Life of patient care extended to a prime minister




14-5-1924 10-1-2012


AUDREY Anderson, who has died, aged 87, at Caritas Christi Hospice in Kew, didn't allow a truncated education to deter her from high achievement.

Forced to leave school at 14, she became a highly skilled theatre nurse and nursing administrator, gaining tertiary qualifications and receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to nursing.

At the height of her career, Anderson was director of nursing of the Freemasons Hospital in East Melbourne (now Epworth Freemasons), a facility that thrived under her 25-year tenure.

The second of five children born to farmer Robert and Elsie Anderson (nee Calaby) at Tourello, near Ballarat, she left school with a merit certificate to work in a milk bar until she began nurse's training at Ballarat Base Hospital in 1942, and later the Royal Women's Hospital. After graduating, she took positions as a charge nurse before travelling to London to work at the Gordon and Brompton chest hospitals. With further experience at Baltimore's John Hopkins Hospital and the Chicago Presbyterian Hospital in the United States, she returned to Australia and in 1955 became charge nurse of the Royal Melbourne Hospital's cardiac theatres. There she assisted in pioneering heart operations and later, eye surgery. She also scrubbed for "Weary" Dunlop (later Sir Edward) when he was a surgeon and days could start at 7.30am and not finish until 11pm.

Despite this rigorous work program, she studied at night for her leaving and matriculation certificates. When RMH surgical chest teams went to Papua New Guinea in 1957 and 1961, Anderson accompanied them. Later she scrubbed for Australian eye surgeons in India and Thailand, and helped establish operating theatres there.

In 1965, she joined the theatre staff of the 158-bed Freemason's Hospital in East Melbourne, initially as senior theatre nurse and then as deputy director of nursing. Within 10 years she was director of nursing, and by 1981 assistant chief executive, nursing/medical/ancillary.

One of her patients in the early 1980s was then prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Through all this she achieved her degree in health administration. She also took part in two study tours of day surgical centres in the United States and Canada. Her retirement in 1989 was cut short when invited to return to the Freemasons as a consultant for another five years. When formal work finally ceased, she became active on committees of the Nurses Memorial Centre, Airdrie House and Kew Gardens Probus Club. She also adored gardening at home.

Anderson's siblings Grace, Bill and Alex (Sandy), and 18 nephews and nieces survive her.

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