Nurses’ class of ’69 reunites

Attending a Dunedin nursing reunion are (from left) Lou McKenzie, Pauline Stringer, Edie Pont,...
Attending a Dunedin nursing reunion are (from left) Lou McKenzie, Pauline Stringer, Edie Pont, Vera Rutherford, Ara Swanney, Prue Manson, Brenda Hore, Priscilla Hamilton, Donna Kreft, Pat O’Connor, Denise Holland, Sandra Wilson, Liz Mulcahy, Barb Flannery, Alaine Kennedy, Caroline Cooney, Jan O’Connor and Christine Stewart. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Fifty years after starting their training as nurses, a group of old friends was reunited in Dunedin at the weekend, remembering what it was like to be 17 again, and how to giggle.

Twenty-two members of the former about 50-strong nursing intake in 1969 converged on Dunedin — mostly from elsewhere in the South Island, as well as four from Australia, and several from the North Island.

One of the reunion organisers, Edie Pont, said it had been great to relive their first year together as trainees, most coming "straight from school", then aged 17.

Among the reunion’s attractive features was spending two more nights together at Cumberland College, the former Dunedin Hospital Nurses’ Home where they had spent the first two years of their nursing training.

One reunion attendee joked that they were now a "different shape" from when they were 17.

Mrs Pont, said the gathering meant "you could just be relaxed and let loose and be with people you felt really comfortable with".

And "that ability to laugh, and that ability to giggle" had not deserted them.

"We’ve been picking up on the stories and the fun things we remember and generating that laughter," she said.

Pauline Stringer, of Kyeburn, who is now a public health and Well Child nurse in Maniototo said "that camaraderie was very real".

"That’s what now instantly comes back when we’re all together," she said.

"Some of these friendships have been 50 years in the making," she added.

Mrs Pont said many of the nurses had come "straight from school", but some had enjoyed some previous freedoms, and found conditions at the nurses home "just so different".

There they worked six days a week, under strict controls, and under the vigilant eye of the matron, and studied for nursing examinations whenever they could, and on their one day off.

And, over the years, quite a few nurses had opened their windows, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, so that the odd late-returning one could climb in from the fire escape to return to her room.

The nurses who began their training in 1969 spent two years in the nursing home before completing the rest of their training elsewhere, including flatting.

Lou McKenzie, who now lives in Blenheim, and works part-time as a health-related lawyer in Wellington, said it was "fantastic" to be reunited with longstanding friends.

The weekend reunion included visits to their old haunts and flats, a Saturday night dinner, and a trip to the University of Otago’s W.D. Trotter Anatomy Museum.

Mrs Pont said the reunion had been a great success and the laughter had been infectious.

At the reunion dinner on Saturday night "you couldn’t hear yourself think for laughter and the stories that people were telling".

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