Pieter Tjaberings was born in 1929 in a large Dutch family living in Indonesia. Life in Indonesia was good until World War Two. Once Singapore fell to the Japanese, the family was split up, ‘we were all on the run’ and the family ‘lost everything’. Pieter’s father, brother and two brothers-in-law were killed and the rest of his family were sent to Prisoner of War camps. Pieter was 12 year old. His years in the camps and during the post-war political unrest exposed him to deprivation and danger but he learned a life-long lesson, ‘Why hate?’ Afterward the War, Pieter’s family moved to Holland where he resumed his studies and later decided to move to New Zealand in 1951 – he wanted ‘to go to a peaceful country’.
In New Zealand, Pieter worked in telephone and dam construction, which he says was easy work compared to what he had been used to in the Prisoner of War camp. In 1956, he saw an advertisement for Avondale Mental Hospital, and began working there almost instantly – he remembers that ‘they were short of staff’.
Pieter started as an attendant at Avondale Hospital, and found it interesting to work with mentally ill patients. His duties ranged from bathing patients to being on telephone exchange at the front entrance after hours. Much of the attendants’ work was outside: Pieter took the patients out in work-gangs to gardens, farms or orchards, and remembers one group that painted the hospital. There was also yard work supervising games , such as tennis. Male attendants’ quarters were separate from females.
Pieter did not start nurse training straight away; he first had to have a discussion with the head male nurse to see if he would be suited to the job. He enjoyed the lectures : the trainees fitted their classes around their shift work, having lectures in the mornings or afternoons depending on how busy they were. The classroom was the only place in the hospital where male and female students mixed, and the hospital had a strict hierarchy among the male workers.
Pieter recalls the pay and conditions at Avondale Mental Hospital as being ‘pretty good’. He says that overtime was readily available, and that holidays were easily taken. Pieter also remembers that the safety of the workers was carefully maintained. Staff included occupational therapists.
Pieter met his future wife, Anne, who was also a psychiatric nurse, during the annual carol singing on Christmas Eve. They married in 1960, and had their honeymoon in Noumea. Pieter was later asked to do a patient escort to Vienna, which he was able to do as he and Anne both already had passports, an fairly unusual phenomenon at that time . They spent several years in Europe, travelling and working in both nursing and non-hospital jobs. In 1965, Pieter returned to Avondale Mental Hospital, which was renamed Oakley in the 1960s. He recalls noticing a number of changes in patient care and treatment that had occurred in his time away, including a greater attempt to separate different categories of patients. In the early 1970s, he became a psychiatric home visitor, part of a new initiative introduced by the hospital to ‘keep an eye on’ out-patients. Much of Pieter’s work in the hospital was with the more dangerous men in Male 3 and Male 7.
Pieter moved to Lake Alice Hospital in Marton in 1977.where he worked at the National Security Unit. He remembers the good facilities: a modern building, with close-circuit TV, well-staffed and well organised. Pieter had little to do with nursing students as the Unit needed people with experience. Although the patients could not go out into the gardens, there was occupational therapy for some patients.
In 1981, Pieter and Anne moved to Australia, and worked in several cities. In Belleview, Pieter worked with female patients for the first time, which he says was ‘a bit different’ but that he got used to it. They returned to New Zealand in 1983 and Pieter went back to work at Lake Alice, where he continued until his retirement. Pieter says that he ‘felt sorry’ for the patients he dealt with over the course of his career as ‘they can’t help it’. He considers his experiences during the war to have influenced his attitudes to psychiatric nursing – he learned to be fair and to appreciate things.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Pieter Tjaberings: