Annette Smale (nee McKechnie) is the oldest of three daughters born to a family in Middlemarch, just outside Dunedin. As it was one of few career options for her, she decided to pursue nursing.
Annette started her training at Dunedin Hospital in June 1958. There were about thirty nursing students in her class, mostly from Otago and Southland and mainly from farming backgrounds. There was one Moriori girl whom Annette later went overseas with. There were no male nurses in Annette’s year.
Annette lived in the Nurses’ Home at Dunedin Hospital, which she really enjoyed.
The nurses moved rooms in the Nurses’ Home as they rose up the ranks. The hierarchy in the hospital dictated the behaviour of the junior nurses: they treated the senior nurses with respect. However, their relationships with the sisters changed as they gained seniority. The sisters were in charge of the juniors: Annette remembers that ‘you didn't get sick’ as the sisters did not view it kindly!
During their training, Annette’s class spent some time at other hospitals for parts of their education, including Parkside Hospital for geriatric nursing and obstetrics at Queen Mary Hospital. The Sister who took the class for obstetrics often used to say: ‘Breast feeding is baby's birth right’. Annette preferred medical nursing then, such as helping those with cardiac problems and pneumonia. She also liked surgical nursing because she enjoyed the ‘drama of the theatre’. She describes the teaching they received from most of the sisters as ‘distant’ – the students were expected to follow the senior nurses and learn ‘on the job’. When they were on night shift, the students were expected to know what to do without having had the training or experience. Annette considers the more recent university-based training as safer, as the students at least know the theory. Many student nurses did not finish their training – some student nurses got married and some became pregnant, both of which were ‘not acceptable’ and they had to leave.
Annette remembers having a busy social life – ‘there was a strict set up at the Nurses’ Home but a whole life going on around it’. Joe Brown’s Town Hall Dance was on every Saturday night, and was a ‘social hub’ for students, nurses and others, but coffee bars were more popular - if you were ‘very clever’ you could sneak out after afternoon duty to go for coffee. There was smoking – ‘Oh heavens yes!’ – which Annette recalls was part of ‘how it was’. The nurses would make sure they had time for a cigarette at break time. Annette says they did drink alcohol but not as much as young people today. She remembers drinking Cold Duck champagne and Blue Nun, and trying gin at the Nurses’ Home which she still does not like. There were intimate relationships, and many nurses became engaged. Some left to get married during training and many more left as soon as training had finished. Some returned to nursing after marriage but most did not.
The students had a break after the end of each training year, and often went on holidays together. As they were going on holidays as well as placements with each other, Annette’s class knew each other well and became close friends, with many remaining close well after the end of their training.
After her training, Annette worked at Queen Mary Hospital before moving to Auckland in 1962 to join the second cardiac course at Green Lane Hospital. She remembers this as being an exciting time of great development and pioneering work, and enjoyed it very much. Following the cardiac course, Annette was appointed as a charge nurse of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. She says this was a highlight of her nursing career, and that she had a lot of autonomy and responsibility which was unusual for nursing roles at that time. In 1963, Annette went overseas with two of her nursing friends, working first in Canada and then London. She met her husband Maurice by chance – he was working in Kent and they had known each other in New Zealand – whom she married and had two children with. They moved back to New Zealand when Annette was pregnant with her second child.
Back in New Zealand, Annette started working at Family Planning in Christchurch in 1978. At this point, Family Planning was separate from Government and each region was independent. The nurses there became more autonomous as time went on, including being able to write prescriptions and treat simple conditions without referring to a doctor. Annette loved the work, and stayed there for twenty-six years as she felt they were ‘doing something really worthwhile for women’. She learned a lot from her work, recalling that it ‘teaches you to be open and accepting of difference’.
While she sometimes wished she had done medicine, Annette considers her nursing career as having been very fulfilling.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Annette Smale: