Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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    Portrait of Elba Cruz-Zavalla during her visit to the National Library of Australia on the 20 July 2005, courtesy of National Library of Australia. Used with permission..
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  • From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra

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Cruz, Elba (1945 - )

Born
9 December 1945
Chepica, Chile
Occupation
Women's Refuge Worker and Union activist
Alternative Names
  • Cruz-Zavalla, Elba (maiden name)
  • Valenzuela, Elba (married name)

Summary

Elba was born into a strongly socialist working-class family in Chile, which became closely associated with the government of Savador Allende and was forced to flee Chile following his assassination. On settling in Canberra she instigated a strike of workers at the at the Health Services Supply Services laundry at Mitchell in 1987. In 1991 she joined the staff of the Beryl Women's Refuge, where she is still employed. She has assisted many Chilean refugees settle in Canberra and has been involved in a number of community organizations.

Details

Elba Cruz was born in 1945 in Chepica, Chile, daughter of Leopoldo Cruz-Soto and Maria Magdalina Zavalla-Jimenes. Her father, a self-employed sharecropper and community leader, imbued her and her six siblings with strong sense of social justice and socialist and communist values.

Dyslexia impeded Elba's education and she left school at about 14 to help her mother in the home. At 18 she went to Santiago where she worked in a men's clothing factory, participated in union activities, and in 1969 married Leonardo Valenzuela Ramirez, a carpenter.

Elba and her husband worked to promote community development centres in suburbs and country towns under the Allende government, and two of her brothers became Allende's unofficial bodyguards. One of her brothers was at the Presidential Palace (Moneda) in November 1973 when Allende was assassinated. The other brother was at the Intedensia (the Santiago administration office). This brother was arrested and executed three days after the coup. The other brother who was at the Moneda in the morning of the coup was imprisoned, tortured, and released after four months.

Her husband was granted refuge in Argentina and Elba followed him with her three small children in November 1974. They lived there for three years under UN protection and another child was born, before the family was accepted as refugees by Australia in 1977. They settled initially in Adelaide, then came to Canberra, where her husband worked as a carpenter and she studied English.

In the early 1980s Elba worked as cook, a cleaner in a hotel and hospital, and as a casual worker at the Health Services Supply Services laundry at Mitchell. In 1987 she initiated a successful three week strike over employment conditions at the laundry, and subsequently became the union representative there. After six years she developed RSI and was forced to seek less physically demanding work.

In 1991 she joined the staff of the Beryl Women's Refuge, where she is still employed. She has assisted many Chilean refugees settle in Canberra and has been involved in a number of community organizations such as the Chilean Solidarity Committee, a support organization for Argentinean refugees, the Chilean broadcasting program on 2XX and ANESBWA (Association of Non-English-Speaking Background Women of Australia).

Sources used to compile this entry: From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra, Australian Women's Archives Project, February 2013, http://www.womenaustralia.info/exhib/ldkg; Elba Cruz-Zavalla interviewed by Ann-Mari Jordens [sound recording]. Recorded on July 20, 2005 at Canberra, A.C.T., 1950 - 2005, ORAL TRC 5489; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection.

Related entries

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Archival resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Elba Cruz-Zavalla interviewed by Ann-Mari Jordens [sound recording]. Recorded on July 20, 2005 at Canberra, A.C.T., 1950 - 2005, ORAL TRC 5489; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Digital resources

Title
Portrait of Elba Cruz-Zavalla during her visit to the National Library of Australia on the 20 July 2005
Type
Image
Date
2005
Source
National Library of Australia. Used with permission.

Details

Ann-Mari Jordens

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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ISSN 2207-3124