Leonie Howie and Adele Robertson live and work on remote Great Barrier Island – so called because it faces the full brunt of the wild Pacific weather and acts as a barrier for the mainland about 100 kilometres away. With a population of about 1000, no reticulated electricity, no ATM machine, no street lights and one pub, it is a wildly beautiful place. It has a long history of farming, whaling and fishing, and the people who live here are a resilient lot, proud of their community.
Howie is married to the doctor on the island, and their younger children sometimes attended consultations, including births, although they were generally asleep in the car.
Midwifery and nursing on a remote island bring a wide range of dramas and emergencies, and Howie and Robertson share the islanders’ stories-sometimes tragic, sometimes happy, sometimes funny-from over 30 years of challenging yet uplifting work.
In the early days, Dr Howie worked from an old building on the southern end of the island and in the public health nurses’ cottage in the north, travelling by motorbike and then in a second-hand Holden sedan. ‘On Wednesday they drove in Ivan’s iconic and durable light blue Holden HQ up north to the nurse’s cottage in Port FitzRoy for the northern clinic. At this time, in the mid-eighties it took just under an hour to reach Adele’s clinic.’
Clinics were also held in a caravan on the couple’s front lawn, and in their lounge, before Dr Howie encouraged the locals to form a community trust which built the islands medical centre.
A map at the beginning of the book is a great asset and I found myself referring to it as I was reading the book. The collection of photographs also complements the text and I loved the cover design, the fresh faced nurse’s smiles inviting the reader to open the book and read their story.
This memoir is the first book the pair has written and it highlights just how a small community supports itself and the people living there. It will be of interest to anyone interested in health services and who enjoys a life away from city living.
Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh
Island Nurses: Stories of Birth, Life and Death on Remote Great Barrier Island
by Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson
Published by Allen & Unwin