A legend in her own lifetime

Sister Alison Bush, AO

Alison was the first Aboriginal midwife to be based at a major maternity hospital in NSW and for eight years played a leading part in setting up a national maternity health-training program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.

Alison was also pivotal in providing a link between the Women’s Health Service and other Aboriginal initiatives within Sydney South West Area Health Service (SSWAHS) and was dedicated to improving the experiences and outcomes of women, in particular indigenous women during their pregnancies and early years of childcare.

Alison began her professional career at Marrickville Hospital in 1960 and, following further studies in midwifery at Canterbury Hospital and infant welfare in New Zealand, Alison came to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1969. Alison worked in the labour ward at the nearby King George V Hospital for many years, during which her reputation as an avid supporter for the indigenous population and teacher of the cultural awareness required when working with pregnant women was developed. Alison was cognisant of the opportunity working with antenatal women provided, as she was able to assist with the broader social needs of these women.

In 1993 Alison became the Aboriginal Liaison Midwife and apart from her midwifery role began working with all hospital departments and community agencies promoting cultural awareness and sensitivity. Alison broadened her role over the years to include mainstream clinical areas and supported many country clients arriving at RPAH for care. Alison gave freely of her time and was readily acknowledged as the ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of indigenous matters. Sister Bush, as she liked to be called, became a member of the Health Advisory Council for SSWAHS and was in demand for her expertise and support within the hospital, the broader community and professional associations, both medical and midwifery

Alison received many awards and accolades for her work. She accepted these with her usual quiet manner and calm smile and said, ‘I just hope I can make a difference.’

These prestigious awards included:

  • Honorary Fellowship of the FRACOG
  • Distinguished Nursing Service Award RPAH
  • The Pamela Powers Nursing Service Award RPAH
  • Honorary Fellowship of the NSW College of Nursing
  • An Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia
  • Centenary of Federation Medal
  • Inducted into the Aboriginal Hall of Fame: NSW Health Awards.

Alison was well known to many but remained a loyal and endearing member of the RPA women and babies team and often shared her passion for cricket and golf, not to mention jokes and 1960’s music.

A very humble and private person, Alison was proud of her indigenous heritage but equally at home in western culture. She will be remembered for not only her contribution to health care but her uniqueness as an individual.

Alison cannot be replaced but her memory will last and many anecdotes recounted as so often happens with legends.

From Sister Bush’s friends and colleagues at RPAH

Vale Bob Fenwick

The NSWNA, along with nurses across the country, is in shock at the death of psychiatric nurse Bob Fenwick who was stabbed by a patient at Bloomfield Hospital after coming to the aid of a colleague.

We offer our deepest condolences to Bob’s family, friends and colleagues. An obituary will appear in next month’s issue of The Lamp.