Defying racism to pursue her dreams
Sally Goold is a role model for younger generations
AS A 16-year-old, Sally Goold could not understand why people scoffed at her plan to become a nurse.
She could not do that, they told her – she was Aboriginal. “Of course I will,” she said. And she did. She became the first Aboriginal student nurse employed at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and one of the first Aboriginal nurses in New South Wales.
Mrs Goold, now retired and living on Bribie Island, still cannot quite explain how, as a teenager, she put racism and adversity behind her to pursue her dream.
“I was puzzled by it, I can tell you, but I didn’t believe it” she said.
“I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do’ and I did it.”
She thinks her dream to become a nurse stemmed from hospital admissions as a child.
After leaving school at 14, she worked in a retail store until she was old enough to apply for nursing.
Mrs Goold never found out why the Royal Prince Alfred matron decided, upon interview, to give her the opportunity to be a nurse when so many others had told her it was not possible.
“I am eternally grateful to her for giving me a go,” she said.
“But the hierarchical structure of nursing then, and I think it still is, but not as much, was so well-defined that for a young person to approach a senior person was unheard of.”
So proud was Mrs Goold’s family when she was accepted into nursing that her parents and six siblings chipped in to buy her what she needed to start her new career.
Her oldest brother, a married father of three, gave her the winnings from a horse race to buy her textbooks, while another sibling and their spouse borrowed money to buy her a nurse’s watch.
Mrs Goold worked in various hospitals over the subsequent years, and was approached to help set up and run the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern with Fred Hollows and nurse activist Dulcie Flower.
She later moved to Queensland to work in coronary care.
She remembers the Aboriginal Medical Service as a tough job where demands were high and resources scarce – donations of pharmaceuticals were sourced from chemists and her wages were paid by the Aboriginal Legal Service.
“But it was a good time. It was in the ’70s and it was just when Aboriginal people were starting to assert themselves,” Mrs Goold said.
“Fred Hollows was great. He was a lovely person, and his wife, Gabi, is a lovely woman, too.”
Mrs Goold went on to complete a degree and masters in nursing, and lectured at university for six years.
She has received an Order of Australia for her services to nursing education and Aboriginal health, a Royal College of Nursing Distinguished Nursing Award, and an honorary doctorate in nursing from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
She has also served a term as a CMC commissioner and sat on the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council.
Mrs Goold said racism was never far away during her career.
“Many tears were shed” over difficult or unreasonable superiors or racist patients while she was training.
And although great camaraderie existed among the young nurses she trained with, there were times during her career when she felt “barriers” against her.
The barriers, while distressing, were not insurmountable and most of the time she was so focussed on the job that a lot of it “went over my head”.
Several years ago, Mrs Goold was stunned to read the comments of a tutor sister who had written on her training report that “this nurse is totally incapable of learning”.
“I thought, ‘If she could see me now’,” she said.
The young Sally had failed her initial exams. But the tutor sister’s comments had failed to take into account her disadvantaged background or that she had never really studied before.
You focus. You have to focus on what it is you want to do, and keep your eye on
During research for her masters degree on why Australia had so few Aboriginal nurses, Mrs Goold found racist attitudes and discriminatory practices by academic staff and students, and staff and patients, contributed towards low numbers of Aboriginal nurses, and that promotion of the profession to Aboriginal students, and support systems for them as they entered the profession, fell short.
Mrs Goold established the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses in 1997 to encourage more Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders into nursing and to stay in the profession.
“I’m pleased to say it has improved,” she said.
To others struggling, whether in nursing or other professions, she had one simple piece of advice. “You focus,” she said. “You have to focus on what it is you want to do, and keep your eye on the prize.”
TRAILBLAZER: Sally Goold was one of the first Aboriginal nurses in NSW.
had A PATRIOT: Sunshine Coast 2014 Australia Day ambassador Sally Goold.
INSPIRING: Fred Hollows.