Sister Ruth Austin

For 28 years, Ruth Austin was an Infant Welfare Sister for the North-East Victorian townships of Bright, Myrtleford and Mt Beauty.

Honour Roll

In that time she cared for more than 7000 newborn babies, many children of newly arrived migrants. Her support and care for mothers and their babies was invaluable.

Born in Leongatha in Gippsland in 1922, Ruth trained as a nurse at Prince Henry's Hospital in Melbourne during World War II. She then went to Sydney to the King George VI Hospital to complete her obstetrics qualification. After the war, Ruth went to New Zealand where there was a shortage of trained nurses and worked in several provincial hospitals. In 1953, Ruth and her twin sister Mary sailed to England and for the next two years they both nursed in the UK and in Montreal, Canada.

Back home, Ruth completed her infant welfare training on a bursary at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Carlton. In return for the bursary, she had to work for one year and the options were either Cranbourne in Melbourne's outer-east or Bright in north-east Victoria. Ruth chose Bright in the Alpine Shire.

Initially, she worked in temporary facilities at the Mt Beauty Medical Centre and later at the Guide Hall before a permanent Infant Welfare Centre was built in the town in 1964. New centres were also opened in Myrtleford in 1959 and Bright in 1964. The Shire's community grew with the arrival of migrant workers for the Kiewa Hydro Electricity Scheme and the tobacco farms around Myrtleford.

Ruth travelled extensively throughout the Shire, operating weekly clinics in three townships. Many mothers spoke little or no English and Ruth was always supportive and responsive to their needs and made many house calls. During her nearly three decades of service, hearing tests were introduced and immunisation became widespread. She imparted new ideas and knowledge into the community, including the introduction of the contraceptive pill for women.

Ruth was concerned about the lack of community facilities for old and frail people and helped to instigate the Community Welfare Association, which was instrumental in providing meals-onwheels. She also helped to establish the Senior Citizens Club rooms in Bright.

Sister Ruth Austin made a lasting contribution to the women, children and families of the Alpine Shire community. In a small rural community like the North-East Alpine area, someone like Ruth is an inspiration and a life force. "I've had a sense of satisfaction and pride in infant welfare service in three towns and their surrounding areas," she says.