Was the late Ethel Hayton an avid arts advocate or social-climbing busybody?
This is one of the questions touched on in an exhibition at the University of Wollongong Library which explores the fascinating life of a woman once described as "Wollongong's most outstanding citizen".
Associate Professor Ika Willis, whose research into Hayton's life inspired the exhibition - A Woman of Many Hats: Ethel Hayton, MBE, 1913-1988 - is calling on Illawarra residents to share their memories on the flamboyant, eccentric woman always dressed in hats and jewellery.
Dr Willis, a lecturer in English Literatures in UOW's School of The Arts, English and Media, says her interest in Hayton was sparked by a photograph on the Wollongong laneway that bears her name.
"I got interested in her because of the Ethel Hayton walkway which links two of my favourite places in Wollongong - the cafe Lee & Me and the arts precinct. There she was in her fabulous black-and-white hat. She'd obviously been hugely important to the city, especially the arts scene, without ever holding an official position and I wanted to know more," Dr Willis said.
"She helped build the Wollongong we live in today. There's very little visible sign of what she did, but she's embedded in every brick."
The exhibition runs April 22 to May 26.