Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital. At the hospital Ena became lifelong friends with another trainee, an Englishwoman named Diane.
Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital. At the hospital Ena became lifelong friends with another trainee, an Englishwoman named Diane.

Nursing and midwifery symposium honours Lismore nurse

THE courage of a woman, who in the 1940s became the first Aboriginal trainee at Lismore Hospital, is being recognised by naming the 2017 Nursing and Midwifery Symposium in her honour.

Ms Williams was later appointed as the senior nurse at the Maningrida Clinic in what was then the largest Aboriginal remote community in the Northern Territory, and in 1974 was part of the Cyclone Tracy emergency response team.

Her outstanding achievements will be recognised on today at the fourth annual Southern Cross University and the Northern New South Wales Local Health District Nursing and Midwifery Symposium, in Byron Bay.

The 2017 Ena Williams Nursing and Midwifery Symposium is a collaborative conference to coincide with International Nurses and Midwives Days celebrations.

Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital.
Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital.

This year's symposium will see Ms William's sister Elva Dickfoss (nee Williams) deliver a speech outlining Ena's remarkable life and legacy.

Mrs Dickfoss said Ena started working as a housemaid after finishing primary school and had to upgrade her education to second-year high school maths and English level passes before she could sit the Lismore Base Hospital entry exam.

"(Also) the hospital asked the other trainee nurses whether they were willing to share their living quarters with an Aboriginal Trainee Nurse before accepting Ena (in late 1944),” she said.

After stints as matron at the Isisford Hospital and then the Normanton Hospital, including flying doctor nursing duties, Ms Williams worked at Tennant Creek Hospital before being employed at the Maningrida Clinic as a senior nurse from 1968 to 1976.

"Ena made an impact on nursing at Maningrida that influenced changes to other parts of the Northern Territory,” Ms Dickfoss said.

Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital.
Ena Williams broke new ground in the 1940s in Lismore as the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at the city's hospital.

Ena passed away in 2000 in Brisbane.

Dean of Health and Head of the School of Health and Human Sciences, Professor Iain Graham, said: "Ena is a nursing role model not just for Indigenous people but for all of us who choose to be nurses and midwives.”

Lecturer at the University's Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples (Coffs Harbour campus) and Ms William's nephew, Rod Williams said he is proud his aunt's story is added to Aboriginal nursing and midwifery history.

"She was a role model who broke through the barriers of her times and made sure that nursing and other health-related studies are achievable career paths available to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students,” said Rod.

The Symposium will be held at Elements Byron Bay, 144 Bayshore Drive, Byron Bay today.

Finalists and winners of the annual Excellence in Nursing and Midwifery Awards will be announced.



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