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Mary Ellen (Nellie) Simm (1901–1983)

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Mary Ellen (Nellie) Simm, née Higham (1901-1983) mill hand, miners’ auxiliary leader, Communist and community activist 

Birth: 1901 at Wigan, Lancashire, England, daughter of John Higham, painter and decorator, and Mary Ann, née Bibby. Marriage: in England to Richard ‘Dick’ Simm (1899-1963), coalminer. They had five children (3 predeceased). Death: 6 June 1983 at Wollongong, New South Wales. 

  • Spent her early life in coal town of Wigan. Worked in spinning mills. Lost entire family except for one sister in 1919 influenza pandemic.
  • Moved to Australia with her husband. He came aboard the Orsova in 1924. She arrived in Sydney with her daughter Maude aboard the SS Berrima on 4 May 1925. Went to Kurri Kurri, where her husband worked at Stanford Merthyr Colliery; husband was retrenched on mine’s closure in 1927. Between 1927 and 1941 her family existed on dole and rationed relief work.
  • Active in 1929-30 Northern coal strike; dole stopped during strike when her husband refused to become a strike breaker. Joined Communist Party of Australia in 1931. Secretary of Workers’ International Relief; co-founder of South Maitland Unemployed Women’s Committee (section of Unemployed Workers’ Movement).
  • Active in community welfare work, anti-eviction campaigns and campaigns for improved relief for unemployed.
  • Miners’ Federation’s District Organiser of Women for eight years during 1930s. With Grace Scanlon, was acknowledged leader of Miners’ Federation Women’s Auxiliaries from establishment in 1938.
  • During World War II, was active in Comforts Fund and Red Cross. In 1944 was one of a team of successful CPA candidates for Kearsley Shire Council (first and only communist local government majority in English-speaking world). Retained post until 1947. As councillor was instrumental in securing funds for construction of Kurri Kurri Kurri Baby Health Centre (layed foundation stone) and Kurri Kurri Olympic Swimming Pool.
  • Represented Pelaw-main-Stanford Merthyr branch of New Housewives Association at Peace Conference, Melbourne, c.1950. Secretary of South Maitland Coalfields Peace Committee.
  • CPA candidate for seat of Kurri Kurri at 1950 state elections and for the Australian Senate in 1951. During 1950s campaigned against cavilling out at Bellbird and other Northern Collieries; also assisted in fund-raising for Aberdare stay-in strike, 1957. Treasurer, Kurri Kurri Women’s Auxiliary (1963).
  • Life-long friend of Sally Bowen.

Common Cause
, 10 June 1950, 1 February 1958, 1 June 1963, 29 June 1983; obituary [by Jim Comerford], Tribune (Sydney), 3 August 1983, p 14:

Additional Resources

  • photo, Tribune (Sydney), 3 December 1947, p 7
  • photo, Australian Women's Weekly, 25 June 1958, p 4

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Simm, Mary Ellen (Nellie) (1901–1983)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Nellie Simm, 1958

Nellie Simm, 1958

Australian Women's Weekly, 25 June 1958, p 4

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Higham, Mary Ellen

Wigan, Lancashire, England


6 June, 1983 (aged ~ 82)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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