Robin Gordon: The Accidental Nurse

In August 2022 as part of an Oral Histories project for the University of Newcastle Library, Robin Gordon was interviewed by Isabel Whittle, a first-year student undertaking a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement in the GLAMx Lab.

Robin Gordon OAM Oral History Interview

Interview Transcript: https://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au/nodes/view/115609

For further images and videos relating to Robin Gordon, visit The Robin Gordon Collection (Living Histories website).

 

Trainee nurses from the Royal Newcastle Hospital at ‘Mother’s Cellar’ restaurant in Sydney NSW during their third-year break in1963.

Since the early stages of her nursing career at the Royal Newcastle Hospital in the 1960s, Robin Gordon OAM has firmly established herself as an instrumental figure in the Newcastle region, involving herself with numerous projects for the betterment of her community. Aside from Robin’s early experience within the Royal Newcastle Hospital as a nurse, some of her most notable contributions to the Newcastle community include her involvement with the Belmont Hospital Watchdog committee, along with helping to found the Friends of the Library group, which later successfully fought to save the Belmont Library from closure.

Early Life

Born on the 20th of November in 1942 at the Mater Hospital in Waratah, Robin Gordon spent her early years living between Broadmeadow, Neutral Bay, and Collaroy Plateau. Robin’s father, Roland Ewing, had previously enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in order to gain employment towards the end of the Great Depression, and by the time Robin was born, he had been deployed for the Second World War. A few years earlier, Roland had purchased a cottage in Eleebana for himself and his wife Elizabeth, but with the commencement of World War II, it was deemed unsafe for Elizabeth and her new baby to live alone in such an isolated location, resulting in the two of them living between three different family members’ homes until Roland’s return. After the war finally ended, Robin and her family moved back into the Eleebana cottage for a few years until they purchased a small farm in Warners Bay, where Robin would be surrounded by chickens, fruit trees, and market gardens. Robin attended Warners Bay Primary School throughout her childhood, until eventually being accepted into Newcastle Girls High School to complete her secondary education. During her fifth year of high school, Robin’s parents decided they needed a change of scenery, and subsequently moved into a property in the suburb of Hamilton South, which would be Robin’s last place of residence before beginning her training as a nurse at the Royal Newcastle Hospital.

An Unconventional Pathway into Nursing

Robin never intended to become a nurse, however, during her final years at Newcastle Girls High School, one of her friends convinced her to apply for nursing training at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. Despite Robin’s initial reservations about working in the nursing field, she and her friend were both accepted for the job at the Royal Newcastle Hospital, and were instructed to present to the Nurses’ Home for the commencement of their training. When Robin arrived at the Nurses’ Home on her first day, however, she was surprised to discover that her friend had decided against becoming a nurse after all, leaving Robin to begin her training alone. Although this was an unconventional start to her nursing career, Robin would find herself completing her rigorous training and eventually working as a qualified nurse for the Royal Newcastle Hospital until she was married in 1964. When asked about her experiences during these years, Robin asserted that she had no regrets about her time as a nurse, and that she looks back on the lessons she learned, along with the friendships she gained, with a strong sense of appreciation and gratitude.

Robin Gordon (far left) at a social event.

The Nurse Support Network

Living in a household surrounded by other nurses certainly had its challenges, however, there were also many positive aspects that came with living in such close quarters with fellow colleagues. According to Robin, one of the invaluable benefits of living in such circumstances was the support network that formed between the women, and that this sense of camaraderie helped the nurses to cope with some of the more difficult elements of the job. While reminiscing on these moments, Robin recalled the old aluminium teapot that was always present during these support sessions, as the women frequently made each other pots of tea while they talked through their grievances, offering advice and listening with a sense of understanding that only they could provide.

A class of trainee nurses from the Royal Newcastle Hospital.

 

A Brief Background of The Royal Newcastle Hospital

The Newcastle Hospital was founded in 1817, functioning as Newcastle’s primary hospital for almost two centuries, until the building was eventually demolished in 2007. The Newcastle Hospital officially became the “Royal Newcastle Hospital’ on the 9th of February 1949, after a request was submitted for the King to grant the royal title to the hospital during his 1948 visit to Australia.

Over the years that the hospital was active, there were numerous notable figures involved with the running of the Hospital. Two of these figures include Matron Irene Slater Hall and her successor, Matron Agnes Hilda Porter. Matron Hall (1888-1961) was known among her colleagues as being an authoritarian with an incredibly strict supervision style, even famously likening her own training approach to that of the British Army. Although Matron Hall had a tendency to strike fear into many of her trainee nurses, her meticulous and thorough nature earned her a reputation as being one of the most memorable and respected characters to be employed at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. Matron Porter (1894-1990) was another highly esteemed nurse at the Royal Newcastle Hospital, working as Deputy Matron from 1938. Following Matron Hall’s retirement in 1958, Deputy Matron Porter became Matron Porter. Matron Porter’s supervision approach was less severe than that of her predecessor, however, her work ethic was just as admirable. Matron Porter was highly regarded among her nursing colleagues, and her empathetic and understanding approach resulted in her being adored by many during her time as Deputy Matron.

Blog Post Written by Isabel Whittle, a first-year student undertaking a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement in the GLAMx Lab.

For further information on the history of the Royal Newcastle Hospital, visit:

The Royal Newcastle Hospital

Dr. Ben Champion’s Histories of Newcastle Hospital 1815-1915

Healthcare in Newcastle 1817-2017

Interview with Dr. Denis Gordon

Margaret Henry & the Social History of Medicine in Newcastle

For further information on the WIL Program and Oral Histories Interviews, visit:

How to Conduct an Oral Histories Interview

Information about the WIL Program


5 thoughts on “Robin Gordon: The Accidental Nurse

  1. Very interesting piece of local history. It was beautifully written and the interview was very engaging.

  2. That was a great walk down memory lane. I have known Robin for many years and I have never known anyone who has so many interests in so many different walks of life. I admire you for all you do for the community, I don’t know where you get the time! WELL DONE !

Leave a Reply