Friends valuing rural and remote nurses!

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Felicity Gemmell-Smith, from GPSynergy, welcomed everyone to the cuppa session on 15 May 2020. Felicity has a nursing background and acknowledged that 12 May 2020 was International Day of Nursing, and 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

“On the occasion of the International Day of the Nurse and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) joins hundreds of partners worldwide to highlight the importance of nurses in the healthcare continuum and thank nurses for what they do. The theme for this year is 'Nursing the World to Health'. “

Peter Hughes, a surgeon, acknowledged the role of nurses and said he was very mindful of the wonderful work they do and the important part they play in the healthcare team.

Sabina Knight, Director of the Centre for Rural and Remote Health on the lands of the Kalkadoon and Indjilandji people in Mt Isa, introduced her colleagues Renee Blackman, Jodi Brown and Stephanie King.

Renee Blackman, a Registered Nurse, is the Chief Executive of Gidgee Healing in Mt Isa. On International Nurses Day this week Renee and her colleague Leeona West had the opportunity to chat live to Her Royal Highness Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex – story here.  

Sabina is a former Chair of the National Rural Health Alliance and represented CRANA on its Council. She thanked Friends of the Alliance for this opportunity for people to connect in this way during COVID-19.

Jodi Brown, from Tasmania, is a Senior Lecturer in Nursing with James Cook University in Mt Isa. . Jodi particularly enjoys her work with undergraduates from rural and remote areas.

Leanne Coleman is Manager of Programs and Events at the Alliance and shared a photograph of her mother who was a nurse and worked at Royal Far West in Sydney many years ago. Leanne’s mother had always hoped she would follow in her footsteps. Leanne values the work she does with the Alliance, and is grateful to have met so many wonderful rural and remote nurses over the years.

David Lindsay, from James Cook University in Townsville, was pleased to see Steph, Renee and Jodi online and acknowledged the fantastic work they do in Mt Isa.

David said the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife was being celebrated in various ways in Townsville. His mother was a triple certificate nurse in rural South Australia in the 1940s and this influenced him to get involved in the profession. He reflected on the particular significance of this International Year when all health professionals are combating the pandemic. He was saddened to read about the loss of life of health professionals due to COVID-19 in the UK and grateful that the situation is much better in Australia - read article.

Stephanie King was the winner of the Friends Rural Health Youth Award in 2019 (

Stephanie doesn’t have trained nurses in her immediate family but she does have a lot of carers and natural helpers. Stephanie expressed her gratitude for all health professionals, natural helpers, carers and consumers in the health system.

Lilya Sher works for the Council of the Ambulance Authorities and is based in Melbourne. This was her first chance to attend the Friends cuppa session and she was looking forward to talking about something other than COVID-19. Lilya was born in the Ukraine, came to Australia 43 years ago and is a proud true blue Aussie. Lilya’s experience with nursing has been as a patient, and working with paramedic students on their accreditation – many of whom had double degrees in paramedicine and nursing. The Council of Ambulance Authorities is currently working on the ‘Restart a Heart’ project that encourages people to learn CPR to be able to help as a first responder.

Martin Butler from Teesdale in Victoria (between Geelong and Ballarat) is about to start lambing and is therefore pleased the sun is out and there's no wind. Martin has been working on a foodbank project in Hamilton, which was put on hold due to COVID-19. As a social worker, Martin also does locums in hospitals and always enjoys a yarn with the nurses, particularly the rural ones as they really know how to connect!

Irene Mills was at home in Dalwallinu in WA – a town of 800, 250 kms from Perth on the road to Meekathara. With few doctors in the region, Irene expressed her gratitude for the work of local nurses particularly at the hospital where they provide expert and compassionate care at times of need.

Wendy Downs lives in Wamboin, NSW, just over the border from the ACT. She spent five years at the National Rural Health Alliance as Manager of the Rural Health Continuing Education 2 Program, and then returned to the Department of Health. Wendy was forced to retire when she contracted a rare autoimmune disease, as a result of which she has had far too much contact with the health system, including its marvellous nurses! This has given Wendy the reverse view of nursing, for she originally trained as a general nurse and midwife herself. Her sister is also a nurse, currently tutoring students about ethics and law for nurses, and helping international students with literacy. (Wendy set a new standard for visual presence at our Friends cuppas by appearing with a personal avatar - a cupboard doorknob.)

Before her retirement Sue Wade worked as a nurse in community-based health services and towards the end of her career managed the Forbes and Parkes Health Services. Sue was one of the early Councillors of the National Rural Health Alliance and is a past-Chair of the Alliance. Her husband Tony was a farm manager but they have now settled in town, where Sue enjoys pottering around with embroidery and gardening. To their friends' surprise they now own a caravan but the year's trips have had to be cancelled due to Covid.

Chris Moorhouse commented on the impressive breadth of experience and diversity in today's cuppa team. Chris grew up on a property in the Riverina and 50 years ago he started his career as a nurse. He was inspired by the Royal Flying Doctor Service that would visit every month on a landing strip just at his back door. He feels privileged to have been involved in nursing and rural health for so many years. He said the International Day of Nurses was a wonderful opportunity to recognise the role of nurses and he referred to an article by the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine acknowledging the integral role nurses play in healthcare teams – read article.

Gwenda Freeman said how pleased she was to be at the cuppa and to see Steph again! She said it was likely that the Indigenous status of some of the very earliest Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander nurses was not acknowledged. The earliest included MaryAnn Bin-Sallik, a Djaru Elder who trained as a nursing sister at Darwin Hospital. Faith Thomas completed her nursing training in 1954 and trained as a midwife at Queen Victoria Hospital in Adelaide, registering in 1957.Lowitja O'Donoghue qualified as a nurse in 1957 and worked at the Royal Adelaide. Gwenda said the more Aboriginal people in the health system the better - she had always wanted to be a nurse but studied psychology and health management instead.

More about Faith Thomas – and it’s not just nursing!

Lois O’Donoghue -

MaryAnn Bin-Salik -

Vandana Bhagat is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Rural Health at the University of Tasmania and is on the Friends Advisory Committee. Vandana does not have any nursing connections in her family but she said it was lovely to hear these stories and wanted to thank the nursing profession around the world, particularly during this time of COVID-19. Nurses and other members of the health profession are playing very important and courageous roles in their communities during this pandemic.

Janine Turnbull works at the National Rural Health Alliance in the Programs and Events team. Janine does not have any nurses in her family but they have experienced some chronic illnesses and cared for family members and she values and appreciates the work of the nursing profession.

Gordon Gregory reminded us that three of the 12 foundation members of the National Rural Health Alliance were nursing organisations – the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF – now ANMF), the Australian Association of Rural Nurses (AARN), and the Council of Remote Area Nurses (CRANA -now CRANAplus). Through his work at the Alliance Gordon learned to respect and love many nurses, including Sue Wade (who admitted to being a bit bossy) and Sabina Knight (who was no longer present at the meeting). Gordon said that Leanne’s mum would not be disappointed she did not become a nurse but, rather, would be proud of the work she has done and does with the Alliance, including for rural and remote nurses.

Lynne Strathie bought more orchids this week! She boasted that the weather was superb in Darwin and she has been spending more time in her garden. The big news in Lynne’s family this week was her daughter’s NDIS review which was very professionally and pleasantly undertaken by the NDIS reviewer. Lynne’s cuppa for the day was in a mug that was a gift from the midwife she had when her daughter was born all those years ago!

Fiona Brooke joined the session - a former staff member of the Alliance, Fiona is currently working on health policy in the Department of Veterans Affairs in Canberra.

Lilya sought advice from Lynne and others on her orchids. She said it is 3 degrees in Melbourne and her orchids are not loving it. Gordon suggested that in a cool climate they can be put against a north-facing brick wall in full sun. Lilya confessed her secret is to put human hair in the soil – which she has done once to get her orchid to bloom after being dormant for three years! Lynne and Martin thanked her for the advice which they will share with their orchid-fancying friends. Felicity said her orchids aren’t doing very well in Moree.

After losing a week of work on his computer, Chris Moorhouse gave a final shout out to the IT community who continue to keep us connected, and Martin expressed appreciation for Friends of the Alliance for holding and recording these sessions.

Chris said he was due to be on a road trip through Moree at the moment. Lilya was due to be inTownsville and Cairns. And Janine’s husband was supposed to be camping in the Victorian high country. Sue Wade said she had experienced similar traumatic times when training at the Prince Henry during the polio epidemic. And Lilya said she lived through cholera.

References to such disruptions as these highlight how grateful we are for being safely locked down - and the critical role being played by nurses everywhere in keeping us safe.

Take care everyone - and let's value our nurses.


From the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation:

COVID-19 Nurses Vigil
On this International Nurses' Day (12 May 2020), we honour our global nursing colleagues who have lost their lives treating and caring for patients with COVID-19. Join us and light a candle at 7pm (AEST) on May 12. #nurseshonoured

Thank you to all our nurses and midwives!
For this year’s International Nurses Day, in these extraordinary times, a number of well-known, much loved Australian celebrities, including Missy Higgins, Hamish and Andy, Magda Szubanski, Marcia Hines and others have joined us to share their stories and thank nurses and midwives for the care they have received and the lasting impact nurses and midwives have made to their lives.







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