Kathy a born nurse

Central and North Burnett Times - - LIFE­STYLE - TRACEY JOHN­STONE

KATHY Quirk has watched the ebb and flow of the gen­er­a­tions in the Ather­ton Table­lands town of Her­ber­ton for more than five decades.

The 67-year-old was an en­rolled nurse at Her­ber­ton Hospi­tal for 50 ex­tra­or­di­nary years. Be­fore her re­cent re­tire­ment, Kathy had the long­est ca­reer of any cur­rent Queens­land nurse, and was the long­est-serv­ing in­dige­nous nurse still work­ing in Aus­tralia.

Nurs­ing was Kathy’s first job af­ter leav­ing Her­ber­ton State School and it has re­mained her only job. She had al­ways wanted to be a nurse and had a dream of work­ing at Cootharing­a in Townsville, which pro­vides sup­port to chil­dren and adults with dis­abil­i­ties.

But re­ally, she didn’t want to leave town where her sin­gle mother and five sib­lings were still liv­ing, and where the fam­ily’s gen­er­a­tions lived be­fore her.

Luck­ily for Kathy her mother found out the ma­tron was look­ing for a nurse’s aide. Kathy got the job on a three­month trial.

“From there I just stuck it out,” she said.

“It was like a fam­ily thing,” Kathy added.

Her mother worked at the hospi­tal for some 30 years. One of her sis­ters worked there for 20 years in the laun­dry and kitchen. Kathy worked as an un­reg­is­tered nurse’s aide for about 10 years be­fore she headed 100km down the hill to the TAFE in Cairns to do her nurs­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course.

She re­mem­bers the early days of the busy ma­ter­nity ward and when some moth­ers had to adopt out their ba­bies. Th­ese are fam­ily se­crets she holds close to her chest.

“We got at­tached to those lit­tle ba­bies. It was sad when we had to say good­bye to them,” Kathy said.

The hospi­tal changed dra­mat­i­cally about 35 years ago, when the gen­eral and ma­ter­nity care was moved to the ma­jor health hub at Ather­ton District Memo­rial Hospi­tal, leav­ing Her­ber­ton Hospi­tal with 38 beds for aged care and pal­lia­tive care pa­tients.

“It’s hard as when they get in there all they want to do is go home,” Kathy mused about the pre­dom­i­nately for­mer farm­ers. “We have had a few climb fences to get out.”

Kathy has hap­pily stayed as an en­rolled nurse work­ing on the front­line.

“I find I can do bet­ter with hands-on nurs­ing,” she said. “I hate pa­per­work”.

As her re­tire­ment date ap­proached Kathy re­ceived many ac­co­lades from within her com­mu­nity. One she shared was from Wendy, whose mother was ad­mit­ted to Her­ber­ton Hospi­tal in 1996.

‘This was a ter­ri­bly stress­ful time for my fam­ily and I,” Wendy wrote. “The guilt we felt in hav­ing to ad­mit mum to Her­ber­ton was over­whelm­ing. Kathy was one of the nurses who set­tled our guilt and grief at leav­ing mum at Her­ber­ton through her per­son­alised care and at­ten­tion to­wards mum, but very in­clu­sive of our large fam­ily.’’

Kathy said she would take with her many lovely mem­o­ries of her time at the hospi­tal and some of the pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those who didn’t have fam­ily vis­it­ing them un­til it was too late.

“We’re their fam­ily,” she said qui­etly.

Pic­ture: Con­tributed

ON THE FRONT­LINE: Kathy Quirk was a nurse at Her­ber­ton Hospi­tal for more than 50 years.

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