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Book Review - A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis by Denise Petersen

My first thought on receiving this book was, tell me more about Aunty Mavis! Obviously, she was a significant influence to the author Denise, as she too is a nurse and has written this book dedicated to her Aunty Mavis. Sadly, Aunty Mavis passed before Denise published this book after a long battle with dementia. Denise realized that to preserve her own lessons and adventures as a nurse, she should document her life in this beautiful way. There was one major challenge for Denise, though – she’s dyslexic! So before we get into the actual book, I’d like to celebrate this achievement and acknowledge Denise’s courage and patience to actually get the job done – a theme felt throughout the book. One to never back down from a challenge, I’m sure you’ll agree that Denise’s story is made all that more incredible knowing that behind it all was an individual who found reading and writing extremely challenging.

Not just for readers interested in or connected to a medical profession, ‘A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis’ is a gutsy and generous recount of an extraordinary Australian nurse. Born and raised on a farm alongside her 3 brothers, Denise is a true-blue Aussie who longed to be just like her Aunty Mavis – ‘a formidable woman, someone to respect, love and revere.’ When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Denise’s answer was always the same… ‘I want to be a nurse like Aunty Mavis.’

Denise’s path to becoming a nurse herself was certainly insightful to read about. Set in the 1960s, I was engulfed in just how different life was for women in Australia then and how the added challenges of unequal opportunity and unequal pay made any level of success for women and mothers even more admirable. I mean, today’s woman wouldn’t survive a day as a nurse back then, let’s be honest with ourselves! I told Denise that the beginnings of her career could be easily injected into the script of ‘Love Child’ – an Australian drama about the lives of staff and residents at the fictional Kings Cross Hospital and Stanton House in Sydney in the 60s and ’70s - fascinating!

Becoming ‘a nurse like Aunty Mavis’ meant traveling with determination, independence, and a good head on her shoulders. I was intrigued by how focused on her career Denise was throughout her lifetime as a nurse. It became clear early on that nursing wasn’t a profession for the light-hearted and required a great deal of passion for helping people.

Once a fully qualified nurse, Denise decided to give in to her adventurous spirit and go abroad, into communities where basic power, water, and medical facilities were a luxury. Papua New Guinea was home for 20 years, and a large portion of the book is taken up by the diverse recollection of extraordinary tales in PNG. From the culture shock and learning a new language to tribal battles and riots – in the hospital! I was taken on a journey through Denise’s life, loves, and family, and how nursing was always at the heart of her reason for overcoming any adversity that came her way – she really is an exemplary tenacious woman.

Now a nurse of more than 55 years, it’s an absolute honour to call Denise ‘nurse’ to my son here in Cairns. She was the first person we met in the Children’s Ward when Sebastian’s tumour was discovered on 8th January 2020 and is now a part of the team caring for him as we continue this battle against brain cancer.

I loved this book and will certainly be passing it on to family and friends to enjoy. My mother-in-law is first on my list as she spent time in the QLD Children’s Hospital School, educating sick children. She is the daughter of an equally extraordinary Australian woman who was a part of the Australian Women’s Land Army during WW2. I’m sure she’ll be fascinated to read about an Australian woman whose life couldn’t be more different from her own, yet enjoy it for its honesty and, at times, humorous recount of a life well lived.

In the spirit of supporting local businesses, to buy a copy of ‘A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis,’ go to the Jabiru Publishing website, another local publisher calling Cairns ‘home.’ A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis -

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