Purpose and Passion

After training for four years between Perth and Adelaide to become a Registered Nurse, Shirley entered the workforce and discovered the many different paths that nursing can take you. 

In 1957 Shirley ventured to Melbourne to obtain her midwifery qualification, but before doing so, she met her future husband, Bob. 

“He was an Adelaide man and we met in Adelaide; we were set up on a blind date would you believe it!”

“His friend and my friend set us up and begrudgingly we got together.”

“But he was such a lovely person, right from the word go.”

“I went to my friend Judy after she set us up and I told her, ‘I am going to marry that man’.”

For Shirley’s first few years establishing her career as a nurse in the workforce, she took on a lot of agency work. 

It wasn’t until the 60’s that she tells me her career took off in a completely different direction. 

“I ended up working in the head injury unit down at Hampstead.”

“It was the best career move that ever happened to me, I just thought it was fabulous.”

Shirley tells me it’s hard to put it into words why that job meant so much to her, but this is her attempt:

“Because you are dealing with a lot of car accidents and things like that, you can imagine there is a lot of young people as patients and although it was confronting, there were a couple of lads that really stood out to me.”

“One was my patient, Steve, who had suffered a head injury from falling off his push bike at age 12, and I believe he received quite a significant settlement.

“His family had bought a business which eventually went broke, and then they all disappeared and left Steve by himself.

“He didn’t have a very good history, but I connected with him, and for the five years I nursed for him, he would call me mum.”

Shirley is so fond of the success and impact she made on her patients’ lives whilst nursing in the Brain Injury Unit. She knows she achieved great things for the young people on her ward and is proud of it. 

“I think one of the reasons I was so successful with the young patients, was because I had teenage sons at the time, and I just knew what would work and what wouldn’t.”

“I felt I was really doing something.”

Shirley was amongst the nurses and health professionals that moved out to Julia Farr, formerly known as The Home for Incurables, when her Unit was shifted from Hampstead. 

Shirley eventually left the workforce and that’s when her second life took off…travelling.

“My children were grown up, two out of three of my children got into nursing, and my husband and I went travelling.”

“It all began because our 25th wedding anniversary was coming up.

“I said to Bob that we weren’t going to have a party because I always end up doing all the work!

“I said ‘what say we go on a trip or something’, and so, we were thinking about Bali.”

Shirley tells me that they had considered a few other places too, like Darwin or Queensland.

“Then one day Bob comes home and drops this pamphlet on the table…for the Greek islands.

“He said to me, ‘what do you think about this?’

“I said ‘when do we leave’.”

With a retirement full of overseas travel, watching her children excel in their respective careers and a sense of fulfilment from her former working life, Shirley is a very kind, happy lady with a soft and infectious smile.

Thanks Shirley.

“And on the fifth time we met, we got married!”

I sat down last week with Aussie grown, Ness Leal, from Murray Bridge to listen to her honourable story of serving in the WAAF division of the Air Force. 

A little while ago I had heard in passing conversation that Ness had not only served in the Air Force but had achieved a status at the top of her class. When I heard this, I had an instant desire to talk to Ness and find out more. 

She agreed to meet with me, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled, I live for these stories. It is just simply, a time so different from now.

Something that might seem common or accepted to us in 2019, like a woman joining the military, was monumental in Ness’ time in the 1940s. 

When Ness was growing up, she was the sibling to four boys. Education was not valued for women back then. She graduated Primary school and that was the extent of her education…until the military. 

“Now I didn’t sign on for long, only 12 months in 1942, this was a time prior to conscription for full time service.”

“I was stationed at Victor Harbour as a cook, the men were flying out and taking the food out to the islands, where they were fighting.”

“When I began, I was only one of two WAAF cooks and there were ten RAAF (men) cooks.”

“The WAAF’s were known as the Women Auxiliary Australian Air Force, and we were employed in jobs that the men formerly performed, so that Australia could release the men for service and combat.”

“By the time my 12 months had come to an end, there were only two RAAF (men) cooks and at least twelve WAAF.”

So, you could see how important Ness’ role was for her time, an honoured job to be releasing men for combat. 

“There is no WAAF now, in fact, just after I left, the division became the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force. Of course, now it is all just called the RAAF and women can perform any job they please.”

During her time serving, Ness met her husband, Cecil, who she affectionately tells me was a “foot-slogger” in the army. 

“He should have never been able to join up because he was Railway Fire Fighter on the Eyre Peninsula, which was considered another form of servicemen or essential services.”

“But he wanted to join and so he told the military he was only a labourer, and he got in.”

“He was age 24 and I was only 18… there’s another story for you!”

Ness picks up a pitch in her voice that wasn’t there before, a hint of mischievousness I would call it. 

“I had only met him once before we started writing to each other, I was in Melbourne after that, while he was off taking his commanders course.”

“On the fifth time we met…we got married!”

Ness is a proud war-widow, mother and matriarch of five generations beneath her. 

She is lovingly known by her great grandchildren as “Old Nan”. 

Thanks Ness.