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Juel Hilton, Della Dale Aged Care

As a young child, Juel lived in a tent in country New South Wales during the Great Depression after her parents lost everything they owned.

Man living in tent during the Great Depression with the words 1929 The Great Depression Sydney Melbourne Tasmania Perth The Beatles

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Home was a tent for much of Juel Hilton’s childhood, after the Great Depression left her parents destitute. ‘I was born in Melbourne in 1929 and when the Depression came, the banks foreclosed and they lost everything, so we had to sell up what little we had and shift to country New South Wales. ‘We camped in the grounds of the Church of England Rectory, that’s how poor we were,’ Juel says. Life improved when Juel’s mother started a retail business. ‘She ended up with three shops she’d started from scratch. More than from scratch.’

Branching out

Juel finished high school and worked in one of her mum’s shops for a month. ‘My mother wanted me to stay and eventually take one over, but I absolutely hated it. So, I left at 18 and went to Sydney, never to return. My parents gave me one week to get a job and accommodation, otherwise I had to return home. I feel sure, having led a very sheltered life, they thought I wouldn't be able to cope, but I did. ‘They tell me now it was gutsy, but I didn't think anything of it. It's just my nature, I suppose.’

Itchy feet

At 21, Juel decided she wanted to see Australia. ‘I came to Melbourne first because that was the closest and cheapest. Again, I found accommodation and work, which was very, very easy because there was a shortage of people. I don't know how long I stayed, but, again, I had itchy feet and I went to Tasmania for 18 months. I came back to Melbourne for a short time and then I went to Adelaide. ‘I got a job selling insurance. I didn't do wonderfully well there. It’s hard to get money out of people who have got mortgages over their head. They couldn’t afford threepence or sixpence for insurance. Every penny counted.

North, South, East, West

‘From there, I went across to Perth by boat — that was cheap. I stayed there until I had a look around Western Australia. I went north, I went south, then I thought it was about time I went back east and some young girls had won a prize to see the Beatles in Melbourne and they were looking for a chaperone…’ After settling back in Melbourne, Juel reconnected with Arthur Hilton, a man she’d met eight years earlier. His invitation to meet for coffee led to marriage. ‘It was only when I was married, and we had paid everything off that I could afford to go overseas. I’ve had seven trips,’ Juel says. At 91, her advice for younger people is to travel widely. ‘And if they give you a stopover, take it, because you’ve already paid your fare.’

Reviewed 30 January 2024