Strength, Courage and Bravery!
The History of Nursing in Australia

It is important for Travel Nurses to understand the History of Nursing in the countries they plan to work in. It gives them more of a feeling for why things are how they are! For instance Florence Nightingales nurses were made to live in at the hospitals nurses quarters due to the issue of nurses getting “bad” reputations and the need to keep them "virtuous". This tradition continued long after the social stigma of "a bad reputation" disappeared! I have enjoyed looking back into the History of Nursing so read on for some of my favourite stories hopefully it will be as interesting and inspirational a journey through the History of Nursing in Australia as it was for me!

Australia –the beginning

The first people arrived in Australia from South East Asia over 40,000 years before Europeans first landed in the 17th century. These were the first nations of aboriginal people and I acknowledge them as the traditional caretakers of the land.

Australia’s white settlement beginnings as a penal colony give Australia a rather sordid past! White settlement of Australia is where the beginnings of modern nursing in Australia began.

In the 1840’s the transportation of convicts to Australia ceased and the country was opened to settlers from overseas. Gold was discovered in 1851 and once people in other countries heard about the gold mining boom people were rushing to Australia to make their fortune.

Unfortunately the basic requirements of what people expected when they arrived from other well established countries like Britain (such as fresh water, sewerage systems, and health care) did not exist and so had to evolve rapidly as the country was colonised.

Nursing – The Early years

Prior to 1868 the state of nursing in Australia was, to say the least, substandard! Unskilled persons were often “promoted” to nursing roles despite having no education or training - some could not even read or write! Stories abound of “nurses” attending patients in hospitals dishevelled and intoxicated, and leaving patients unattended most of the time. Conditions were so bad patients who went to hospital once vowed never to return!

However over the course of the history of nursing, Australian nurses have redeemed themselves and the reputation of nursing. In the years since Australia’s beginnings their efforts and achievements have overwhelmed and astounded many. There are so many amazing stories of nurses throughout Australia’s history it is impossible to cover them all! So I have provided some of my favourites here and added some links to further information.

The Florence Nightingale Nurses

The state of healthcare in Australia in the mid 18oo’s was so deplorable that a group of Doctors sent a letter to Henry Parkes, the then Colonial Secretary in Australia, urging him to do something. Henry Parkes responded by writing a letter to Florence Nightingale (the mother of modern nursing and an icon in the history of nursing) requesting her to provide a contingent of nurses to Australia, to clean up the hospitals.

In respone to Henry Parkes request Florence Nightingale sent five of her best trainees over to set up a training school at the Sydney Infirmary, New South Wales. These five nurses were

• Lucy Osburn

• Mary Barker

• Bessie Chant

• Eliza Blundel

• Annie Millar

• Haldon Turriff

Lucy Osburn was to be a champion of nurses in Australia and contributed to the beginnings of regulation of nursing in Australia.

Nurse Training begins

At about the same time as Florence Nightingale's school of nursing training commenced in London, Dr Gerald Featherston and his wife had commenced a Nurse Training school at the 'Lying In' hospital, a hospital for women and children in Vicoria, Australia. This hosptal was to become the Royal Womens Hospital, which is still a major teaching hopsital in Melbourne, Victoria. This pioneering work of Dr Featherston and his wife led to a reduction in maternal death rates for women of the era, based on the principles of infection control introduced by Florence Nightingale. The Nightingale Pledge was dedicated to Florence Nightingale in 1896 by American nurses and was recited by nurses comleting their nurse training.

Read some of these inspiring stories of nurses in Australias history

Lucy Osburn
Australia's Boer War Nurses

Return to Travel Nurse Information Australia home page from History of Nursing