Sometimes I look at my hands and think they look so old, but also that they tell a lot of stories about my life. I grew up on a farm with my four siblings, and all the children were expected to help out, so I picked fruit, cut canes - basically any job that needed doing on the farm. My mother was an excellent creative seamstress and from her I learned how to knit, embroider and sew. Then at the age of 18 I signed up for war service in the air force and I did a lot of pulling apart and putting back together of machinery and instruments before being discharged and deciding to retrain as a doctor.
Getting accepted into medical school was a challenge. When I arrived for my university entrance classes the teacher of the course told me he was not comfortable having a woman in his class and sent me home! I presented myself the following year with the support of my mother that led him to change his mind and let me into the course. The teacher still wasn’t happy with having me there, but I remember at graduation he did admit it had been the best class he had taught.
I became a full time medical practitioner for the next 62 years. I started my medical career as Physician In Charge of Officials in Malaysia. During this time I was aware of the Bhomos – the Malaysian magic men, and was fascinated by all the things that they could do to their body – such as threading fish hooks through their hands – without feeling pain. It was an example of the power of the mind over body, and was one of the things that sparked my interest in psychiatry and hypnotherapy.
Upon returning to Tasmania I furthered my studies which reintroduced me into the field of psychiatry. There were few women in my era who went into psychiatry. However, I didn’t find being in a male dominated profession threatening as I have always been surrounded by men at home, in the armed services and in the medical school and enjoyed their company.
One of the jobs of the psychiatrist and hypnotherapist is teaching people how to use the power of the mind to effect change in their lives. I’ve loved being a psychiatrist, a role where you can have such a positive, profound impact on someone’s life over a short period of therapy.
I retired in 2016 at the age of 90 because I initially thought it was the right time to retire. I still believe it was the right decision but didn’t realise what a profound impact it would have on me, on my sense of self and worth. When people retire there is usually a honeymoon period – they are free, they get to do what they want. It might sound strange but when I retired I started preparing for death. I was getting my things in order, leaving sticky notes on things with instructions – tidying up my life in readiance for it being over. I felt lost and depressed for quite some time. Fortunately quite a few of my old and new friends offered me lunch or afternoon tea and a chat, and I really think this sign of care, this evidence that someone still valued me, helped me to transition to a new stage of life. To be living again, instead of dying.
There are still many places that I would like to see. I enjoy meeting new people and one thing being older allows is for you to take more chances with what you say and do. You feel less shy and inhibited. I enjoy being involved with family and being part of celebrations. I would like to see as many major events that my grandchildren are going to experience and share it with them.
My advice is to follow your passion for whatever work you want to do. There are always going to be impediments to your progress but be persistent. You mustn’t hide your light under a bushel. Speak up and be heard.
“Lean in” as Cheryl Sandman urged we women to do.
Photos by Rebecca Thomson
This project was assisted by Bellendena Small Grants and City Of Hobart