Published on 19 January 2021

The queen of clean

Onkaparinga is a tidier place to live thanks to long-serving volunteer Terry Haighton.

For nearly 50 years, Terry Haighton endeavoured to spray and scrub the Onkaparinga region clean of unsightly graffiti.

On New Year’s Eve in 1971, Terry awoke to find a crude message painted on the road outside her house. She had emigrated to Australia from England with her family earlier the same year.

“We rarely saw graffiti in London at that time. It was terrible if we did see it,” Terry says. “I rang the Noarlunga Council as it was then, who attended to cleaning the graffiti the same day. I enquired with one of the men about how I could volunteer to help remove graffiti and he said I could start almost straight away.”

Helping others and serving the community has always been part of Terry’s life.

“That’s how we were brought up in England during the Second World War,” Terry says. “My mother always did volunteering. Our purpose was to help other people and try to bring a smile to their face. We never turned our back on anyone. That’s how I’ve been all my life.”

While working full time, Terry cleaned graffiti for two to three hours each weekday and again on Sunday mornings.

“Cleaning the graffiti gave me great personal satisfaction. I wanted to clean up everything—the graffiti and the filthy language,” Terry says.

It is estimated Terry removed more than 10,000 pieces of graffiti in the City of Onkaparinga in her years of service. In 2019–20 alone, nearly 50 volunteers participating in the Graffiti Removal Program helped erase more than 88,000 marks.

Now aged in her eighties, Terry has recently retired from the council volunteer group but continues to acknowledge any requests for assistance from people in need. In addition to her graffiti removal volunteering, Terry helped elderly members of the community, conducted an audit of the council recycling, composting and waste disposal service, and served at the Onkaparinga Christmas Pageant by guiding attendees.

In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday honours, Terry received a South Australian Premier’s Award in recognition of her outstanding volunteer service in the Onkaparinga region. Receiving the award is an honour, Terry says.

“I appreciated council nominating me for the award, and it was nice that I was picked to receive it, but I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it. Volunteering is just part of my life. I get a lot out of it,” Terry says.

Volunteers are essential to the success of council’s Graffiti Removal Program. Authorised and registered volunteers include residents who act independently to remove graffiti in their local area. Council supplies the materials and equipment and necessary training needed to complete the cleaning tasks. Rapid response volunteers remove graffiti as a team with other volunteers using council’s fully equipped graffiti removal vehicles.
All safety and personal protection equipment, relevant training and daily coordinated support is provided by council to ensure a happy and secure operating environment.

City of Onkaparinga volunteers support the delivery of services across more than 30 sites and programs in addition to removing graffiti. To learn more about current volunteer opportunities phone 8301 7314 or visit

Graffiti vandalism is a crime and should always be reported in the first instance to South Australia Police on 131 444.

Vandals seek notoriety by graffitiing property. The prompt removal of graffiti reduces the likelihood of repeat offences. It is also the best way for residents and business owners to protect their assets and maintain the aesthetic of the local area.

Council conducts weekly inspections of major arterial roads and other sites that are regularly targeted and removes graffiti appropriately. Assistance measures are in place to help residents and businesses keep their property free of graffiti.

Residents can assist the management of graffiti by reporting any vandalism using council’s free call Graffiti Removal Hotline on 1800 040 225 or via the links at

Tagged as:
Onkaparinga is a tidier place to live thanks to long-serving volunteer Terry Haighton.