Royal Canberra Hospital by Janet Newman and Jennie Warren

‘An Anecdotal History of Nursing 1914-1991’

The Royal Canberra Hospital closed on 27 November 1991.  A sad day for many Canberrans, to be followed by an even sadder day on 13 July 1997 when the planned implosion of the building resulted in the tragic death of 12-year-old Katie Bender.  Canberrans had been encouraged to gather on the shores to witness the implosion.  My husband (who worked there for over 15 years) and my son (who was born there) both watched the implosion.  We had several connections to the hospital: I’d worked there from 1974 to 1979, met my (now) husband there in 1976.  I’d lived in both nurses’ homes, made some very good friends, been part of a community.

When this book was published in 1993, I bought a copy. Ms Newman and Ms Warren wrote the book to set down the anecdotes of nurses who worked there while there was still so much living history.

I and other nurses who worked there are grateful.  I’ve read the book and dip into it every so often.  Some of the senior nurses I remember from the 1970s have passed away.  Reading the anecdotes brings them back for me.  I remember when Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin over Christmas in 1974.  A group of doctors and nurses from Canberra Hospital were amongst those who flew in to provide assistance.  Some people were evacuated here, including a very elderly Russian woman with no English.  She was distressed and unwell, and we had great difficulty communicating with her.  Lucky for all of us one of our lovely cleaning ladies could interpret: they had a shared language (not Russian) and we were able to attend to most of her needs.  Remembering this now, over 45 years later, I wish we’d been able to do more.

I remember nursing critically ill patients: being overjoyed if they recovered, being saddened when they did not.  I remember night duty: especially in H Ward and Isolation.  I remember the advent of microwaves (those new-fangled machines) to heat up our ‘dinner’ on night shift (taken in 30-minute shifts between 12:30 and 02:00 am).

This book is a tribute to each of the nurses who worked at Royal Canberra Hospital. 

My part in the history is brief, but I like to revisit it.  I like to be reminded of those strong female role models who were such an important part of the history of Royal Canberra Hospital.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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