Hilary Black (nee Reaney) was born in Napier in 1947. She grew up in the area until her father took a job in Gisborne in 1963. Her mother who had been a nurse before having children, had served as a volunteer in Second World War. Hilary describes that when she was growing up she would watch and help her mother care for her two brothers who were often unwell with asthma. ‘I suppose I just soaked up the things she said and did without really thinking about it too much’. From a very young age she showed an interest in nursing.
Hilary applied to do her nurse training in Napier because she knew the area having grown up there. She describes nurse training as starting a ‘completely different way of life’. Having gained School Certificate and University Entrance, Hilary recalls that she had had more education than many of the other nursing students. This was an advantage when learning subjects such as anatomy and physiology. There was a high drop-out rate, with only seven of the initial class of thirty-one completing the training. The duties of first-year nurses involved cleaning the wards, bedpans and giving bed-baths. Hilary recounts that there was a big emphasis on patient hygiene. The junior nurses were responsible for preventing bedsores.
Nurses did a lot of learning on the job. Hilary describes learning by watching the more senior nurses. The nursing students would attend classes to learn the theory aspects of the nursing. Hilary explains that the combination of theory and practical experience helped with the learning process. ‘We could match our learning - our practical work - with theory and it just stood us in such good stead’.
The nursing staff had a clear hierarchy. As a junior nurse, Hilary describes having to be very polite and well behaved around more senior staff. The nurses had titles based on their rank , such as ‘sister’, ‘staff nurse’ and ‘nurse’. The hierarchy enabled the nurses to know their responsibilities and what was required of them. Hilary recalls that the authority that the sister held could ‘make for some unhappy times’ because many were strict and treated junior staff poorly.
The student nurses lived in at the Nurses’ Home. Hilary describes it as being a lot of fun with the thirty-one new students all moving in together. However there were also some strict rules and curfews. If the girls were not back by the curfew, Hilary explains, the Home Sister would reprimand them.
Living together meant that there was always someone to talk to when nurses came off duty. The nursing students would often go to the movies together in the evening. Concerts and dances would be held by the nurses at the Nurses’ Home. Hilary recounts that August was ball season in Napier. There was a sense of camaraderie with these social events, with girls swapping dresses and getting ready together.
After graduating in 1968, Hilary worked at Hawera Hospital for nine months so that she could live at home and save to go travelling. In 1969 Hilary travelled on her own to England. She initially worked in St Hilda’s Hospital in Hartlepoole as a staff nurse. Hilary recalls that the other staff took some time to accept her, and she felt as though she had to prove herself. She later undertook a coronary care course at the National Heart Hospital in London and then signed on to a nurses’ agency and worked at St Margaret’s Hospital, Essex. During this time she was able to take breaks and travel throughout Europe. Hilary describes nursing as a useful career to have when working overseas because the job came hand-in-hand with accommodation.
Hilary returned to New Zealand 1972, and went back to work at Hawera Hospital. She met her husband-to-be Montague (Monty) who was an Anglican curate in Hawera. They married in August of 1972, and moved to Wellington several months later. Hilary had her two sons in 1974 and 1978. Initially Hilary stopped working when she married, but later took a part-time job at a residential care home a couple of afternoons a week to support the family income. She was unable to keep the job long term as her husband’s work as an Anglican priest required them to shift to a new parish.
When they settled in Stratford in 1983, Hilary’s younger son was due to start school, which enabled her to take a part-time job as staff nurse at the Stratford Hospital. The extra income was very helpful. Hilary and her family moved to Hastings in 1986 and she worked as a recovery nurse for a couple of years before becoming a practice nurse in 1988. She describes working very collegially with the doctor at the Hastings Clinic. ‘It was one of my happiest working situations’.
In 2006, Hilary decided that the parish that she and her husband were a part of needed a parish nurse. This role involved caring for people in a holistic way, looking after people’s ‘body, mind and… spirit’. She set up and managed the pastoral care, such as providing meals and taking parishioners to specialist appointments. She also ran a men’s health information evening and clinic. Hilary describes that in this role as Parish Nurse in the Parish of Onslow Anglicans in Wellington, she used all the things that she had learnt in her ‘whole life’.
Hilary retired from nursing in 2012. She reflects that she cannot imagine having done any other career. ‘I think I was programmed from a very early age [to be a nurse]. I think ending up doing parish nursing was the best thing I’ve ever done.’
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Hilary Black: