Old nurses' quarters more than just a building 

Published 10:00am 14 May 2024

Old nurses' quarters more than just a building 
Words by Kylie Knight

The former nurses’ quarters building at Redcliffe Hospital is a place where memories were made and friendships forged for countless student nurses who lived there while they completed their studies.

The building, now known as West Block, is earmarked for demolition in mid-2024 as part of a major redevelopment of the hospital.

It was converted to offices in 2006, but was home to up to 60 student nurses at a time in its heyday. Among those were Di Smout, Barb Williams and Karen Chippindall.

Nurses studying at the School of Nursing next door and training at Redcliffe Hospital, whose homes were deemed too far away, lived onsite in the quarters.

They each had a small room, but shared communal bathrooms, kitchen and living spaces.

Barb was 19 years old when she arrived at Redcliffe from Bribie Island, where her family lived.

“There was one single bed up the end which was supplied to us and there was a desk area and a cupboard and opposite that there was just a sink and a mirror,” she recalls.

“You managed to fit a lot into that room, though.”

Her group included Karen, who was 17 years old, and they lived in the quarters from 1989-91. Theirs was the second-last group to do so, before studies shifted to universities.

Di was a student nurse at the hospital from 1982-85, only staying in the quarters when she was on call. She arrived at the hospital as an 18-year-old.

“We spent a lot of time here,” she says.

Happy memories

The fun had and friendships made spring to mind when asked for her memories of the building and that time in her life.

“There was a lot of really good camaraderie, there were a lot of people that I have had long friendships with just because you had a common goal,” Di says.

“I’m not going to say life is simpler, but we didn’t have things like mobile phones or distractions. It was just nice. It was just a lot of good bonds and friendships.

“You could be a bit silly and do wild things, as wild as you could get in the ‘80s. It was just a good time to be a nurse, I think.”

Barb and Karen agree, saying while it was tough having to attain 100 per cent on their exams and adhering to a regimental-style rules, they managed to have fun and build lasting friendships.

“We did have study groups and things like that and we sort of bounced off each other, cramming for exams. I remember all-nighters cramming for exams,” Barb says.

They also recall plenty of parties, nights out, Chinese food from the takeaway outlet across the road, and sitting around watching videos in the loungeroom.

The ledges outside the building’s windows were prime positions to sunbake or have a sneaky cigarette.

When Navy ships arrived in Brisbane, the nurses would receive a call on the communal phone to see if there were any who ‘wanted to come out to play’.

“They’d ring all the hospitals … the Royal and here,” Di recalls.

All three have worked at various hospitals over the years but have returned to Redcliffe where they remain today.

Barb’s office is just a few doors down from where her old room was in West Block.

The trio will be sorry to see the old building demolished later this year and would love a brick as a keepsake.

They feel the current generation of nurses, who have not enjoyed the same experience they have, missed out on something special.

“I think that whole camaraderie thing and if you had a bad day, you could just come over, have a cuppa or a drink with your mates and talk about it … it was that problem shared,” Di says.

Historic image of nurse in her room provided by City of Moreton Bay. Reference number RLPC-001\001508

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