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