Backward Glance: Fetch the midwife
  • Wednesday 23 September 2015
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In today’s Backward Glance, we shine the spotlight on the significant contribution midwives played in the early days of the Sunshine Coast.

 In the days of the free settler and pioneers on the Sunshine Coast medical assistance was often very far away.

Pioneer cemeteries tell silent stories of heartbreak and loss as a result of this distance.

Often the only assistance for many miles was the experienced travelling midwife.

With no phones to call for help when a baby was on the way the only support was the local midwife, or a woman on a nearby property, who either walked to the little home in the bush or came by horse.

The lights of the pioneer home were those of a kerosene lantern. The lonely wilderness of the bush, with not another soul in sight, only little children at her feet, was the experience of most pioneer women as they reared their families.

Sometimes her husband was days away working on a property or logging in the bush.

The only help was to send someone to fetch the nearest midwife.

In 1888, Englishborn Nurse Ellen Hume moved to Peachester and became a pioneering midwife.

Nurse Hume rode side-saddle from the Beerwah district to Maleny and out to Kilcoy to help people wherever needed.

In 1914, she turned her residence into a bush hospital.

Nurse Hilda Probert, also of Peachester, was always on call. Often needed at night, she travelled all hours far afield by horse and sulky.

Nurse Probert would have to catch the horse and harness it before setting off.

A mother of three sets of twins, when called to a confinement she would arrive at the home and take up residence helping the family where she could.

In the early 1900s, a nursing home was established in Maud Street, Nambour by Nurse Adams who held certificates of the London Obstetrical Society, Clapham Maternity Hospital and Central Midwives Board London.

Early in 1909, Nambour’s Dr Malaher employed a trained nurse and advertised ‘accouchements taken’ (confinements for birth).

In 1910, Nurse Laidlaw of Nambour advertised her qualifications in midwifery in the Nambour Chronicle ‘Midwifery cases received, or at homes attended.’

Another caring midwife was Nurse Sarah Axe of the Nambour district who was affectionately known as Granny Axe who, while travelling to a birth, sustained injuries in a sulky.

 She insisted on continuing on to help the mother and for the rest of her life was in constant pain and relied on crutches.

A letter written by Dr Malaher about Nurse Axe describes the type of outstanding person she was.

The editor Nambour Chronicle 6 January, 1906, Sir, I feel it is my duty, and also my pleasure to publicly thank Mrs W Winterford and Mrs Axe for their kindly held to a poor Aboriginal woman last week. Their conduct in the matter was deserving of the highest praise, and was more conspicuous when set against that of others, who (presumably because there was no money in it) failed to recognise their duty towards a fellow creature and one of their own sex. Mrs Winterford, gave her every attention and help, while Mrs Axe without mention of, or hope of reward on being asked to assist one of her sex  in trouble, left her home immediately to do her part.’

Sunshine Coast midwife Nurse Martha Bade delivered more than 1000 babies at the Rosemount Nursing Home in Nambour between 1924 and 1945.

During the Great Depression, Nurse Bade assisted many disadvantaged people living around Nambour.

She freely made flannelette nighties and nappies for the babies. Sometimes patients could pay, other times they paid with whatever they could spare.

Nurse Bade passed away in 1974 aged 94 and is buried in the old Nambour Cemetery

The contribution made by the early midwives of the Sunshine Coast meant that local babies were safely delivered, in often difficult circumstances, in the isolated and far flung areas of the pioneering Sunshine Coast.

Learn more about the Coast’s unique history by reading our Backward Glance series. There’s a new story every Wednesday.