Nurses in the early 1970s in Australia: Reminiscences

Although I grew up with sisters, they are not the same as real girls. And there were no girls at my high school. Well, there was one girl who came across from our sister school to join our Physics class, in our final year, but basically that was it.

So when I got quite sick in 1971, and again in 1973, having young women nurse me in hospital was something of a revelation to a boy in his mid-teens. They were the first young women I had ever really interacted with, and for years they filled my mind with ideas of what a woman was.

Things were different back then, it goes without saying. It is hard to remember, but my impression was that women were as happy then as now, maybe happier. They certainly seemed easier-going. The young nurses were probably only in their mid to late teens, being mostly still in some form of training. But, despite the heavy responsibility and the contact with morbidity and mortality, they mostly seemed to cope well. Maybe there was a lot of turnover – I don’t know – but I got the impression that most of them were handling things OK. Nursing was probably more interesting than many of the alternatives for the average girl, such as office work, and there is a contact with “the last things” and a level of drama and a parade of humanity which could be fascinating I imagine.

Being supine in a bed at waist height is, of course, a good vantage point for observing nurses. Sometimes one is so sick that one hardly notices, but at other times it can be as privileged a view as being in a rainforest canopy observing the exotic wildlife.

In those days, the nurses wore uniform dresses. Blue, as I recall, and I seem also to recall red cardigans in the colder months. Typically, they would have what looked like men’s watches without the bands, pinned upside down at pocket level on the chest; to refer to when doing clinical observations. They also wore starched white caps.

Of course I did the usual things, like teasing nurses by knocking their caps half-off. A girl would giggle if it were a “cute” young man doing it. But I had a few special adventures in the weeks and weeks I spent in hospital having nurses around constantly. Nothing lewd, with one exception, which I should touch on now.

Most of the girls were (or seemed to me to be) what used to be called “good girls”. Nurses had always had a sort of “music hall” reputation as sexually free, for the times, but many of the young nurses seemed to be Catholic girls from the country. In the early 1970s, that probably meant chaste, or at least inexperienced. However there is always one. This one, a blonde I seem to recall, and fairly attractive, perhaps not as young as some of the others, was handing around magazines. Oddly, one of them was Playboy. I say oddly, because I never knew that magazine to be handed around on the hospital trolleys with the other reading matter. Maybe it was supplied to mature men. Times were in some ways more relaxed, at least for the real adults. Even so, it still seems odd.

Anyway, this nurse had a copy of Playboy on her. We were in a treatment room. She must have fancied me, or maybe she was just horny. She opened the magazine to a page which showed various sexual positions. “Which is your favourite?”, she asked.

When I expressed surprise, she went on, “I always ask my men that.”

Now, if this were an episode of “Doctor in the House” or a pornographic film, a “sex romp” would have ensued. However this was the real world and I was all of fifteen.

But most of the women were far better representatives of their sex.

Another girl, an average looking brunette, new to the profession, rather sweet, developed a crush on me. When I ended up in the Rehabilitation Ward, she sought me out and brought me a bunch of flowers. I suppose she had bought them at the hospital itself. I was so young and dense I hardly realised what she was doing. She met my mother some time later, in town, and apologised; and my mother said it was OK, she was just young.

One of the other men in the ward suggested I should grab her and have my way with her on my bed (presumably after drawing the treatment curtains) but that was not likely to happen.

I often think of them still. I remember some of their names. I remember how many of them looked. They are still young in my mind, although many are probably grandmothers by now. I suppose I must have passed some of them in the streets in later years, and not noticed. More often than not, the people we know, even in the most intense times of our life, vanish from everything but memory. It is all part of the pervasive anonymity of a city, especially in a nation where people move around and travel long distances to new jobs.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by b g on July 17, 2015 at 6:10 am

    LOL, back then learning about “the other” was the same for every guy ;-D I am a Canuck but met some Aussi nurses in training in the late 60’s, despite the talk, most were pretty chaste…and nice.


  2. Posted by Slumlord on July 18, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    I loved the capes and the small hats. Damn, they looked hot.


    • Yes I had forgotten the capes. They didn’t wear them on the wards while working, as I recall.

      I wouldn’t say they looked hot, but they looked feminine.

      Strangely, the skirt or dress hasn’t completely disappeared from the nursing world. I was in hospital only a few years ago, and some of the trainees were wearing woollen dresses.

      I still remember some of them after 45 years. Nurse Wallace with her pretty dark looks and flat chest … and so on.


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