Dorothy Knuckey / Sargeant (nee Church)

Dorothy Knuckey / Sargeant (nee Church)

Dorothy Knuckey / Sargeant (nee Church)

The following extract was kindly supplied by Dorothy’s children. 

Sisters 2“I completed my Tresillian training at Petersham and that is where I met Phyllis Jones (Hughes). After our training, and after I had completed by obstetrics, Phyll and I applied to the Australian Inland Mission and were accepted. We were appointed to Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia. The South Australian Government asked the AIM to open a hospital at Leigh Creek Coalfields which had been reopened to supply coal. There was a coal strike in NSW at the time. Phyll had already had experience with the AIM at Dunbar in Queensland so we were sent to Leigh Creek.

We left Sydney by train in August 1945 and spent a few days in Melbourne to meet the AIM Book team, one was a Mrs Poole who was responsible for sending parcels of books to us regularly.

On to Adelaide where we stayed several days and were taken to meet the Premier, Mr Playford and to Government House to meet Sir Willoughby and Lady Norrie. Then the slow trip on the Ghan to Copley Hotel with Mrs Pierpoint for a few days whist we were unpacking all the gear and setting up the Hostel. On the Ghan we met the electrical contractor. He sent us a torch each with the message “Hope they shine as bright as your eyes”. We always referred to him as ‘Bright Eyes’. His wife made Christmas stockings for every child in Leigh Creek for the first two Christmases.

Our Hostel had not been built as a hospital but for the mine manager. We had two wards and the verandah had been closed in for our bedroom. A dispensary had been built on a side verandah and the patients bathroom and toilet were part of the front verandah.

Most awkward having to take bedpans etc out the front door especially when it was windy. A dispensary was on a side verandah. We used to have terrible dust storms. We had bore water laid on. It tasted awful and was very hard. We had a tank and the first time it rained we were looking toward to rain water, but the pope from the guttering hadn’t been connected so we didn’t get any. A hundred yards away was a small building consisting of two rooms and a bathroom for isolation patients and also used for Doctor’s consulting.

De Shepherd came up once a week from Hawker and usually brought someone with him to open the gates – there were several on the main road. We sometimes took patients down to Hawker on a coal train and alter we had an ambulance donated by the Kurringai SES. Len Delbridge or Ross Hart used to drive it.

There was an Aboriginal Settlement in the Flinders Ranges: Nepabunna and we often had to go and pick up patients from there. They were always very shy and gentle folk.

There were 12 families living at Leigh Creek and about 20 men living in the Men’s Quarters and a hundred or more living in tents. There were all nationalities and there was heavy drinking and lots of fights.

We had only been there a short time when the War ended. Rufus Wilton was clearing for a fence and he downed tools and shouted “The War is over”.

For the official opening John Flynn, Fred McKay and several other folk came from Sydney. The station folk and the locals all attended. While the speeches were on I realised the front door was already open so I raced around the back and closed it.

The Padre Rev Morey came every year and one time I went with him to Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges where there was a mining camp. One many have me his tent – there were lots of bottles of whisky under the bed. Just as well I wasn’t a drinker!

The children went on the back of the truck to the school in Copley. Our stores came from there. They told us to put out order in a Jelly box and I said we haven’t had any jelly yet. They meant a strong box which the gelignite came in. We had electricity from 6am till 10pm. The lights were dipped ten minutes before 10 to warn us. The phone was only available office hours. In an emergency both these things would have been started for us. We sometimes played tennis at a property out of Copley. We left a sign to contact P.O. Folk would ask, not because they needed help but just curious.

Len Delbridge worked in the power house and his wife, Alma, lived in Adelaide. She came up several times and stayed with us and we stayed with her a couple of times when we had to take patients to Adelaide. Len did numerous odd jobs for us.

Sisters Today

We stated a Sunday school and all the children except two little girls attended. They were Roman Catholic. Later their father was out patient. The Sunday after he went home his daughters came to Sunday School. He must have decided we were all right. We also had a sing song on Sunday evenings and I think a lot of the chaps came more for the supper afterwards including Bill and Don Knuckey”.

Postscript: Dorothy ended up marrying Don Knuckey & they had 5 children together. They divorced many years later. Dorothy married Allen Sargeant in 1974, a widower of a childhood friend & gained four step children. Dorothy and Phyll remained firm friends up until Dorothy’s death in 2006. Phyll died in 2009 in her 90s.