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Nurses of Australia : the illustrated story

Everyone has contact with nurses. Whether you have practised nursing, have a nurse in the family or friendship group, or have been in hospital, nurses are well-known to all. They have made a professional career by caring for those of us who are sick. They bring comfort and reassurance to people who can’t look after themselves. Nurses are much loved members of many outback communities. The author has compiled a history of nursing in Australia which gives a glimpse of the way nursing customs have changed over the years.

There were two women who had some experience with caring for the sick who arrived with the First Fleet. In 1868, Lucy Osburn and five Nightingale nurses arrived in the colony to care for people. The role of these women in Australia became quite varied, as outback communities and the wider community needed their attention. In those days, however, little was known about illness and many people died from lack of simple knowledge. “A good deal of prayer” was relied upon by the families of those suffering. The chapter here discusses the duties of a nurse, and how training developed.

The Sisters of Charity arrived in the Colony at the request of the Catholic Bishop, who was concerned for the women of the new land. The Sisters were from Ireland, some with formal training who understood medicine better than most.  They opened a convent at Paramatta where they taught and gave work to young women. It was a place of sadness when babies were taken away from their mothers and young women were forced to work in trying conditions.

In the next chapter, we read about the constant striving for solutions to healing. Florence Nightingale’s reputation for training nurses and teaching her methods saw the Governor of the Colony request that she send some trained nurses to help the floundering system. This was really the beginning of the discipline required to organize and care for patients.

The chapters continue to show the changes in nursing since that time. There are illustrations of the changes in uniforms, the emergence of tutor sisters in hospitals, and training at colleges and universities was proposed. The role of the nurses in war time is shown, and many women proudly wear their medals from that time. In small country towns, little hospitals were built and many women were in charge of them.

Gradually times have changed, and we see men entering the nursing profession, a relaxation of uniform code, and an intensely scientific background to most of the training. This is a fascinating slice of Australian history focussed on nursing and the advancement of this profession.

Author Deborah Burrows
Publisher National Library of Australia
ISBN 9780642279309
Distributor National Library of Australia
Released November 2018