Book recalls the early years of nursing in WA

Retired nurse Betty Crombie with copies of Our Foot Steps on the Wards 1953-2003. Picture: David Baylis d428796
Retired nurse Betty Crombie with copies of Our Foot Steps on the Wards 1953-2003. Picture: David Baylis d428796

Betty Crombie spoke about the nature of nursing at the annual St Georges Cathedral service on Sunday, November 16, a year after she published Our Foot Steps on the Wards 1953-2003, the first history ever written of enrolled nursing in WA.

Ms Crombie said researching and writing the book was a monumental task, but she treasured the memory of its arrival fresh off the press.

‘You’ve got no idea how many times that little black USB nearly went in the bin,’ she said.

‘But I knew I couldn’t let the enrolled nurses down.

‘When I finally opened up the box, I thought, ‘My God, I’ve done it’.’

Ms Crombie’s 47-year career included postings at Armadale, Bentley, Royal Perth, Mt Henry, Manjimup and Katanning hospitals.

In 1994, on the way home from a conference, she pondered a conversation between herself and other enrolled nurses who had travelled from around Australia to attend the conference, which revealed their mutual lack of knowledge about the history of their profession.

No one knew who had created their curriculum, how tutors were chosen, how examinations were organised or what bodies governed their profession.

With these questions and many more in mind, Ms Crombie soon found that hospital and training records had not always been archived or even kept in WA.

She then began research that ended in the publication of Our Foot Steps on the Wards.

Her book chronicles metropolitan and country hospitals and the roles they played to train enrolled nurses, right back to a time they faced rigid, and sometimes unforgiving discipline on and off-duty.

Ms Crombie’s record shows how much has changed for the nurses she said formed the ‘backbone’ of WA hospitals ” but she said some things never changed.

‘Nursing has to be what you really want,’ she said.

‘It has to be within you and it won’t be in the lecture room you learn the most, but from your patients.’