PostHeaderIcon AMY COLLINS


Mum was always a good and interesting listener. And I would bring home any newsy anecdotes from my work at the hospital. I was looking after ex-servicemen from WWII, who were suffering from lung the surgical ward, after their awful operations to have portion of their lung removed.
There was not much time to chat to fellow staffers, but once when I was on night duty, over a cup of tea in the wee small hours, another nurse and I exchanged information about ourselves. I had returned from abroad after furthering my nursing career and now lived with my parents within walking distance of the hospital. She came from the country; her parents had been pastoralists in the Esk district...pioneers really.
Over breakfast, I told my mother how nice it was to chat to this reserved, brown eyed older person, and that she came from Esk. I knew Mum had a history regarding that district, and was not surprised when she asked what was this nurse’s name? ‘Sister Collins,’ I replied, to which Mum started somewhat.
‘Collins? What is her first name?’ But this I did not know. We hardly ever used first names in the nursing profession in those days. I pressed my mother for more...
‘My mother died when I was four, and my father passed away when I was fifteen. I had been working as a chamber maid at the Club Hotel in Esk since I was eleven. My father was unable to look after his six children. The older boys went timber cutting, my older sister went to work on a station down south, my father became ill and virtually lived at the hospital where he ultimately died from spinal cancer, and somehow kind people took me in and placed me at the hotel.
‘An older girl at the hotel took me under her wing...Greta O’Loughlin was her name. She was lovely to me, like a big sister. All our lives really. And I was happy enough. My brother Doug visited me when he came home from New Zealand where he was working. We had a lovely photo taken together when I was fifteen.
‘Shortly after, I became very ill. I was in the hospital for weeks, unable to eat much, feeling terrible. They said it was probably typhoid fever, but later, with more knowledge, I think it could have been hepatitis. I went yellow.
‘When I was due to be discharged, I had nowhere to go. I needed to be looked after, and the hotel was no place for that. I became a sort of charity case I suppose. I have always been ashamed of that. But this kind woman who lived on a country estate offered to take me in until I fully recovered.
‘I was very shy and timid in those days. But I had no choice, I was so weak, and I gratefully went home in the sulky with this quietly spoken, matter-of-fact lady. And a lady she was, very well-to-do, kindly but distant in her manner. I hardly said a word, but obeyed her instructions.
‘When I felt a bit better, after a week or two, I was to be a sort of companion to her little daughter Amy, who was lonely and had no other playmates. I had to keep my room tidy and clean, and see that Amy’s room was tidy also. She was seven. Sometimes she did not want to play Ludo or Snakes and Ladders, and would try to paint with her water colour set while I watched on. She was better at reading than I was, having been taught by her educated mother. How I envied her that ability!
‘I was treated kindly, but my place was that of a servant, which I was so used to. I was given nourishing food, and eventually was fit enough to return to work at the hotel. A station hand drove me back in the buggy after a formal goodbye when I thanked Mrs Collins for her kindness. Amy and I shook hands. I did not ever see them again.’
‘What a lovely story Mum!’ I exclaimed, ‘Do you want me to find out this person’s first name? Perhaps ask if she remembers you? What should I do?’
Mum considered a while. ‘No Love,’ she said sadly, ‘Don’t say anything. I have always been ashamed that I was so homeless and alone when I was so young. I felt so beneath them all. Kind as they were. I would feel the same now. Just leave things as they are.’ And I did.
But a couple of weeks later, it was my duty to hand out the pay packets, and there it was, typed on the little brown envelope, ‘Sister Amy Collins.’