A Milton ‘institution’, Matron Gwenda Porter
Gwenda Porter arrived in Milton by bus in 1940 and was said to have told the bus driver that she would be back on it the next day after seeing how small the town and hospital were. Instead, she stayed on as Matron at Milton Ulladulla Hospital for the next 32 years, retiring in 1972 and then continuing to live in the district until her death.
As Milton was still without electricity or town water, Matron Porter always had two kerosene tins of water on the stove, one for the patients’ baths and one for cooking. She said that the timber workers and farmers, who comprised most of the workers of the time, lived on steak, damper and tea but that if any ended up in hospital she made sure that their diet included eating fruit and vegetables.
When Matron Porter arrived, the hospital was a collection of little weatherboard buildings, which included Matron Porter’s room. During her years at the hospital she often went well beyond her nursing duties, painting and decorating the rooms, and furnished the nursery out of her own pocket, including embroidering the bedspreads.
For all those years, Matron Porter was the hospital, on call 24 hours a day.
She was the only Baby Health Centre available and also made sure there was room for old residents who had nowhere else to go, long before the IRT Sarah Claydon residential care facility was even thought of, or built.
Matron Porter assisted with the delivery of many babies in her time (and delivered many herself as well) and the district lost a treasure when she retired.
she used to say to the new mothers, if their baby had been born when she was off duty but that was hardly ever, as she lived at the hospital and the way in and out of the operating theatre was through her rooms! She loved babies and started the hospital fund-raising Stork Ball, where the baby born closest to the night of the ball won the Stork Cup’. For several years she cared for a prematurely-born aboriginal baby whose parents were unable to care for her at home and was heartbroken when Nellie’s parents came to claim her.
Healthy triplets were born during her reign at the hospital – imagine that today when even twins have to be born in the Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital in Nowra as well as treatment for all sorts of other medical categories with which she would have dealt brilliantly.
Her drive and enthusiasm contributed to the extensions to the hospital. She had a little dog named Honey which had the run of the hospital and you would hear her claws clicking along the polished floors.
Matron Porter’s colleagues held her in such high esteem that in September 1957 when she suddenly resigned after a falling out with the Hospital Board (although Matron Porter tactfully refused to say why she had resigned), the entire medical and nursing staff also resigned en masse. Matron Porter, when interviewed about her resignation by Sydney’s Daily Mirror newspaper was distraught, saying:
“I regard every child in the town under 17 as my baby”.
Fortunately the dispute was resolved and Matron Porter reinstated, staying long enough to see a new hospital finally opened in 1967 after a decade of local campaigning – with a delivery room that had windows (in the old hospital the windowless room was dubbed ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta’ by locals)…and with town water at last!
When Mollymook was being opened up in the 1960s, the new road from Milton to Mollymook was named Matron Porter Drive in her honour.
In 1972 at her retirement, Matron Gwenda Porter (now Mrs Turner) was presented with a magnificent diamond brooch in appreciation of her 32 years of devoted service to the people of Milton-Ulladulla.
by Joanne Ewin