WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned the following article contains images of deceased persons.
There are quite a few nurses and midwives who have huge impacts on the lives of those around them and our professions in general. While there are many unsung heroes, here’s one we’d like to remind you of. Sister Alison Bush, AO (1942-2010) was a true giant of midwifery in Australia, having an impact on thousands of lives and receiving awards in recognition of her work, including an Order of Australia and being named an honorary fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Even from a young age as she grew up in Darwin, Sister Bush knew she wanted to be a nurse. And once she started, she found midwifery is where her she was most passionate. Seeing a common lack of understanding between Aboriginal patients and non-indigenous health-care staff, Alison found an important cultural liaison role at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. Below is from an obituary written by Sister Bush’s friends and colleagues at RPAH:
Alison was the first Aboriginal midwife to be based at a major maternity hospital in NSW and for eight years played a leading part in setting up a national maternity health-training program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.
Alison was also pivotal in providing a link between the Women’s Health Service and other Aboriginal initiatives within Sydney South West Area Health Service (SSWAHS) and was dedicated to improving the experiences and outcomes of women, in particular indigenous women during their pregnancies and early years of childcare.
Alison began her professional career at Marrickville Hospital in 1960 and, following further studies in midwifery at Canterbury Hospital and infant welfare in New Zealand, Alison came to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1969. Alison worked in the labour ward at the nearby King George V Hospital for many years, during which her reputation as an avid supporter for the indigenous population and teacher of the cultural awareness required when working with pregnant women was developed. Alison was cognisant of the opportunity working with antenatal women provided, as she was able to assist with the broader social needs of these women.
In 1993 Alison became the Aboriginal Liaison Midwife and apart from her midwifery role began working with all hospital departments and community agencies promoting cultural awareness and sensitivity. Alison broadened her role over the years to include mainstream clinical areas and supported many country clients arriving at RPAH for care. Alison gave freely of her time and was readily acknowledged as the ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of indigenous matters. Sister Bush, as she liked to be called, became a member of the Health Advisory Council for SSWAHS and was in demand for her expertise and support within the hospital, the broader community and professional associations, both medical and midwifery
Alison received many awards and accolades for her work. She accepted these with her usual quiet manner and calm smile and said, ‘I just hope I can make a difference.’
These prestigious awards included:
- Honorary Fellowship of the RANZCOG
- Distinguished Nursing Service Award RPAH
- The Pamela Powers Nursing Service Award RPAH
- Honorary Fellowship of the NSW College of Nursing
- An Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia
- Centenary of Federation Medal
- Inducted into the Aboriginal Hall of Fame: NSW Health Awards.
Alison was well known to many but remained a loyal and endearing member of the RPA women and babies team and often shared her passion for cricket and golf, not to mention jokes and 1960’s music.
A very humble and private person, Alison was proud of her indigenous heritage but equally at home in western culture. She will be remembered for not only her contribution to health care but her uniqueness as an individual.
Alison cannot be replaced but her memory will last and many anecdotes recounted as so often happens with legends.
Alison Bush was a humble woman and this is perfectly shown in a quote she once gave to the Lamp. ‘I only do my job and try to help people to understand each other.’
If you know a hero nurse or midwife, get in touch with Nurse Uncut to share their story firstname.lastname@example.org