Woman McKenzie Hatton, Elizabeth

Missionary and Social Worker

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Elizabeth McKenzie Hatton was born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1871. As a young woman she performed missionary work around Melbourne, before moving in the early 1890s to the Walla Street Evangelical Mission in Bundaberg, Queensland. Here she met and married fellow missionary, Samuel McKenzie. The McKenzies worked together to spread the Christian faith, mainly to the people from various Pacific Islands who had been shipped to the cane fields as indentured labour (derogatorily known as 'kanakas') but also to local Indigenous communities. The couple had four children by 1900, when McKenzie drowned in an accident at Bundaberg. Eight years later, she married another missionary from the same mission, Thomas Hatton. The occasion was marred by the death of Elizabeth's eleven-year-old daughter six days before the wedding. This event was to have a significant impact on Elizabeth's future pursuits.

After World War I, the Hattons returned to Melbourne. But in 1921, an Aboriginal missionary, Mrs Charles, who had worked closely with Elizabeth in Queensland and with whom she shared a great mutual respect, approached her for help with Aboriginal children in Sydney. The powers of the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) to control the lives and freedom of Indigenous people under the guise of protection were increasing. In particular, child removal policies had been causing deep distress among Aboriginal communities.

Unlike many missionary women, Elizabeth was already highly sympathetic to the plight of Australian Indigenous people and her empathy for separated parents and children was enhanced by her own experience of losing a child. She was deeply moved by the stories told by Mrs Charles and determined to do what she could. From Melbourne, she began work to establish a home for Aboriginal girls in Sydney, initially working with the Australian Aborigines Mission (AAM) but later cutting these ties and initiating a connection with the Aboriginal Inland Mission (AIM). With some difficulty, she found a suitably large house in Homebush, and by January 1924 had leased and partially furnished it, renamed it Rehoboth and welcomed the first girl resident. The intention of the home was to provide a refuge for 'girls - not children - who have proved unsuitable for domestic service and have otherwise given trouble and failed' (Hatton McKenzie, quoted in Maynard, '"Light in the Darkness"'.). These were girls who the NSW Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) had found 'incorrigible'. From the beginning, it had been hoped that the home would have government financial input, and the support of the APB, but this did not happen. The APB was greatly opposed to any organisation that threatened, or appeared to question, its powers and deeds. Aboriginal girls living at Reheboth were outside its power. The home operated throughout 1925 and 1926, under government surveillance for much of that time.

Through her work establishing Rehoboth, Elizabeth came to know Fred Maynard, the Aboriginal activist who established the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) in 1925, based on the Garvey movements in the United States. As a non-Aboriginal, McKenzie Hatton was not eligible for membership of the group, but she became heavily involved in a campaign of letter writing to lobby politicians for better legal and social conditions for Aborigines. She was fiercely committed to political protest on behalf of, and in collaboration with, the AAPA. As John Maynard has shown, her sympathy was to grow into a very strong support that put her at odds with her church and the missionary organisations with which she had worked.

Following Hatton's death Elizabeth and her two surviving daughters settled in Tweed Heads where she worked with the Indigenous people of the Lower Tweed until her death in 1944. In her work with Aboriginal girls and for Aboriginal human rights, she showed a leadership beyond that suggested by the evangelical tradition she came from.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Maynard, John, '"Light in the Darkness": Elizabeth McKenzie Hatton', in Cole, Anna; Haskins, Victoria and Paisley, Fiona (eds), Uncommon Ground: White Women in Aboriginal History, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2005. Details

Online Resources

See also