Thanks to our first Nurse Practitioner

Olwyn Johnston

19 April 1951–8 March 2006

Ollie our loveable workmate hailed from Taurangi region of New Zealand. Following her arrival in Australia, Ollie’s nursing career expanded over some 20-odd years, most of this time was in rural and remote area.

Ollie commenced her nursing career in 1979 at Sacred Heart Hospice in Sydney working as an AiN. In 1980 Ollie undertook her enrolled nurse training at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and then went on to undertake RN training in 1982. Following completion of her training in 1987, Ollie went to work as an RN at Royal Newcastle Hospital in the renal unit.

Ollie always had a yearning for the outback and arrived to commence work for Orana Health in 1991, working on a casual basis for both Walgett and Lightning Ridge Health Services, before her full-time appointment in Lightning Ridge where she worked in Accident and Emergency. Ollie’s old workmates from the Ridge remember her as the most loveable and loyal workmate they have known. Her wicked sense of humour and her many and varied hair colours and styles to ‘razz up the place’ will go down in history.

In 1998 Ollie moved to the position of NUM at the Wanaaring Community Health Centre, where she went on to receive the Far West Area Health remote area scholarship and completed her Masters of Nursing in Rural and Remote Areas through the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Sydney.

On 7 May 2001, the day before International Nurses’ Day, Ollie was appointed Australia’s first ‘recognised’ Nurse Practitioner. It was a great achievement and a huge step forward for current and future remote and rural area nurses, after a lengthy process and battle to be accepted by the medical profession as a most valuable primary health care resource in rural and remote areas of Australia and in particular to our Indigenous communities.

As Nurse Practitioner, Ollie had the skills and knowledge to initiate diagnostic tests and prescribe specific medications within the guidelines of her scope of practice, as set down by the Health Department.

Ollie was held in high regard by her peers and the public alike, she had a deep sense of commitment to rural and remote health and was particularly incensed by the unmet needs and plight of the Indigenous people in her care.

Ollie once said: ‘It requires a dedication and a strong resilience to deal with the environmental factors and pesky opal miners. Whilst living conditions here in Lightning Ridge have changed considerably, there still remains a small piece of the wild west. I found a place to learn beyond the normal rounds of health care and had to think outside the very narrow square to obtain health care that was equitable and affordable for the client.’

Ollie received the Far West Area Health Service Nurse of the Year Award in 2001 and was also honoured to receive a medal for her contribution of services to the community, presented by the honourable Deputy Prime Minister (at the time) John Anderson during the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001.

Ollie moved to Goodooga Health Ser-vices where she remained until her illness.
By Chris Taylor, RN, who worked with Ollie at Lightning Ridge Health Services