Sheila Hunter - Co-Winner of the  1999 Senior Citizen of the Year  award, NSW for the Year of the Senior Citizen. 
Sheila as a Nurse in early 1950's

Sheila as a bride in 1955


Sheila at work ...writing

The last beach walk together -  
Still shell collecting!
Sheila & Norman Hunter 

SHEILA HUNTER (née McDonald/Macdonald) 1924 – 2002

Sheila was born in New Zealand.  Her parents were Australian, originating from the goldfields in Victoria.  

Sheila met Norman Hunter in 1955 and they married at the end of that year. Her life turned around.  No more nursing, but motherhood and local village care as resident district nurse, although this was unofficial, she was "called out" on many occasions.  After marrying Norman, Sheila took on many positions in the community, i.e. Secretary of the Liberal Party Branch; Secretary of the inaugural Red Cross Club; Convener of the inaugural 4H Club (like Junior Farmers); Local Girl Guide Commissioner for 4 years from 1967 and with Mr Peter Patton, was responsible for getting the local Scout/Guide Club built; & as the inaugural Vice President of the Bowling Club in Avoca.   

At 77 years of age, she was still heavily involved with the Community and also family life, she was still a well known and loved figure in the Avoca Village when her second & final bout of Cancer struck. She was also involved the setting up of the ‘Rumbalara’ Environmental Centre in Gosford, hand drawing insects and their life cycles for posters for children to study. She found life a challenge and gave her entire life to the help and care of others.  Sheila was also one of 20 NSW recipients of the Premiers Senior Citizens Award in 1999. It was the International year of the Senior Citizen.  She was overwhelmed by this accolade.

She started to tell stories to her two children while travelling, making them with the children's help. Incorporating the adventures as the children suggested a 'what next' during the story.  It was like the original build your own adventure story time.   They were the ultimater "choose your own adventure story". On return to home after our travelling holidays we often asked her to write these stories down, but sadly she either never did them or they were thrown out.   A skeleton of 'Reef Holiday' did survive as well as four of her Fairy stories (yet to be published).  In the late 1980's and early 90's Sheila was often to be found typing away on her trusty Lime Green Mac Desktop computer and she'd just say she was writing her stories.  Little did I know that she was actually penning  full novels! 'Mattie' was 'born' first after re-reading a letter from her great grandfather.  This was while we were doing family history research.  'Ricky' was born after reading about some of the street waifs while researching James Hunter (in her husbands family history) and his Cobb & Co days.  'The Heather to the Hawkesbury' was originally named 'They Came to Live', but there was another novel with that title - so changed the name.  This story incorporated various Highland aspects of our family history. The Macdonalds in her family settled in Ballarat, Victoria and after some initial time Gold Prospecting, became the store keepers and undertakers on the goldfields.  They did very well.  The McLeans and Gibsons were  as Don Charlwood described - some of the  uneducated and uncouth Highlanders who would use their cooking bowls for 'night duty' calls while on the ship.   As there was virtually no washing facilities they obviously were not cleaned out very well.  These people spoke no English - only Gaelic, they had never left Scotland, let alone Britain and here they were crossing to the other side of the world to start a new life and culture.  The McLeans were 'educated' to the Australian life by John Dunmore-Lang and his wife  and one of their children, Donald Hugh McLean was born on their property at Morpeth in the two year stay they had there.   He was Sheila's husband's Grandfather, and it was from him that some of the stories of the North Coast tree felling and farming filtered down through the family and became incorporated into the story.   The McLean's initially settled in the Manning river area at what they called 'Redbank', later to be renamed 'Pampoolah'.  A few of the families in this area were obviously related back in Scotland and intermarried once in Australia.  Some of the McLeans later moved to Lismore NSW area and  set up timber felling and dairy farming. Building ships and sending the produce to the cities.  They were instrumental in the founding of the North Coast Dairy industry (later to be Norco). 

       Sheila, Norman and their two children travelled frequently to Queensland and especially to the Whitsunday Islands.  One of the Islands they often visited was Langford Island, just west of Hayman Island.  The family would camp on this island for up to 3 weeks at a time.  The stories in Reef Holiday were inspired by what was learnt on these trips and also from the children's’ own experiences at Boarding School.  Many of the adventures were not believed by the other children or teachers on their return to school.  "Barrana Island" is a totally fictional Island brought together from over 30 years of Island travel around the Pacific area and many islands visited.  In 1966 the small family travelled right around Australia in an old Land Rover and 16 foot Viscount caravan.  Sheila gave the children correspondence lessons from Blackfriars Correspondence School in Chippendale Sydney.  She loved it and they excelled.  This trip, by necessity, involved many, sometimes tortuous, hours of travel and therefore story telling became a regular pastime for the family.  Every evening was spent around a campfire and more stories and Australian Ballads were shared.  Some of the made up incidents have also made it into these stories.  She also faithfully kept a diary and later started to weave another book around these travels, but sadly became ill before finishing this.  (I shall endeavour to do this in coming years - as I have her diaries and was also on this trip- Sara). 

    Sheila's dream was to see her novels published and leaving finished but unedited manuscripts to her daughter Sara (me) and asked to see if she could finish them for her.     

Sheila died from secondary Brain Cancer (Melanoma) on 24th September 2002 just 2 days before her 78th birthday.   

Her dream was realised 12 years after her death.  Sadly she did not live to see it, but hopefully an entire new generation can enjoy the stories of her imagination.  

In 2014, 'Ricky' was published on Createspace/Amazon, 2015 saw 'Mattie' joined him.  In 2016 'The Heather to the Hawkesbury' and 'Reef Holiday' joined them. In 2017 'Mattie' was picked up by Australian Publisher Woodslane/Hand in Hand Publications, who revamped the cover and changed the subtitle. Mattie is chronologically the first of the trilogy, but each can be read independently.

    In early 2014, I saw a post by Rowland Croucher about a new enterprise called 'Createspace'.  He said "They publish your books for you and then you can also upload them to Kindle and it's FREE".   Although 'Mattie' had previously been accepted by a Publisher I was expected to pay some $6000USD contribution to costs and this I was not in a position to do.  So I jumped at the chance of at long last publishing these books and started with 'Ricky' as this manuscript was complete.  I had no idea about editing, and wasn't all that confident, but knuckled down and tackled the project. Soon enough, 'Ricky' was ready and available online for sale (although the editing was somewhat wanting!)! 

    The Lady who pushed and pushed me to do this was Olive Eardley, one of my mother's friends from St David's Anglican Church in Avoca Beach.  I lent her and others the manuscripts and they loved them.  I was able to give Olive a copy of the book with the acknowledgement to her in, it only months before her too passed away.  She Loved it!  'Ricky' and 'Mattie' are now both available in All Australian bookstores, printed here with new covers by 'Woodslane' and available from Booktopia.

   The 'Mattie' manuscript needed some work and I ended up having to add about 10% to the story as some chapters were only a page long and they needed completing.  'Mattie' is chronologically the first in the trilogy as it starts in London in the 1830's.  In each of these stories, some of the families reappear and you get to follow  the growth of Sydney, The Hawkesbury and Bathurst areas.  The Historical settings and most buildings are Historically accurate and these stories give a good background of what life was like in the early European Colony of NSW.   The last book 'The Heather to The Hawkesbury' starts with the Isle of Skye,

 but finishes (in Epilogue #2) on the farm at Castlereagh, known as 'Nerrigundah'.  This was  the actual name of Norman Hunter's orchard and the incidents of the dust from the nearby quarry was what actually occurred.  There was a court case in 1957- and they lost.  The quarry is now part of the Olympic Rowing course at Castlereagh.   He too had draught horses, and Orchards of both Stone fruit and citrus, and this was also the original farm allocated to the Colless family way back in 1804.  Over the decades the Descendants of the Colless and Hunter families intermarried some four times, so there was a close bond to this farm in real life.  Fitting that it should feature in a book!


Sara Powter (née Hunter)  2017