Robyn and I sat in a palliative care room last week and witnessed first hand the two nurses ministering to our friend and her family. “This is our passion” one of them told us. That affirmation echoed what I heard in the voice of Katherine, a paediatric care nurse in Wagga, a few weeks earlier.
The historian in me couldn’t help seeing behind these kind women, the figure of Florence Nightingale, who almost single-handedly transformed the role of nurses in the hospital in Scutari during the Crimean War of 1852-56. Others had gone before her but this Christian woman made caring a world-wide calling – a true profession.
On Friday 1st August 1980, a simple three-word message broadcast on 6000 Flying Doctor transceivers sent a ripple of sadness across inland Australia. ‘Traeger is dead.’ Alfred Hermann Traeger died as he had lived - with quiet dignity behind the scenes. He shunned praise, but he has as many memorials as Nobel Prize winner and inventor of wireless telegraph, Guglielmo Marconi.
He was a revolutionary, but just didn’t know it.
Painfully shy electrical mechanic Alf Traeger was working at his bench in an Adelaide workshop in June 1925, when a thin, bespectacled man burst in and asked, ‘Have you still got that generator?’ The surprised ham radio enthusiast sold his homebuilt machine to the preacher, who immediately strapped it to the side of his heavily-loaded Dodge Buckboard and set off on a rugged 2400km trek to Alice Springs. That startling moment launched of one of the most important partnerships in Australian history.
When Australian scientist Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of what’s known as the bionic ear, was asked what he’d learned on his long journey of discovery, he quoted Winston Churchill’s words, ‘Never, never, never give up!’
It’s 1945, in the days when Camden was a rural area on the fringe of Sydney. Picture a young boy in the town pharmacy, watching his father’s daily struggle to communicate with his customers because of severe deafness. That image helps explain why, when the local Methodist minister asked ten-year-old Graeme Clark what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied ‘an ear doctor’.
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Caring for the sick and dying has been a long and honourable Christian tradition. I’m proud of the fact that my own family have played their own small part in carrying on this ministry of compassion here in Australia.
LISTEN as Paul tells of this chain of mercy.
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.