holiday, which was and still is the order of the day, when we decided to dine at the local pub. Eleisha and Hayden were only children, but were amazed at "how much Auntie Nell could put away!" She enjoyed life, and food, even though she had to let the occasional dress out, "they shrink, I might have to let a little into the side­ seams," she would say!

Aunty Nell's only complaint in life was the heat. "Each hot day is one day closer to the winter" she would say, her favourite time was inside by the fire with her handiwork.

Aunty Nell loved children. In the early days the Tiller home was always open to children of ill or infirmed mothers of the district. Some children were cared for up to several weeks, while their mothers convalesced.

Aunty Nell took a keen interest in her nieces and nephews and was always ready for a family party - except her upcoming 97th birthday, "I don't want a party, you will all be at the Pinery Hall and I'll be stuck here in hospital" she said. She was always thrilled and excited at the arrival of new great and great great additions to the family. She knew all of their names and ages and was interested in their wellbeing. Though not a mother herself, she "adopted" many and was widely know to all in the district as "Aunty Nell". Even in her last weeks of life she made friends with the child of a staff worker at the hospital. Nellies memory for names and family members was amazing. She could claim relationship to so many in the district; she loved being included in all family involvement and liked to be kept up with the news.

Visits to Fisherman's Bay were her highlight. She took in all those present, made her mental roll call and a couple of days later would phone Janice back, not only to thank the host, but to ask after those who were missing!

Aunty Nell was rather an influence in our lives. Young ladies, in her opinion needed to behave, and she was keen for us to "keep our hair short, wear skirts and to chose a husband wisely". As the eldest niece, Rosemary recalls many a holiday at Grace Plains as a child, and remembers the role-model image Aunty Nell expected, and the "do as you are told" orders. Also in later years when• the girls - Nell, Delph and May - and her Mother Vera would meet her for lunch in 'town'. We all genuinely enjoyed the company of our Aunts and attribute our sewing and craft skills to them.

My memories of Aunty Nell. As a young child kneeling by her side with hands clasp in prayer before diving into the big double bed with feather pillows. Being rugged up tight against the cold while milking the cows, and NOT going near the bull.

Eating the pastry faces she made by marking in the eyes and nose with currents and sultanas and colouring the lips with cochineal. Squeezing herself into the chicken coop when I turned it into a play-house and invited her for tea. Gathering mushrooms. Sitting on a kitchen chair in the garden with a big stick while I ran two paddocks away to raise the alarm of the presence of a huge black snake.

Trips to town to buy yet more material and a particular blue hat - which she never wore. Trips to the Royal Show and the day May, Delph, myself and Nellie laughed as she tripped and lay completely spread-eagled, hat askew, clutching her handbag, but more importantly safely holding her ice-cream high. Sleeping under the side verandah, rain hail or storm under sheepskin blankets - because for 70 or so years, that's where Aunty Nell slept.

We were always made to feel special. With a kind and caring nature she never used harsh words. We were soon told however, when we looked "nice " as well as when she disliked anything, like new hair styles, cuts or colour, as Janice found only last week!

Auntie Nell was a dignified lady with a steadfast belief in God - even if she was a bit cross with him in the last weeks for not taking her sooner! She had a good sense of humour and an easy laugh even at the little 'risque'.

Living all but the last weeks of her life at "Tillevan" Aunty Nell was the matriarch, the spokesperson and the glue that held four and later three people together in the family home. A staunch defender and protector, she worried after Delph and Gordon till her end.

Up until the last week of her life Nellie was working with her hands, and it was with regret that her last bear remains unfinished. She finally said to Helen "my hands can't work here any-more" Helen's reply "They've done a wonderful job, now it's time for them to rest."

We chose a particular colourful bear to rest with Aunty Nell and the remainder of her bears have been handed to the St. John Ambulance Centre in Mallala to be given as 'Trauma Teddies' - as was her wish.

Her last bear may be unfinished but her life was as complete as could be - kindliness, concern for family and others, her productive nature, her rapport and love of children as well as grace, this was everyone's Aunty Nell - a special lady.

LAID TO REST with her siblings in the Grace Plains Cemetery 4th June 2007

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  • Mrs Anne Arbon (nee Tiller - niece of above)

Memories of Tiller Nellie Elizabeth Sarah

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