Maryborough nurse Maureen von Einem.
Maryborough nurse Maureen von Einem. Alistair Brightman

Story Of: Life as a dedicated nurse then and now

DRESSED in a starched uniform, polished shoes and a white hat, 17-year-old red-haired nurse Maureen is asked by the sister in charge if she is wearing her lipstick.

The matron walks around inspecting the beds and drops a coin onto the sheets to make sure it bounces.

There's a strict curfew and those who don't make it back in time are locked out and left to climb through their friend's window.

A fortnight's wage is $60.

Welcome to nursing in the Royal New Zealand Navy during the 70s.


Maureen von Einem - Maryborough nurse.
Maureen did her training in the 70s. Alistair Brightman

It was no mean feat for Maureen Von Einem who was still a teenager, tending to mainly male sailors.

"When I joined at 17, and in a way I'm proud to say, I was young and naive, I had never been with a man," she said.

"If a man swore in front of you or said something that you didn't like, if you wanted their respect, you had to tell them.

"Men were used to being crude and would wolf whistle, tell dirty jokes, swear in front of you and also women in the Navy had a bad name.

"We were meant to be easy because we were in a man's world."

When she married, her sailor husband was at sea for months at a time and Maureen had to be escorted by work colleagues during a night out.

"I had to make sure I was with people I knew so they would look after me so that nobody would give me a hard time," she said.

"And they did, they looked after me because right from the word go, I pushed for respect."

Every task was done with precision and overseen by a superior.

"The beds had to be all sharp," she said.

"Even now the sheets are ironed and they've got seams, but back then, the seams needed to be down the side, down the middle and have the mighty hospital corners."

There was also segregation between males and females and strict curfews.

"If you lived in the nurse's quarters, you got told what time you had to be back and if you weren't back at that time, you got locked out," she said.

"Fortunately, nurse's quarters were ground level for you to be able to climb through a window."

In 1981, Maureen moved to Australia with her then husband and took a five-year break from nursing to raise her children.

Along with major medical advances, there was a notable difference in nursing procedures which had become more time stringent.

"When I first came back, I got into trouble because a patient was frightened about being in hospital, so I sat on the bed and talked to her," she said.

"A nurse manager in charge saw me sitting there and she told me off in front of the patient for sitting on the bed and talking instead of working."

"It used to be if you had 20 patients in a ward you'd usually have five patients, now we enter into a computer how much work is done for each patient and the computer calculates how much staff we have."

Despite the dramatic changes in the industry over the years, Maureen still loves her job and has worked as a dedicated enrolled nurse at Maryborough Hospital for the past 25 years.