Lyvia Marama Marsden (nee Wharaara-Toka) was born in Dargaville in 1943, with a Maori mother and English father. At the end of her primary schooling, Lyvia was given the opportunity to attend boarding school in Auckland. The village people held a hangi and concert and raised enough money to fund her studies. She boarded at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School from 1959 to 1960. When she discussed her future with the headmistress Miss Gardener the latter suggested she go nursing.
Lyvia began at Green Lane Hospital Preliminary School in January 1961. There were two other Maori girls in her class, and one Indian girl. There were very strict rules about uniforms, which was not new to Lyvia as she had gone to boarding school. After she had finished Prelim, she chose to go to Auckland Hospital because it was close to town and she loved dancing. The junior nurses’ duties included bed pans and basic nursing care. Lyvia recalls that some people complained about their cleaning tasks but that she told them that it was ‘part of the journey’: ‘you’ve got to get through the kitchen before you can get to the throne’. There were morning, afternoon and night shifts, and the students least preferred the night shifts because they had more responsibility.
Lyvia says that ‘nursing was nursing in those days’: there were relationships built between the nurses and the patients because ‘you were there at the beck and call for everything that person needed’, which she says is different now. She recalls the joy of seeing someone who had been very sick become well. Lyvia got on with all the nurses, and said she was never shown any racism. She explains how uniforms defined the nurse, and the importance of peer groups.
Lyvia discusses her room and the food in the Nurses’ Home. She recalls there was great camaraderie among the nurses, and that there was no hierarchy within the living quarters: everyone could get to know the nurses in the other years. They had a curfew, but Lyvia says that ‘the only time it didn't seem reasonable was when you wanted to go out dancing all night at the weekend’. She says that ‘it was a wonderful life’. The nurses always had toast for morning tea with peanut butter and golden syrup on it, ‘that was a nurse special’. Visitors were allowed in their rooms, and Lyvia’s sister sometimes stayed over. Lyvia remembers that it was not difficult to have a boyfriend, and that she met her husband Roy Chant during her training, who was an orderly at Cornwall Hospital. Lyvia considers living in the Nurses’ Home was like living in a hotel.
Lyvia recalls that the staff nurses were ‘brilliant’, and that the ward sisters were matriarchs but their power meant ‘some of them were not nice’. She is glad that polytechnic training has come in because ‘that was a culture that needed to be broken’. Male nurses were rare but very good, and helped lift patients to prevent bedsores. Lyvia failed one final exam because she was busy preparing for her wedding, but resat it six months later. She qualified as a registered nurse in 1964. She believes she had great training, and that it gave her confidence. She explains how the perfect situation would be a combination of the old and new training.
Most of Lyvia’s classmates became staff nurses, although a number of them left after marriage. Lyvia worked at the hospital until the first of her two children was born in 1966. She worked for a nursing bureau between having children, working part-time in rest homes and private hospitals. In 1973, she separated from her husband and began working at the Accident and Emergency department at Auckland Hospital. She later became a district nurse in Takapuna, the hours of which were suited for childcare. She had no specific district nurse training, but felt it was a personal learning time for her. She says she felt privileged because her Maori mother and Pakeha father allowed her to be in both worlds. In the late 1970s, Lyvia set up a small rest home in the house next door, which she ran for several years. She then became a practice nurse for fourteen years. She explains how district nursing had changed her life and how dealing with dying patients in the community was difficult at that time.
Lyvia was a founding member of the National Council of Maori Nurses, which was established out of concerns that there were so few qualified Maori nurses. She explains the institutional racism that the Council was confronting.
Lyvia set up Te Puna Hauora Clinic, a Maori health provider, at the Akoranga marae in Northcote, Auckland, in 1995. This was pan-tribal and so it belonged to anyone in the community who needed it, including Pakeha. She based the constitution of the clinic on indigenous concepts, and says she enjoyed the challenge of putting the best of two worlds together. The clinic was expanded with the help of funding, and in 2004 it won the Health Innovations for Maori Models of Care Award, and the Supreme award for IMAP and Best Whanau Ora Provider in New Zealand. The clinic ran into trouble when Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) were established: Livia formed a partnership with one North Shore PHO which she describes as being ‘a two-edged sword’. The joint PHO had a board of directors that was both mainstream and Maori, which was a barrier to Maori governance of Te Puna Hauora. Lyvia says that the framework of the clinic is continued today by Whanau Ora.
Lyvia says that she strongly benefitted from the hospital training system, and says she could not have afforded to train as a nurse without being paid at that time. She considers nursing to have shaped her achievements, and says that ‘I’m proud to belong to the profession, I really am’. She is optimistic about the future of Maori nursing and Maori healthcare.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Lyvia Marsden: