Have you ever observed the elderly and wondered about their lives?
As is the way of things, people entering the Griffith Leagues Club dining area barely noticed a group of elderly women they walked past … if they only knew! What shared history has seen them get together over a meal every month since a casual reunion almost 40 years ago?
Their enduring friendship circle is a testament to the strong bonds and camaraderie they shared while working together, sometimes living together, and facing many challenges side-by-side in Griffith's yesteryear country hospital. (Not to mention countless antics both on and off-duty!)
In decades past, any among these retired nurses could potentially have taken care of the other diners or their loved ones – possibly even saving their lives. Who knows, perhaps some of them may not have even been born if their parents' or grandparents' lives hadn't been saved by these resourceful and dedicated nurses.
While having good reason in retirement to put their feet up, in 2003 seven of these ex-nurses took up the challenge of gathering hospital stories and photos to create an 'unofficial history' and self-published From Bagtown to Base in 2005.
Well-received by the community, the 1000 copies sold out. And as if they hadn't already contributed enough, all profits were donated to the hospital (two special beds worth several thousand dollars each) and Country Hope ($2000 cash). They had every reason to be proud, and as far as they were aware at the time, it was done and dusted.
Spanning several decades from a predominantly hessian 'hospital' in 'Bagtown' in 1910, the book covered an assortment of surprising, entertaining and sometimes very personal stories, intertwined with historically interesting facts that shed light on what Australian country hospitals were like back then and everything the staff had to deal with – all without antibiotics, disposable supplies, bitumen roads, efficient communication, medical advances and so much more that we take for granted today.
The recollections offered an insight into the character, skills, ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience and dedication of the people who were the glue that held it all together and somehow made it work.
Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, these living treasures look out for each other, keep up-to-date with each other's lives, celebrate each others' birthdays and recall the good ol' days. They chuckle when they recall amusing anecdotes, like sneaking through windows of the strictly-run Nurses Home at all hours of the night, and one time when a doctor experienced dramatic (but fortunately not serious) consequences after lighting a cigarette and dropping the match into the toilet just after an orderly had disposed of a small amount of highly flammable ether by pouring it into the toilet bowl.
They reflect incredulously on another doctor doing his evening rounds … accompanied by his dog. And then there was that patient in traction whose condition improved significantly after being accidentally dropped on the floor.
And who, walking past the lunching ladies, could pick that the frail, white-haired octogenarian with the walking frame almost got her marching orders back in the '50s for turning a blind eye to patients sneaking a cold beer into the hospital late one stiflingly hot New Year's Eve?
It's absolutely precious that these memories have been captured, and it gets better – after having been out of print for over a decade, the book has recently been given a new lease of life after a relative volunteered to turn it into a Kindle ebook to keep this amazing history alive and accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. It has surprised and delighted the book's creators no end that it has evolved into something far beyond their original idea for a small local booklet.
While still a good sized group gathering each month, their numbers are fewer now and inevitably will continue to dwindle over the coming years. With that in mind, the responsibility for the ebook has been handed over to the recipient of all proceeds, Can Assist Griffith, to ensure this wonderful history remains available. Such an asset and gift to the world – both the women themselves and the anecdotal history that has been preserved – and yet, oblivious to all this, the lunching locals walk past. All is well as anonymity is preferred. Perhaps it can be their little secret, but who could resist letting the cat out of the bag?
Maybe we could all be a little more curious when we come across elderly citizens in our day-to-day life. Who knows what we might discover?
From Bagtown to Base is available from Amazon.
Acknowledging the seven nurses who created the book: Audrey Parsons (nee Martin), Enid Atkinson (nee Kilpatrick), Rae Brown (nee Blair), Joyce Delpiano (nee Miller), Adrienne Wilson (nee McKern), Janet Moseley (nee McDonough, dec.) and Margaret McWilliam (nee Procter, dec.)