The second of five children, Diana Grant-Mackie (nee Ley) was born in Whakatane in 1937, and moved to a farm in Whangamata at the age of nine. She left school at age seventeen with school certificate having attended boarding schools in Hamilton and Auckland. Her interest in nursing came from reading a book about Marie Curie and Edward Jenner, as well as a brush with cow pox as a young girl.
Diana entered nursing school in Auckland in 1956, aged eighteen. There were a lot of country girls in her cohort at Auckland Hospital because the private school city girls tended to go to Green Lane Hospital. During the preliminary training the girls were taught practical tasks like bed making and giving bed pans. Some of Diana’s early clinical experiences involved caring for children with tuberculosis and other diseases at Princess Mary Hospital. She enjoyed working with children, but some of the experiences of working with terminally ill children were upsetting, especially as a first year nurse. At the nurses’ home the student nurses tended to provide support for each other by talking late into the night.
She explains that the nursing students gained orthopaedic experience at Middlemore Hospital and operating theatre experience at Green Lane Hospital. However, community nursing was not part of their training. Diana recollects that nursing students were financially better off than university students and other female professionals, especially since their board and lodgings were provided.
In the hospital there were strict rules and a clear hierarchy. The doctors had a superior status, ‘doctors were sort of gods’. The Ward Sisters also had to be obeyed and the student nurses had no status.
The nurses’ home had strict rules like a boarding school. Skirts had to be a certain length, shorts could not be worn out in public, and they had a curfew of 10:30pm. Diana remembers the Home Sister ‘running around, trying to catch people coming in late at night’.
A social life could be difficult because of the shift work and curfews, but there were social events and sports teams organised for the trainee nurses. There was some fraternisation between doctors and nurses. Diana recalls that the medical registrars used to have ‘beer parties’, but they were not her ‘cup of tea’. Whilst drinking was not common in the nurses’ home, Diana remarks that a lot of nurses smoked; it was the era of film stars like ‘Ava Gardener and her long cigarette holders’. Through her involvement in political groups Diana met her future husband, Jack. They became engaged when she was in her second year of nurse training and she was the first student nurse to get married in Auckland. Nursing students were typically required to leave their training if they decided to get married, but Diana wrote a letter to the Nursing Council to ask permission to get married and carry on, a request which was granted.
In 1959 after becoming a registered nurse, Diana started training in maternity at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital, which she enjoyed and ‘topped the class’. She left after three months to have her own children. During her time away from nursing, when she raised her two sons, Diana also joined the Māori Women’s Welfare League and became involved in political activist groups such as HART (Halt All Racist Tours) and CARE (Citizens Association for Facial Equality). She returned to nursing in 1976 as a district nurse at the Freeman’s Bay Clinic that was run by the St John’s Ambulance Association. The clinic provided free health care to the economically depressed area. As the district nurse she made school visits and referred sick children to the clinic. Rheumatic fever was a significant concern, so antibiotics were dispensed to treat sore throats to prevent the development of the disease. Working in the clinic, Diana developed new skills and also began to specialise in ears, nose and throat (ENT) nursing, gaining an ENT nursing certificate from the Auckland Area Health Board in 1987.
Diana later moved to the Glen Innes Whare Rapuora Women’s Health Centre when the Freeman’s Bay Clinic was closed in 1989 by the Auckland Hospital Board. Her skills as an ENT nurse were especially useful in Glen Innes because ‘the children there had terrible ear problems’. Working with Māori families was central to the duties of the Glen Innes clinic. Diana was involved with local schools, the Pacifica centre at Western Springs and the Kohanga Reo in Orakei.
During this time Diana also undertook a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Nursing Studies and Māori Studies, which she completed in 1992. She wrote her Masters’ thesis on cultural relationships and specialist nursing, and travelled overseas presenting papers on the socio-economic links to ear health. Diana reflects that she wants ‘nurses to see outside the lamplight… [to] see the surrounding society, it is as important to look after that, as it is to look after the individual patient’.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Diana Grant-Mackie: