I grew up with four brothers on a small farm on the western Darling Downs in Queensland, Australia, and all I ever wanted to do was head further west. I also wanted to train as a hairdresser but my father thought that nursing or teaching were better options, so off I went and started my nursing training in Brisbane. I bailed out and, after a break of two years, transferred to Charleville Base Hospital in south west Queensland where I finished my general nursing certificate.
Although I loved living out here, I really didn’t enjoy nursing whereas ‘ real’ nurses clearly love what they do. They are passionate about caring for people, about looking after them and guiding them to better health, about advocating for them and rescuing them when required. Me? I just wanted to sit on their beds and chat!
I definitely should have been a hairdresser! After all, doesn’t everybody tell their hairdresser everything? They are the world’ s natural counsellors and I’ve always been curious about other people; why they choose whatever it is they do, or don’ t do, in their lives.
Happily for me, I fell in love, married my lovely husband Ian and, in 1980, went to live with him on his family’s sheep station 130 km from Charleville. Although I ‘nursed’ our children when they needed it, I never assumed a clinical nursing role after that. I spent my days multitasking through the broad job description that is the pathway of most women on the land. We sold out in 2001 and moved north a couple of hours to the Morven district, where we now live.
I pretty much fell into storytelling after pitching a story to RM Williams’ OUTBACK Magazine, about the centenary of the Victoria Downs Merino Stud, in 2006. Located here in the Morven district, since the Stud was established, the Lord/Roberts families have played an important part in the wool industry in Australia and I thought it should be recognized.
One thing led to another and I discovered an aptitude for telling other people’s stories. I think it is vital that we record stories for future generations, especially in this modern, fast-changing world.
I don’t believe in luck as such, unless it’s winning the lottery. Even then you have to make it happen by buying a ticket. I believe that hard work teamed with making the most of opportunities lays the foundations for good things to happen.
That said, in early 2012 I was stunned when I found a message on our phone from an editor at Penguin Books asking if I’d be interested in speaking to them about a project.
I didn’t know then that this wasn’t entirely unusual. One of the publishers had read a story I wrote in OUTBACK about rural and remote health and asked me if I would like to collect, edit and collate a selection of stories about nurses working in rural and remote Australia. No way was I ever going to say “No”! So BUSH NURSES evolved, published in March 2013. It’s a social history of nursing in inland Australia, based on anecdotes collected from various people and sources across the last hundred years.
After that, NURSES OF THE OUTBACK seemed a natural progression. It is biographical stories of fifteen amazing nurses who work in the ‘modern’ outback. They’re gutsy, committed, resilient people and their stories were mesmerising and a privilege to write. They are, in fact, ordinary everyday people, albeit well trained and highly experienced, who step up and do extraordinary things when needed.
In my view, nurses are the backbone of the country and, along with other emergency service workers, they are the real heroes of the world. It was an absolute joy to tell their stories and celebrate the enormous contribution nurses make to the sustainability of the inland.
Likewise, writing OUTBACK VETS made perfect sense to me as so many nurses did vet work I wondered where all the vets were. They’re definitely ‘out there’ and they’re an incredibly bright and intriguing group of people who work unbelievably long hours to deliver excellent health care to both large and small, feathered and furred, scaly and sleek domestic, wild and farmed animals. The really gobsmacking thing is, their patients can’t tell them what’s wrong … they were fascinating!
And then there is my most recent publication, OUR VIETNAM NURSES. As I said in the introduction to that book, I’d never thought about nurses being in Vietnam even though I trained as a nurse, and I’m old enough to remember that particular war. I remember the soldiers, the protests and the vitriol that was directed at Vietnam veterans, but I don’t remember ever hearing any mention of nurses. I quickly realised that, unless they had a connection to a Vietnam veteran, most other people hadn’t either. So my self-appointed mission began.
I have met the most wonderful people in the last two years as a result of hearing and sharing these stories. And as dramatic as it might sound, if I never publish another word, I will always feel as though I’ve done something really important in bringing to light the stories of these Australians who nursed in Vietnam.
Storytelling has been a wonderful experience for me all round and I’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing and the processes of publishing. And with all this experience writing about nurses in particular, I’ve come to know for sure that I really should have trained as a hairdresser!
However, since my journey has led me to telling other people’s stories, I now can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.