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Mavis Taylor

After a lifetime of caring for her large family and community service, at 86 Mavis Taylor was moved to do something for the people of East Timor.

Honour Roll

Her work on the East Timor Project has given East Timorese women employment, hope and a sense of identity where previously there had been only heartache and despair.

Mavis was born in 1915 in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and spent her childhood in rural Tasmania. Her family moved to Yarrawonga when she was 16. She married at a young age and had nine children. Her husband suffered a debilitating stroke when he was 48 so Mavis took on the responsibility of helping to provide for them all. Her first retail foray was opening a café. She then ran a haberdashery store in Yarrawonga for more than 30 years.

Mavis, like many people, was appalled at the devastation in East Timor following the successful vote for national independence. But instead of just thinking about helping the people of East Timor, she actually did something very practical about it. In 2000, she effectively packed up her haberdashery store, loaded it into shipping containers and headed to warravaged East Timor to establish a women's sewing collective. Mavis had never been outside of Australia before.

Mavis was not deterred by difficulties and red tape and now there are 24 sewing centres. Hundreds of East Timorese women are now gainfully employed and countless others trained in sewing skills. With the help of other generous Australians, Mavis has sent more than 119 tonnes of donated household goods to the people of East Timor.

Mavis is still not content to take things easy, to relax and spend more time with her 27 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and one great great grandchild. She continues to work for the East Timor Project and inspirationally maintains a work ethic that people many years her junior would find impossible. In 2001 she was the Victorian Senior Achiever of the Year and in 2003 was made an official Australia Day Ambassador. In recognition of her extraordinary work, Mavis was chosen as one of four 'Global Faces of Ageing' at the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002. A major stage play, Mavis Goes to Timor, has been produced about her East Timor experiences, with performances held in capital cities across Australia.

Mavis is a wonderful role model for everyone, especially for men and women living in their 'Third Age'. She is propelled by real, genuine altruism. Mavis sets an example that no matter what our age or circumstance, we can still make a difference; we can became engaged with the world around us. "If the world is not a better place when you leave it, then you may as well not have been here," she says.