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Curley, Sylvia (1898 - 1999)

Go to Gallery Page Curley, Sylvia
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Nurse, Nurse administrator and Activist
Born: 8 November 1898  Duntroon, ACT, Australia.  Died: 24 March 1999.
Sylvia Curley qualified as a nurse in 1926 and spent her early years of nursing in country New South Wales. She worked for the Canberra Community Hospital (later known as the Royal Canberra Hospital) from 1938 until her retirement in 1966 as deputy matron. In her ‘retirement' years she ran a nursing employment agency in Canberra and was a strong advocate for changes to nurses' education. In 1994 she donated her family home, Mugga Mugga, to the people of Canberra and oversaw its development into an environmental education centre. Sylvia Curley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia on 8 June 1992 for her services to nursing, to local history and to the National Trust.

Career Highlights
A second generation descendent of Irish bounty immigrants Sylvia Curley grew up in Duntroon in what is now Canberra and was then a farming estate where her father was employed. In her life time she saw Canberra evolve from a rural farming community to be the capital city of Australia. Sylvia's strong sense of history and interest in local culture became a passionate concern and led to her activities in preserving local history. In complete concurrence with the wishes of her family, in 1995 she donated the family home Mugga Mugga Cottage, one of the oldest buildings in Canberra, to the people of Canberra to become a house museum and environmental education centre.

Similarly in her 28 years of service, she saw the Canberra Community Hospital evolve into the Canberra Hospital. (In 1979 the hospital became the Royal Canberra Hospital, later reverting to the title The Canberra Hospital in July 1996 after amalgamating with Woden Valley Hospital in 1991). The Nurses Home for the 'old' Canberra Hospital, opened in 1964 (demolished in July 1997), was named in Miss Curley's honour as Sylvia Curley House. It provided modern facilities for nurses and housed the School of Nursing on the ground floor.

Throughout her nursing career her two major concerns were the improvement of patient care through sound administrative practices and improved education for nurses. Miss Curley provides her own accounts in her book The long journey of the difficulties she encountered striving to bring about change in hospital practices and to provide basic equipment for teaching, suitably qualified nurses to run education programs and to develop an improved environment for nurses to achieve learning goals. She undertook fund raising for the purposes of achieving her vision for nurses' education. She is seen now to be ahead of her time in her advocacy for changes to nurse education. At a time when these matters were not established practice she supported a reduction in the length of the four year training program, extensions to the preliminary training period, the establishment of a qualified staff dedicated to teaching, to take charge of the education program and the provision of an adequately equipped tutorial department in which to conduct the education program.

On her retirement from nursing and her position as deputy matron of the 'old' Canberra Hospital in 1966, Sylvia Curley ran an employment agency for 20 years for nurses specialising in providing nurses for doctors' surgeries and rooms. She lived to celebrate her centenary at a mass in St Christopher's Cathedral in Manuka ACT, on 7 November 1998.

1923 - 1926Undertook general training at Leeton Hospital, New South Wales
1926Staff Nurse at Leeton Hospital, New South Wales
1926Registered as a general nurse with New South Wales Nurses Board
1929 - Junior theatre sister Narrandarra District Hospital for two and a half years
1931School Nurse at Cranbrook School for Boys
1932 - 1934Matron at Gundagai Hospital, New South Wales
1935Completed Midwifery Certificate
1935Student Midwife at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney
1936 - 1937Matron at Gundagai Hospital, New South Wales
1938 - 1966Sub-Matron at the Canberra Community Hospital, later the Canberra Hospital and then Royal Canberra Hospital
1939Registered with the ACT Nurse Board as a general nurse and midwife, registration number 122
1966 - 1985Private Employment Consultant in Canberra
1992Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Nursing and the Canberra and District Historical Society

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: Australian Nursing History Project, Helen Hamilton
Created: 10 September 2002
Modified: 14 August 2006

Published by The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre on ASAPWeb, 1994 - 2007
Originally published 1994-1999 by Australian Science Archives Project, 1999-2006 by the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre
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Updated: 26 February 2007

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