Alexia Burns OAM
95, Eliza Purton
Alexia: I was born and grew up in Lefroy (near Pipers River) in a family of 4 girls and 2 boys. When I was little, maybe about 5 years old, my father had bought six of these red, round, hard lollies and I stole a lolly. Mum had said, “We have six lollies, so we’ll break them up and share them”. I decided to pinch a lolly, it was up in a high cupboard. I was saying “I didn’t do it mummy, I didn’t do it”. My punishment was she wouldn’t share the other lollies with me, but she did in the end. It was a wonderful lesson and I wouldn’t steal anything after that!
I can remember reading every book that my mother ever had in her bookcase. She was prolific reader and so was I. She always said to me, “I don’t mind you reading the books.” Some of the books I didn’t even understand what they were about! I probably read too early. When I was older our house was broken into and all the books were stolen.
I was a very clever mathematician. When I was at school I can remember doing algebra even though we hadn’t had any lessons on it. I could work it out. My father was very clever like that too. He came out from Scotland and had minimal schooling.
I started nursing at around 14 or 15, it was during the polio epidemic as most of the schools had closed. I went nursing as a Royal Blue Girl (Aide) in the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Launceston until the polio ward was closed and all of the children were moved to St Giles. After the polio epidemic was over, I worked at a rest home in Launceston then went to Levenbank in Ulverstone to work. In our spare time we used to go swimming in the Leven River. I left Ulverstone to get experience at a private Maternity Hospital in Hobart until I was old enough to start my training. My older sister and I also worked at the Psychiatric Hospital in New Norfolk until I could do general training at the Launceston General Hospital. After I had gained my certificate my sister and I went on to Queensland to do midwifery training at the Brisbane Women’s Hospital. I loved it there, I remember one Christmas there were 30+ babies born! I stayed in Queensland working in the Mt Isa and Camooweal areas doing district nursing in those communities. I failed my nursing exams twice. We couldn’t afford text books and they weren’t readily available. I just had to keep on trying until I passed!
When I came back to Tasmania I was working in the labour ward of the QV in Launceston and was on duty when my youngest brother was born! I eventually moved to Waratah to work as the district nurse, which I did for over 30 years. I met my husband there, we had our children and lived in the Nursing Centre. There was a surgery and people would be coming and going at all hours of the day and night. I was on call 24 hours a day.
I pulled a lolly from my grandson’s throat when he was about 4 as he was choking. I remember he didn’t speak to me for three days. His throat bled but all he wanted was this lolly back!
I recall stitching a Great Dane’s head up one day. I was petrified, shaking! The owner bought it to me in the hospital because he couldn’t get him to the vet. The dog had run through the bushes when they were cutting tracks and had been hit by a machete, it split his head. The dog didn’t mind and was licking my hand!
Another time I helped a local farmer deliver a calf. I told him to bring the feet down if you please, tie the feet together and put it behind a very, very quiet horse, and pull the calf out. The horse took off across the paddock, calf bouncing behind! The poor thing, both the cow and calf lived. The farmer sent word for me a fortnight later, he wanted to see me. I was very worried but all he did was thank me very much and very sincerely. At some stage I must have head Dad telling Mum how to deliver a calf, I didn’t even know you had to pull the feet down, so I mean I must have overheard them saying that.
Helen (daughter): Remember when you delivered the babies? The babies outside the door at Waratah?
Alexia: It was raining and she was still in the car.
Helen (daughter): I can remember the baby being wrapped up and being bought inside to keep warm near the fire. We were in the middle of making cakes for the school fair the next day.
Alexia: Another night we were going through the Hellyer Gorge in the ambulance and this woman’s husband said, “I want to be there when the baby is born”. He was coming in the car behind, following us. He had to go back because he’d forgotten to turn his lights off. Of course the baby was born by the time he got there. He said, “I told you!” I said, “Well, you can’t wait!” He was only a few yards, but he was too late to see the baby being born. Babies don’t wait.
In 1977 I received an Order of Australia Medal for services to nursing. I retired soon after that but continued to live in Waratah for another 20 or so years. There were wonderful things in nursing, but I loved the babies and children. Babies being born was wonderful, just pure life.