Margaret Harraway (nee Marriott) was born in Dunedin 1947 and was brought up in Otago by her mother, grandmother and an aunt. Margaret recalls that when she was growing up the career options for women were teaching, social work or nursing. Upon leaving school Margaret went to university to study English and worked at Cherry Farm Mental Hospital over the summer. A serious car accident interrupted her studies and in 1967, she returned to Cherry Farm to recoup her financial loss. The Matron refused to accept her unless she agreed to train as a nurse. She recounts that her mother did not approve of her working at the mental hospital or as a nurse.
When Margaret began training in 1967 she was one of twenty-six students in the class. Men and women trained together in Preliminary school, attending classes in first aid, basic anatomy and physiology, nursing history and hospital rules. When the students began on the wards they were doing the ‘grunt work’: they were responsible for clothing, showering and bathing patients. As well as this the junior nurses cleaned the wards alongside patients, scrubbing floors and cleaning walls and bed wheels. Margaret explains that this experience helped her to get to know patients ‘on a human to human basis’.
Margaret recalled that some male nurses were unwilling to partake in the cleaning duties whereas the female nurses were more compliant. ‘This is the 1960s, you were obedient, you did as you were told. If you were told to scrub bed wheels and line them up in perfect order, you did it.’ At the Nurses’ Home, however, Margaret recounts breaking the ‘uniformly, stupidly strict’ rules.
Other than the strict rules Margaret remembers the Nurses’ Home as a good place to live. It created a social environment of inclusion for all staff. There was ‘lots of laughter, lots of crazy suppers, lots of giggles,’ which created close and long-lasting friendships. Margaret describes having a busy social life. After work it was common to go swimming, out to parties or take trips to the West Coast or Central Otago. Parties often involved drinking large amounts of alcohol: ‘this was the norm for many people’.
The concepts of ‘therapeutic relationship’ and group work were introduced when Margaret was in her second year. While still a student, she ran group workshops for young men teaching them social skills. Psychotropic drugs became common treatments for psychiatric patients at a time when ‘people didn’t know what the heck to do’ with severe psychotic symptoms. Margaret describes the patients being given huge doses of medication, often resulting in negative, distressing side effects. As a student she felt that there was nothing she could do to change patient treatments. ‘Who were we to question the doctor?’
By the end of her training Margaret felt that she needed a break from psychiatric nursing. ‘It was an extremely stressful job. All the time you had to have your wits about you.’ She moved to Christchurch to study a double degree in sociology and psychology. Her partner Frederick, who had also been a nurse at Cherry Farm, joined her. At the end of the university year, needing to earn some money, Margaret took a job as a psychiatric nurse at Sunnyside Hospital. She notes that conditions at Sunnyside were much better than at Cherry Farm. Not only were the medications better and the doses lower, there was also less formality in the hospital hierarchy. Subordinate nurses did not have to stand when the ward charge nurse entered and nurses were known by their first names: ‘it was a totally different culture’.
Between 1972 and 1987 Margaret’s career was based in education. She worked as a nurse tutor initially at Sunnyside but later took educator roles at other hospitals and at Manawatu Polytechnic. In 1981 she completed her BA in English at the University of Otago. In 1987 when Sunnyside hospital closed, Margaret was contracted to write a history of the School of Nursing, which she titled “End of an Era” (1992). It was also during this time that Margaret married and had her two children. After having her first child in 1977, she took a year off and moved to Dunedin to be closer to family. Alongside raising her young family she worked part-time in various roles. She faced very challenging times when her husband suffered a serious brain haemorrhage when Margaret was seven months pregnant with her second child. Although Fred recovered to some extent, ‘he never got back to his old self’ and was unable to work. Despite this being an extremely stressful time, Margaret reflects that experiencing hardship helped her be a better nurse.
By the late 1980s Margaret decided to move back from education to clinical nursing, and took a bridging course through Christchurch Polytechnic. The course taught general nursing skills which allowed registered psychiatric nurses to become registered comprehensive nurses. After completing the course Margaret spent a couple of years back at Sunnyside Hospital and in 1991 took a job working in Forensics Psychiatric Services for Healthlink South. She worked as a community charge nurse and a staff educator. Patients were referred through the legal system from courts and prisons. Margaret describes how it could be challenging to deal with patients ‘who had done things that were pretty awful’.
During the latter part of Margaret’s career, she did a diverse range of jobs. She worked in staff development, then as a researcher for a prison prevalence study, followed by working in a support role for nursing students in bridging courses. In 1997 Margaret helped write mental health policies before travelling to London in 2002 where she did special nursing and clinical supervision: ‘It was my O.E. at 53’. Returning to New Zealand in 2003 Margaret worked in various roles from staff nurse on a dual diagnosis (mental health and intellectual disability) unit to district mental health nursing. She retired in 2011. Margaret reflects that through her career she has found that the point of nursing is engagement with, and caring for people, 'the people who meant anything to you were the people I had touched on the way. That is what made the job worth doing'.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Margaret Harraway: