Exhibition marks International Nurses Day 

From left to right: Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Nursing Sister Jo, Jacqueline “Jaci” O’Brian OAM and Health Minister Kon Vatskalis with the portrait and story of Sister Mary Agatha.

Charles Darwin University marked International Nurses Day with an exhibition that tracks the achievements of some the Territory’s extraordinary nursing pioneers.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Charles Webb welcomed the Territory’s Health Minister, Kon Vatskalis, who opened the exhibition “From Nightingale to Osburn and Territory pioneers”.

Minister Vatskalis said this year marked the 100th International Nurses Day, which commemorated the birth of Florence Nightingale. “This day is celebrated to remember all of the valuable contributions nurses make to society,” he said.

Professor Webb said CDU has a long and distinguished history of nursing and nurse studies. “The undergraduate nurse program currently accounts for around 1100 students and makes up the most successful program in terms of numbers at CDU,” he said.

“This is a tribute to our nursing staff over the years. They have continued to strive to develop and deliver a new and innovative curriculum. “The university is proud of the developments and growth in the nursing discipline and is committed to seeing it continue to thrive.”

Pioneer and leader in Territory nursing Jacqueline “Jaci” O’Brian OAM delivered a speech complete with stories about frontier nurses appearing in the exhibition and the origins of nursing and how it spread from Europe.

“If you were to ask anyone on the street, from any state or any country ‘What is the most common feature of hospitals?’ they would say ‘a nurse’,” she said. “Without nurses and their constant presence and patience, no treatments or procedures would ever take place.”

She spoke in detail about Florence Nightingale, who fought over decades for better hospitals and revolutionised hospital construction and management throughout the world. Eight other frontier nurses who were instrumental in striving for the development of nursing education in the Territory, including Ms O’Brian, also featured in the exhibition.

She said the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart had provided almost 100 years of teaching and nursing service to the Territory, arriving in 1912 to work on Bathurst Island. “Back then their medical kit contained Castor oil, Epson salts, Vaseline and eucalyptus oil…..but they had a thermometer! They used to get their sutures from the ligaments of the tail of a kangaroo.”

Other photos and artifacts tell the stories of Lorraine Brennan MBE and Llorabel Reynolds OAM, Eileen “Tuffy” Jones OAM worked in Aboriginal settlements and then three decades in leprosy. Of particular historic importance was the portrait of Sister Mary Agatha, a Brinkin Brinkin woman from Daly River country, and her story from bush life to a mission an on to professed religious and nurse.

The exhibition will remain on display on level 3 of Orange 12.