An older Aboriginal woman smiles at the camera.


Missing since: 
Monday, December 28, 2020
Last seen: 
Coober Pedy, SA
Responsible jurisdiction: 
Year of birth: 

NOTE - **Shirley's age according to official government records was 64 at the time she went missing but her immediate family says she was actually 73.


Shirley Williams was last seen at 5.35 pm on Monday, 28th December 2020 at the Coober Pedy Hospital SA.  Following her hospital consult Shirley self-discharged and left the hospital on foot.  When she failed to return to her primary place of residence her family became concerned and reported her missing to the Coober Pedy Police.  Extensive searches by police, SES volunteers, Aboriginal trackers and family were undertaken over the pursuing days however Shirley was not located. Despite extensive enquiries made to date by police Shirley’s whereabouts remain unknown.    

Shirley was last seen wearing a grey coloured hooded jumper with purple sleeves (as pictured)   

Anyone with information which may assist in locating the whereabouts of Shirley is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Family of missing Coober Pedy elder Shirley Williams seeks more resources for search


The family of a 64**-year-old Coober Pedy elder, who has shown signs of dementia and has been missing for more than a week, is pleading for more resources to be devoted to the search for her.

SA Police say the last confirmed sighting of Shirley Williams was at the Coober Pedy Hospital on Monday, December 28, 2020, before her family reported her missing on Thursday, December 31.

A police aerial searched for Ms Williams was conducted on Sunday and yesterday, but was called off this morning, leaving a group of 30 authorities and 20 family members to continue the land search.

Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in outback South Australia, where mine shafts in the ground are common.

Ms William's nephew, Jonathon Fatt-Clifton, said while the family appreciated the assistance so far, they were concerned about the speed of the search.

"The family realise that it's Christmas, and we appreciate everything that is being done," he said.

"But I think the emergency around this, with Aunty Shirley having signs of dementia, she's in her 60s, we just would like every possible resource given to this situation so that we can do the best we can to find this little old Aboriginal lady. 

'She may have got disoriented'

Mr Fatt-Clifton said despite Ms Williams showing signs of illness, she had not been lost before.

"She had signs of dementia, but she could hold a conversation, she could talk, she could communicate with people," he said.

"But we just don't know with dementia, maybe one of these particular days she may have got disoriented.

"The family knew that's what she would do, and would keep an eye out for her."

Mr Fatt-Clifton said Ms William's family realised she was missing around Tuesday or Wednesday last week.

"There were whispers among the family about Aunty Shirley not being spotted around town, and family were asking have we seen her," Mr Fatt-Clifton said.

He said the family initially thought she might have been given a lift to another part of the state, but it soon became apparent she had not.

Police, family seek public help

SA Police Superintendent Paul Roberts said Ms Williams was wearing a grey hoodie, grey pants and at her last confirmed sighting at the Coober Pedy Hospital, which she left without being officially discharged.

"Shirley left the hospital of her own volition," he said.

Superintendent Roberts said other possible sightings of Ms Williams in the town after December 28 could not be confirmed.

He defended the police response to the first missing person's report, saying that as the hospital is within the township, a land search was deemed sufficient.

"A family member that's a tracker has been doing some searching independent of ours, and we've had a police officer embedded with the family to support them, and make sure we're all working together."

Both the family and police are pleading with any tourists or locals who were in Coober Pedy over the New Year's period to come forward if they have CCTV, dash cam footage or any information that may assist with the search.

Family of missing Indigenous elder asks why authorities aren't doing more to help find her

Aunty Shirley Williams was last seen leaving the Coober Pedy Hospital after a check-up on 28 December and was reported missing on New Year’s Eve.

Published 8 January 2021 at 1:49pm
By Peta Doherty
Source: SBS


The family of an Indigenous Coober Pedy elder who lives with dementia and has been missing for 11 days in remote South Australia is questioning why more is not being done to find her.

Aunty Shirley Williams was last seen leaving the Coober Pedy Hospital after a check-up on 28 December and was reported missing on New Year’s Eve. 

The Williams clan matriarch is aged 64 by government records but nearly a decade older, according to her immediate family, who are “losing our minds” trying to find her.

“We need help every day because time is running out," niece Stella Williams told SBS News. “We don’t know what that old lady’s situation is right now, we really need help. 

Police have called off a formal land and air search but said the investigation into the disappearance was continuing.

“SAPOL uniform staff and detectives from Port Augusta and Adelaide remain in Coober Pedy to support local staff with this active investigation,” local area commander superintendent Paul Roberts said.

Aunty Shirley’s daughter said she couldn’t bear to think of her mother lost and confused in the desert.

“We’ve been searching every day from morning to sundown. We’re not going to give up,” Jillian Williams said.


Jillian and her siblings followed the tracks of their mother’s recognisable “small steps” to an old opal mining field, about 20 kilometres northwest of Coober Pedy. 

They fear she became confused and set out for an old family home in Andamooka, nearly 500 kilometres from Coober Pedy.

 For their mother’s younger sister, Maureen Williams, the police search effort was too little, too late.  

“She’s an old lady with dementia and we are worried about her,” she told SBS News.

“Nothing was done enough to find her. I miss her."
Last Friday the Williams family said they went to the Coober Pedy police station to ask police for more assistance.

They feel let down the formal operation did not get underway until Sunday afternoon and that police were “searching everywhere we have already searched.” 

They even appealed to the South Australian Police Commissioner for help on social media. 

“The family would like to invite the police and the emergency services to join their search. They would also like to invite the South Australian Commissioner of Police to provide some search and rescue support,” a message from the family in the town’s local paper read on Sunday morning . 

Superintendent Roberts said local police began investigations immediately.

“The investigation and initial local search was upscaled into a broader search operation when those local enquiries had not located Ms Williams,” the local area commander for South Australia’s far north said. 

“The search effort included local police, police from metropolitan Adelaide, specialist search coordination, ground searches and aerial searching.

“Emergency service staff from Whyalla, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Roxby Downs and Coober Pedy supported."
Still, Stella Williams is convinced her aunty would have been found if the operation had started earlier.

“She doesn’t walk fast, she walks slow,” she said. 

“And we would have found her by now if everything was a bit earlier.

“It’s been days now and she’s been out there in the dark, in the cold and it’s been raining.”

Aunty Shirley’s only son Jason said more needed to be done.

“That’s my mother who’s out there in the middle of nowhere, she’s a human being like us,” Mr Williams said.

Superintendent Roberts said he was comfortable the investigation had been conducted to a high standard. 

He said he understood family members remained concerned, as police were, but said they had been consulted throughout the investigation.



Shirley Williams aged 73** and suffering from the onset of dementia did not return home after a medical check up at Coober Pedy Hospital on Monday 28th December 2020 onward but was sighted twice on Thursday 31 December 2020.

During that morning Shirley was seen in the Catacomb Road area; at the Kempe Road creek area; and during that afternoon she was seen “walking purposefully west”on the 17 Mile Road, near the corner of Kempe Road (Oodnadatta Road).

Temperatures for those three days was high.

On Friday 1 January, daughter Jillian Williams requested assistance from the police for her missing mother. The Williams family and friends had already begun their own search of the local area, but said there were too few of them searching such a large district.

Saturday morning 2 January the family appealed to the community for help in their search via the Coober Pedy Regional Times FB page. The search involved tracking the mother’s small foot-prints along the side of 17 Mile Road and along a dirt road that led to an area known as Crocodile Harry’s, or the Kenda Flat Opal Field.

The Williams family and close friends set out on Saturday morning to continue their search with local resident Jason Wright who volunteered with his dirt bike and a drone.

Saturday afternoon 2 January saw the arrival of a police initiated search plane at Coober Pedy.

Sunday morning 3 January Police enlisted the support of local Emergency Service crews and followed leads that the family and locals had recommended including Ryan’s Hill, Flat Hill Road, Coober Pedy Area School, Kenda Flat Opal Field, Dead Horse Gully Field and a number of other locations.

Jillian Williams (daughter of Shirley) issued the following statement expressing the family’s gratitude for offers of assistance:

“We would like to thank all of those people who offered to join our search on Saturday and those who have come forward with information.”

“We have a further request and that is, if people are aware of abandoned houses, buildings or sheds, please take the time to have a look. Shirley was in the habit of stopping to look at old memorabilia and might have taken shelter, fallen asleep or had an accident.”

“Also if you could check any old open cuts, dugouts that may be empty or open.”

“Thank you also for your messages of comfort and concern. As soon as we know anything, we will tell you.”

The Williams family told SBS News, that they feared she became confused and set out for an old family home in Andamooka, nearly 500 kilometres from Coober Pedy.

As of the 21 January, Shirley Williams had not been found.

A Police spokesperson told the Coober Pedy Regional Times on Thursday 21 January,“Police hold serious concerns for the welfare of missing woman Shirley Williams. A large scale area search involving emergency services was conducted over several days earlier this month but unfortunately nothing was located.”

“The investigation into her whereabouts remains active and ongoing with Detectives from the Port Augusta CIB conducting enquiries every day, including speaking to interstate policing counterparts and Elders.”

“Anyone with information is asked to contact the Police Assistance Line immediately on 131 444.”