Reflection on my life and my work has made me realize that every action I have taken has been a building block for the future.
I am the eldest of five and grew up on a dairy farm in the Brisbane Valley, Queensland. I went by school bus to the small school at Somerset Dam then on to boarding school in Toowoomba for my high school education. In May 1966, at the age of 16 years and 9 months, I started my nursing training at the Holy Spirit Hospital, Brisbane. My training was for four years. In looking back on those training days, I recall my nurse educator, Sister Donna, constantly trying to get through to us the importance of holistic nursing and empathy. It was the whole person, that included the family, that was important, not just the injury or illness for which they were in hospital.
My love of life on the land always saw me looking forward to getting home to the farm to help Dad with whatever needed doing. Cattle work, which mostly meant horse work was my preference, but any farm work was okay by me.
After completion of my general nursing training, I worked in Perth for a time and then came back to Brisbane where I did my Midwifery at the Mater Mother Hospital.
I recall a conversation I had with my Father early in my life and, in that conversation, he said, “education is our gift to you. It is the platform on which to build your future.”
My parents were always very supportive and encouraging. As is usual in the lives of most of us, it was not until I was much older that I realized this and have been very grateful for it.
It was at the end of my midwifery year that I got married. I was 22 years old. My husband got a transfer to Taroom, a small country town on the Darling Downs. Farming and grazing were the backbone of the community.
It was during our years in Taroom that our three children were born. I worked at the small hospital in both general nursing and midwifery. Among the different nursing staff with whom I worked were two amazing “old school” nursing sisters. Matron Ratz and Sister Lyons were the backbone of the hospital and also highly respected by the whole community. These women taught me so much on which I have been able to build my nursing future. I believe that it was their dedication to their nursing and the local community which set me towards my love of rural and remote nursing.
I am still nursing full time and in May will have been working for 54 years. Of those years, about 40 years have been spent in rural and remote Queensland.
Being a general nurse, and midwife health and wellbeing, is my primary focus. For the past 21 years I have been a “Mobile Women’s Health Nurse”. The area I cover include about 20 towns of varying sizes and, of course, all the rural districts that surround them. I conduct clinics for women in all these towns as well as doing health education whenever the opportunity arises.
Some of the small towns in which I set up my clinic do not have a Doctor, or the Doctor may only visit once a week or less often. Even in towns with a GP, that practitioner may be male and sometimes there are issues which are personal or cultural reasons that prevent the woman from having a procedure, such as cervical screening tests, from being done. Discussing contraceptive management, family issues and many other issues related to such things as personal or financial stress can be raised by women.
I have now been visiting these communities for close to 21 years and I believe that what makes my role as the mobile women’s health nurse work so well is that I am not a local, and yet I have been visiting these towns for 21 years, providing an impartial ear, empathy and a preventative, holistic approach to women’s health.
Life in rural areas is really dominated by weather. In 2011 and 2013 massive floods hit our region. This was after years of very dry conditions. Since those floods there have been many long spells of very dry conditions.
There is nothing new about these conditions. Floods, fires and very dry conditions and then some good years are a way of life on the land. Life on the land and rural life in general is generally “not predictable” and therefore a strong resilience is required.
I see my age as a gift. I am now 70 years of age. I am blessed with good health and a continued love of my profession and my life. I have been through almost all the stages of life and can relate to what women’s bodies are doing and needing at different times. I have been there through floods and droughts.
I am also a mediator and an advocate of women, helping them to access other health services as required. Most women put the health and needs of their family before their own health. I try very hard to get the women to see that they need to care for their own health because, if their own health fails, they will be unable to continue.
Keeping life in perspective is very important. We can see our self as some one’s mother, wife, daughter, friend or grandmother. We can become totally consumed in a professional role. The question we need to ask is “who am I”.
In August 2019, I got myself to St Jean Pied de Port, France. I spent the next seven weeks with my pack on my back and travelled “The ancient pilgrim path”, known as the “Camino Frances” or “The Way of St James”. The pilgrimage took me over the Pyrenees Mountain to Roncesvalles and I progressed on to Pamplona Burgos, Astorga and on to Santiago De Compostela which was the end of the Camino Frances. The day after getting to Santiago, I again had the pack on my back and spent the next five days walking the trail out to Fisterra.
The story of the experiences of those seven weeks is a story in itself. I was on my own but never alone as there were many other pilgrims. I did not speak Spanish. Trust in God to keep you safe, make sure you took the right turn, did not miss a Camino signpost, found a place to sleep each night, became a way of life. The further I went I found that my life became much simpler. I only had two sets of clothes, jacket, basic wet weather gear and the sleeping bag. Walking through the hamlets, farms, over mountains, hills, valleys and creeks really puts you one with the earth and our thoughts can focus on the simple things in life. The people around us come and go. We met, we talked and moved on. We did not discuss who we were in that life we had stepped away from for these weeks, as that is not important. What we did do was ask if we could help, support, walk with them to help them to their next stop. I listened to many stories of why people were doing the pilgrimage. In every story, the base line was that it was a time out for personal reflection, and soul searching as to which direction their life should go and how they were going to make this change happen.
How blessed I am to have had the opportunities I have had over my lifetime. How blessed I am to have had parents who encouraged me through their example to take advantage of any opportunity that came along.
In everything give thanks.