Born in 1937 in Papatoetoe, Auckland, Anne Tjaberings (nee Comer) grew up on small farm. She was one of four children, and part of a religious family. Anne began thinking about nursing while she was an assistant dental nurse. She applied to Auckland Hospital but was turned down for not having her School Certificate. However, they recommended psychiatric nursing, which Anne pursued.
Anne began her nursing training at Auckland Mental Hospital (later named Oakley and then Carrington Hospital) in 1957, and says she ‘loved it’. The other student nurses in her class were from all over New Zealand, including some Maori, and they were all friendly with one another. Male and female patients were separated in the hospital so she only worked with the women, but there was a mix of male and female students.
Anne remembers Auckland Hospital being much stricter than the mental hospital that she worked at. The psychiatric nurses were allowed to get married during their training – as Anne did – while the general nursing students were made to leave their training if they married. However, the psychiatric nursing students still had a curfew at the Nurses’ Home.
The psychiatric nurses had a lot of jobs to fulfil. Anne assisted with treatments including electro-convulsive therapy and insulin treatment. She says there were few medications in the 1950s, but as a student she assisted senior nurses giving medications and injections. She would also sit in on discussions between psychiatrists, medical doctors and the ward charge nurse about diagnoses, treatments and care, and answer questions put to her. Anne describes a typical day on the wards, including occupational therapy.
There were also classes held in the lecture room by Sisters, doctors and pharmacists, but ‘a lot of the learning, as I recall, we just had to do ourselves’. She remembers the lectures as being quite boring: she once sewed lace onto her wedding dress at back of the classroom during a lecture. The role of the junior nurses was not just medical, however: they did a lot of cleaning as there was no cleaning staff.
Anne met her husband, also a psychiatric nurse, when in Australia in 1959. They married in 1960 and had three children, and fostered a preschool girl in the late 1970s. In 1962 Anne and her husband travelled to Europe for several years before returning to Auckland in 1965.
Anne then finished her training at Carrington Hospital becoming a registered nurse in February 1966 and worked as a staff nurse at Carrington Hospital, and later at several other hospitals in New Zealand and in Brisbane. Over the years she worked with a number of nursing students and graduates, often giving in-ward lectures. While the graduate nurses had ‘high tech’ education, they had little psychiatric nurse preparation, and not many chose psychiatric nursing in the later twentieth century. She recalls them seeming ‘at a loss’, and that they ‘didn't know what to do’: ‘I felt sorry for them’.