Sister Mary Elizabeth Rogasch – Halls Creek 1918 -1921.
Taken from her photo album and journals and written by Joan Rogasch.
Mary Elizabeth Rogasch (Lil) was born in 1880 in Gawler SA and educated there, She began training at the Children’s Hospital in Adelaide in 1906 and completed it in 1909. In December of that same year she received her first certificate of registration as a nurse and in 1910 she earned a certificate in obstetrics from the Queen’s Home. She also passed the necessary exams to become an Inspector of Nuisances.
She was a Staff Sister at the Children’s then at the Queen’s Home. She worked at the Mareeba Baby Hospital in Adelaide, and also nursed in Ballarat, Victoria, for a while.
Lil was a committed Christian and in 1917 was asked by the Australian Inland Mission to undertake a temporary position as a nursing Sister in Oodnadatta, following the resignation of the incumbent Sister. Thus she spent about six months in this remote settlement in north of South Australia. She also spent 6 weeks at Hergott (Marree).
In 1918 she was given a permanent appointment with the AIM and together with an unqualified companion, Miss Mary Madigan, who was also appointed by the AIM, the two girls set off in August 1918 to face an unknown future in the far north west of Australia in the small remote settlement of Halls Creek in the Kimberley area of Western Australia.
The often-recounted story of why a hospital was needed in Halls Creek can be read in great detail elsewhere. It made Australia wide headlines at the time.
Lil and Mary travelled by train to Perth where they met Dr Holland who helped them buy some necessary hospital supplies and some home comforts for their accommodation. “SS Bambra” took them from Fremantle to Wyndham where they arrived at the end of September and were met and then to be escorted to Halls Creek. However no sooner had the ship docked than an urgent message came to the Wyndham telegraph station from Halls Creek of another tragic event in the settlement. Mr Ward, the storekeeper and Honorary Secretary of the new Hospital Committee, had been shot and wounded by an attacker who then fatally shot himself.
Another race against time was needed as Sister Rogasch was rushed 250 miles south by a hastily requisitioned car. She treated the patient and brought him back to the doctor and hospital at Wyndham. It was a 5 day round-trip over shocking terrain.
Mary Madigan sat out the five days in Wyndham. Then, once again for Lil, the two ladies headed south in an entourage of two buggies, each with four in hand, drivers, escorts and extra horses. This trip left Wyndham on 29th September 1918 and took almost two weeks. They camped out most night or stayed at stations. They called into – Dillon Springs, Mabel Downs, Spring Vale, The Palms, Violet Valley and Turkey Creek. The trip was very rough going through dry sandy creek beds, timbered country and bushfires. At one stage, the ever-venturous Lil even enjoyed an exciting time driving the buggy a few miles with Tommy, the normal driver, closely monitoring the experience. On 12th October they finally arrive in Halls Creek having had to pass through a frightening bushfire when almost at Halls Creek.
The “town” consisted of a Court House, Post Office, Hotel/Store, Store, Police Station, Miner’s Institute, and two cottages. The population was quoted as about 12 white people including five children. Visiting “cattle-punchers” and diggers called in at times. Numerous aborigines were camped outside the township
The hospital was the former Miner’s Institute, which was originally built in 1898 and was made of mud brick with an iron roof. The building was completely refurbished. A new floor was laid and the walls given a fresh white wash. Sister Rogasch described it –
“Our building is a ward and a small room adjoining which we use as a dressing room. Verandah all around. This half is enclosed with house canvas: you enter the door and here is out table with its homemade bookshelf lined with zinc to keep out the white ants. Our lounge of adventure, two cyclone beds made presentable with our swag covers of The Long Trail Trip, a few cushions, a green gum bough in a rum jar constitutes our sitting, writing and rest room. Around the corner – no partition – are our dining table and chairs. Further is an annexe made cosy in the evening with a dark blue cambric table cover with a border of cretonne stitched around it. Same material to cover our crockery shelves and for hiding the pot box, and little curtains for our window. No glass is put in small windows, a swing board affair instead. A large bowl of mignonette on the table really completes an inviting corner. We put the lounge and easy chair stovewards in the winter evening. It is quite nice to see a tired mailman resting there before he started of for his resting place for the night.. He had just come in from his 198 mile treck and had to go on nine miles where was good feed for his horses. His own bed was to be a trough filled with grass.”
Mary Madigan added in another report,
“Our cane chairs and lounge and deck chairs, that we bought in Perth, arrived two months after we did per donkey team and sadly in pieces. …an ingenious old man mended our chairs and our corner looks nice and comfortable and kept fresh with green leaves.”
One room was a four-bed ward with whited walls and there was a small dispensary room. A kitchen was for both the patients and the staff. The white outside walls made the establishment look clean and inviting. A verandah ran around three sides and it was here that the patients preferred to sleep and rest. The ladies continued to make the place a pleasant and relaxing place for both patients and themselves and it is obvious that the ladies thought it to be a welcoming place of rest and healing. Lil made and tended a wonderful garden in the hospital grounds. It thrived and flowers, ferns, shrubs and trees bloomed.
* * *
The hospital quickly settled down and on November 11th 1918, which was in fact Peace Day, the official opening of the Halls Creek Australian Inland Mission Hospital was held. The Australian flag was raised on a pole in the hospital yard. All the settlers and some from further out attended; the National anthem was sung and speeches were made. Now the hospital could get down to do the work for which it was set up.
Initially many people came from far and wide just to see and welcome the ladies. Patients were frequent and the Sister was always in readiness for duty wherever she was needed. Beds were occupied for up to four weeks as many of the men who came in from camps were suffering from malnutrition. Mary and Lil cooked nutritious soups and meals and built the men up until the next time. A string of outpatients came in from far and wide and were treated for eye troubles; cuts and gashes that needed stitching, sore heads and bodies were treated following drunken brawls. Broken limbs, and other injuries – often as a result of a horse fall were common. Then there were the more serious problems where the patient had to be stabilised and taken to Wyndham by buggy. On many occasions Lil would have to consult with the doctor by Morse code over the telegraph line to get instructions for treatment or what medication to give the patient.
Following Sister Rogasch’s initial arrival, patients were brought in were very reticent about being cared for by a woman. They soon got over this feeling and began to savour the kindly face and tender care bestowed on them and appreciated the work Lil was doing. She reported that after the first 10 months:
“This no doubt seems to you a small population to need the help of a hospital, but the passing population is great and I do not think that a day goes by without some one coming in or going out. …We have had 17 indoor patients staying an average of 28 days. When men are better, we feed them up: that makes the average stay longer than in a hospital where outside comforts are near.”
When patients were admitted into the hospital ward they often preferred to be out on the veranda – they were quite used to sleeping outdoors. Lil was on duty 24 hours a day every day. Mary Madigan was a big comfort and help. Sometimes, when there were no patients and Fred Tuckett, probably the most prominent resident, sent Lil, or both of them, off for a walk or a horse ride and he took on the responsibility of dealing with any necessity for a few hours. Lil was always not too far away.
Thus Sister Rogasch spent 3 years of dedicated work. In 1920 Mary Madigan returned to Adelaide and for the next year Lil was joined by another fully qualifies Sister. It was her own youngest sister – Sister Beatrice May Rogasch (Dot).
Lil married “Mac” in 1923 and they lived in Wyndham for 11 years. Then they moved south to farm in the wheat belt and Mac died in 1951. Lil returned to Adelaide and died in 1967 aged 86. Dot died just 2 months later. She and Dot attended the opening of the Flynn Memorial Church in Alice Springs in 1956.