The nuns who tore their hair out attempting to teach Maggie Smith would no doubt be surprised at how far she progressed in her career.
‘I spent more time outside in the corridor than in the classroom and all my reports said, “Margaret is far too sociable in class”,’ Maggie says.
‘I was the nosy child. I wanted to know the answer to everything at a very early age. Me and the convent didn't mix.’
Desperate to leave school, Maggie got a job at 15 at the local mill but she always had a hankering to work with children so when she learned there was such a thing as a cadet nurse, she rang the Matron at the children’s hospital to apply.
‘You wouldn't think you could do that in those days, but I did. I got an interview, and I got a place as a cadet nurse, which was wonderful. You’d go to college three-and-a-half days a week and then you'd work on the ward for the other one-and-a-half, and I loved it — even college.’
Maggie continued her training, becoming a registered nurse, and it was when working on the male surgical ward that she struck up a rapport with a handsome patient. A ward sister who had noted the ‘spark’ between the pair, reported Maggie for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ even though nothing had happened at that point.
‘I did the terrible thing and eventually married him. His name was Philip, with one “L” — he said he couldn’t afford two.’
Moving to Australia
In 1977, Australia was advertising for nurses to immigrate, just as the cost of living skyrocketed in the UK.
‘I bought my husband a piece of steak for his birthday present, things were that bad,’ Maggie says. The couple flew to South Australia with their two young children, aiming for a better life.
‘I brought my payslip from the UK with me as a memento. I had been earning £200 pounds for the month and when I got my first pay here, I couldn't believe it. It would have been the equivalent to £1200 for a month.’
Whilst daughter Clare settled in well, their son Alex struggled with the move and Maggie requested a temporary posting to night shift to ensure a parent was always home for him. But Maggie was soon promoted to night shift supervisor and the ‘temporary’ posting lasted five years, during which Maggie also completed a Nursing Management degree.
‘The kids were thrilled to bits when I'd finished, because they could have the dining room table back,’ Maggie says.
The additional studies paid off, with Maggie becoming the Assistant Director of Nursing for District Nursing’s South Australia's Southern metropolitan and country area.
‘I used to fly down to Mount Gambier once a month on a little eight-seater thing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.’
After retiring, Maggie helped raise her grandchildren. She made the move to Victoria 12 years ago, with her daughter’s family.
‘I'm still active, still too sociable, and I love this place (Monda Lodge). I'm very, very happy here,’ Maggie says.
Listen to Maggie's story
Reviewed 31 August 2022