Australian Biography: Lily Ah Toy


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1996, 26 Minutes

Lily Ah Toy lived an extraordinary life as a Northern Territory pioneer.

Lily Ah Toy was born Wong Wu Len in Darwin in 1917 to Chinese parents, and was schooled in all the old Chinese traditions. After leaving Darwin Public School at 14, she became a housemaid for a European family.

Then she met Jimmy, a hawker with his own market garden and truck. Lily and Jimmy married and moved to Pine Creek to set up a general store. Apart from supplying the Pine Creek population with provisions, Lily bore five children and raised another five adopted children. She and Jimmy were also responsible for rescuing many people stranded by floods, or lost in the bush.  

In 1942 Darwin was bombed by the Japanese and her family was evacuated to Adelaide. Lily did not return to Pine Creek until 1945. She then ran the Pine Creek store while Jimmy opened a new shop in Darwin. That shop, like most of Darwin, was devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.  

As part of Australia's bicentenary in 1988, Lily was one of only eight women from the Northern Territory to be recognised for their contribution to Australian society.

In her later years, Lily spent her time with her children and grandchildren, whom she describes in this interview as “the lucky generation”.  Her philosophy for a happy life was “work hard, always be honest and don’t keep guilty secrets.”

A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

NB The Australian Biography series (1-11) are only available for sale within the territories of Australia and New Zealand.

Free Teachers’ Notes - Download here



Producer/Director/Writer: Frank Heimans

Interviewer: Robin Hughes

Year: 1996

Running Time: 26

Classification: G

Curriculum Links: Studies of Society and Environment; Australian History; Cultural Studies; Geography; Beliefs and Values; English - 'Australian Identity - Social Life and Customs'.


Australian Biography: Bill Harney



SKU 199400906
Brand Film Australia

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