Behold A Treasure!
‘Kenmore’, built in 1894 as a private mansion, is a well-known and greatly admired building in Rockhampton. In 1915, the Rockhampton Sisters of Mercy purchased the building and surrounding land in order to establish a Catholic hospital. It was thought that the stately building could be easily adapted to hospital requirements and the necessary alterations were carried out with care and forethought. Bishop Joseph Shiel, then Bishop of Rockhampton, blessed the new Mater Hospital on 14 November 1915 when the building was ready for occupancy.
With the passage of time and the requirements of health-care, many alterations were made to ‘Kenmore’. Frequently builders and architects searched for early floor plans but to no avail. Recently, Mercy Health & Aged Care Central Queensland Limited commissioned a conservation plan to ensure the essential elements of the now heritage listed building would be maintained. While gathering data to assist Mr Ivan McDonald, the architect engaged for this project, I spoke to one of our former nurses, Sr Irene Tyrrell (aged 87), about the location of certain rooms in ‘Kenmore’. Irene, in her characteristic manner, was very explicit with the details and clarified many uncertainties.
Self-described as a ‘country girl’, Irene began her nursing training on 1 July 1951 at the Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Inspired by the Sisters with whom she nursed, Irene entered the Sisters of Mercy on 24 September 1956. We knew many things about Irene: she was a very competent and qualified nurse, an XRay technician, the hospital’s stores supervisor and the enthusiastic and innovative nurse educator. Irene was also a talented artist and seamstress, always willing to share her gifts and her time assisting and supporting anyone in need.
Not long after our chat, Irene died unexpectedly on 9 September. Many of her ‘treasures’ were brought to the archives for the customary sorting. Among her possessions were foolscap pages on which Irene had hand-written her memoirs – firstly, of her own life as a young child growing up in the country and secondly, a seven page document entitled ‘The story of my four years training at the Rockhampton Mater Hospital, 1 July 1951 to 30 June 1955’, written in 1996. As I turned the pages of a story rich in cultural, social and historical detail, I was astounded to find Irene had used her artistic skill to draw a detailed floor plan of the lower level of ‘Kenmore’ as it was when she commenced her training in that building in 1951! I immediately informed Ivan McDonald of this timely discovery for which he was extremely grateful.
Once again, this experience proved to me that sifting through the personal possessions of a deceased Sister is a sensitive and reverent task. It is of particular significance that Ivan rightfully incorporated the valuable drawing and the descriptions into the conservation plan (see attached). In life, Irene contributed in so many ways to the nursing profession and the life of our community. In death, we respectfully acknowledge her giftedness and her story. Through her legacy, we trust that the distinctive character and graciousness of ‘Kenmore’ will be maintained for generations to come. Behold a treasure!
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