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These two books reflect the author's interest in bringing to light the history of particular groups of Australian nurses in the 20th century.

Contradictory Stories is an oral history which exposes the day to day lived reality of nurse training at a large Melbourne hospital in the 1960s.

The Fence on the Precipice focuses on the development of child welfare nursing services in the early 20th century in response to widespread social and political concerns regarding the health of young children in Australia.

About the Author

Sheryl Brennan is a Senior Lecturer within the School of Nursing and Midwifery (SNM) at the University of Tasmania.

Sheryl completed a PhD in 2002 which investigated the historical experience of women living in isolated rural areas. Her other research interests include the history of nursing and health and women's and child health. Recently, she completed a small study of the experience of people who contracted poliiomyelitis as children in the 1950s in Tasmania.

Contradictory Stories was completed in December 2006 and The Fence on the Precipice was completed in late 2007.

Contradictory Stories An Oral History of 1960s Nursing Students

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Contradictory Stories - An Oral History of 1960s Nursing Students. By Sheryl Brennan

This is a story of growing up in nursing. It captures the homesickness, excitement and disorientation of the early days and moves on to describe how this particular group of students grew in confidence and ability and began to spread their wings. It then moves on to examine how the experience affected some areas of their later lives.

This book grew from a project in which 28 women who were nurses in a large Melbourne hospital between 1964 and 1967 took part.

As Sheryl Brennan so eloquently portrays it is very difficult for students of nursing and recent graduates of nursing to understand the apprenticeship system of nurse training. Yet the history of this apprenticeship has not only significantly shaped and moulded nursing culture, including the lives of many nurses but also the illness experiences of generations of those who have been recipients of health care. This book is a compelling and insightful oral history that will assist students of nursing and newly registered nurses to understand how the culture and complexity of nursing practice has evolved.

What a delightful and engaging read this compact but rich and rewarding text offers. Oral history is the perfect vehicle for assembling, tracing and telling (again) the narratives of life once lived by a cohort of Australian women who one day in 1964 found themselves beginning life as indentured students of nursing. As has been well established by many scholars, nursing is deeply and properly, an oral culture. 'Contradictory Stories' beautifully exemplifies this truth.

Gathering together a now well-dispersed but surprisingly sizable cohort from her original mid-sixties sorority, Brennan crafts from their ‘narrative rememberings’ a scrupulously referenced and detailed yet never overwrought collection of vignettes, recollections, shared memories and disparate analyses of life in ‘PTS’, ‘on the wards’, ‘in the home’ and, finally, somewhere well beyond. As I turned the pages those spaces/places of my training days were gently resuscitated so easy was it to resonate with these women’s nuanced descriptions and vivid recounting of individual and collective journeys to registered nurse. As the story-telling draws to a close one cannot but be impressed by the ways their experiences as novice nurses insinuated themselves deep into the fabric of their lives as women, wives and mothers.

This charming exemplar of oral history at work is a must for anyone wanting to connect with another time and set of challenges and imperatives. I will certainly add ’Contradictory Stories’ to my list of readings for any student who needs or wants to better understand the traditions and shibboleths of the nursing profession. But for the lay reader too, there is much to be mined from this volume so specific, yet universal, are many of the themes it embodies.

The Fence on the Precipice Child Welfare Nursing 1918-1930

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The Fence on the Precipice - Child Welfare Nursing 1918-1930. By Sheryl Brennan

Across Australia in the early years of the 20th century, politicians, social planners, doctors and philanthropists began to exress concern about the health of Australian children and, in particular, the numbers of babies dying needlessly. Their concern was part of an international reaction to the high infant mortality rates of the time.

This is the story of the establishment of Child Welfare Nursing in Australia with the focus primarily on Tasmania. Imbued with a desire to save lives and aware of the national imperatives to increase the population, child welfare nurses set out to establish a service for babies and their mothers that would turn around the appalling infant morbidity and mortality statistics. They were a significant part of an infant welfare movement aiming to 'modernise' families for the good of the nation.

This history is underpinned by the author's experience as a child health nurse and research for a Master's thesis. Mostly, however, it has stemmed from her interest in uncovering the often overlooked past achievements of ordinary people. Child welfare nurses were ordinary workers - the foot soldiers in what was believed to be a battle against ignorance, disorder and dirt.

I have just spent several enjoyable hours reading the carefully documented Tasmanian history of Child Welfare Nursing (1918 to 1930). Child welfare nursing, or as it is now known in many states child and family health nursing, is a widely accepted and used service by Australian families.

The insider perspective Sheryl Brennan brings to her historical analysis is a feature that distinguishes this book from other histories of the Australian Child and Family Health movement. As part of the introduction Sheryl shares her experience of mothering her own child and the learning she gained from this experience as a child and family health nurse. Sheryl’s story clearly demonstrates the disjuncture between a mother’s experiences and the scientific approach to motherhood.

This book provides an insight into the often difficult lives of the pioneering Child Welfare Nurses as they worked to improve the health of infants, young children and mothers. The nurse’s focus on health promotion is important as it distinguishes this specialty from other nursing specialties. Of importance is the strong connection this health promotion focus makes with the current work of Child and Family Health Nurses.

Nurses can learn many lessons from Myrtle Searle the Launceston Child Welfare Nurse. Myrtle demonstrated a willingness to become an activist when it probably would have been easier to stay quiet and do her job. Her role as an activist included writing political letters and talking to the press about the conditions she encountered on entering the homes of victims of the 1919 influenza epidemic.

Contemporary Child and Family Health Nurses will gain a sense of pride from this story about our history and some of the very special women who were the pioneers of our nursing specialty. Many similarities will be identified by the reader between the child health and mothering practices of the beginning 20th century and the beginning years of the 21 st century. The recognition of the importance of the early years, concerns about the risk of a flu pandemic and the need to shift from a scientific view of parenting to a partnership approach for working with parents and their families remain contemporary themes for child and family health nurses.