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Sister Patricia McPherson MBE

As a nurse, Sister Pat McPherson contributed significantly to community health work among Aboriginal communities in the outback.

Honour Roll

The AIM launched exciting new work in experimental itinerant nursing in the Kimberley area in 1965. This was a fresh concept, conducted by an outstanding young woman, Sister Pat McPherson.

In her unique 'Tailboard Ministry', she was able to identify the needs of Aboriginal mothers and children in a way that guided the AIM's response. She could see the necessity for follow-up to her infant welfare work, so the AIM established a special Aboriginal preschool in Hall's Creek, under the skilled guidance of Maisie Ross, the itinerant nursing Sister in that area. This meant that there was now a flow-through from birth to school age, enabling preventative work in those crucial years.

Pat's 'Tailboard Ministry' was so successful that the Western Australian Public Health Department gave enthusiastic approval, and she was later awarded by MBE for her splendid community service. Pat's work at the Aboriginal camps was conducted from the back of her vehicle using its tailboard as a table for her equipment while the scales for weighing babies was slung from the branch of a convenient tree.

It took her two years to persuade station managers to erect simple bough sheds and provide tables so she could have shelter from the heat and somewhere to lie the babies when she examined them. But it was both a practical and a symbolic victory because the erection of a permanent structure, even if only a bough shed, was an acknowledgment that her work was ongoing.

However, early identification of serious health problems meant more babies and young children were being admitted to the Fitzroy Crossing hospital. In one six-month period alone, 69 children under the age of two were admitted.

Pat's work also established a link between nurses and the Aboriginal camps to the point where she and her colleagues were accepted and welcomed as friends. When the health scheme was widened to include the whole community, the necessary relationships were already in place. But it only happened because there were people such as Sister McPherson whose vision and commitment were strong enough to see beyond the immediate, seemingly impossible obstructions.

Pat now lives and works in Victoria.