Nursing the stories of the past 


A unique museum based at Charles Darwin University (CDU) was under the spotlight at a major conference in Brisbane recently.

Janie Mason, senior lecturer in health sciences at CDU, presented a paper about the Northern Territory Nursing Museum at the Museums Australia conference Exploring Dynamics.

“Nursing anecdotes are told and re-told, in ward tea rooms and at nurses’ reunions, and then too often they are lost. The museum collects nursing stories and artefacts, to ensure this important part of our history is preserved.

“Each piece in the collection has a connection to nursing in northern Australia or to nurses significant to our history. The items represent nursing in the bush, remote areas and townships. They come from mission times, war times, government settlements and cattle stations,” Janie said.

From two empty glass cabinets in 1986, the museum is now managed by electronic cataloguing and items are conserved and stored professionally. The collection has expanded to a point where the curators now find it is impossible to display everything.

In recent years, the museum has managed a number of temporary and permanent exhibitions in the community - for special events, local libraries and Darwin Private Hospital. Memorial plaques have also been installed for nurses at the Darwin Cenotaph and Adelaide River, which was the site of a large base in World War Two.

“It is not a medical museum. Our collecting policy focuses on nurses and nursing – artefacts must have been part of nursing practice and intrinsic to nursing history,” said Janie.

There is a huge variety of memorabilia in the collection, including Queen’s and Australian honours, hospital badges and certificates, registration papers, uniforms, photographs and text books, which have been are loaned and donated by Territory nurses (past and present), local residents, relatives of nurses, and from deceased estates.

The museum has also grown from only collecting, to analysing the place of artefacts within the nursing story.

The Nursing Museum can visited at Building 23, CDU’s Casuarina Campus.