As a child Ondria Cheeseman had to go into hospital for a heart operation. Surrounded by nurses in starched white veils, at the age of three she already knew what her calling was going to be.
“Everyone had veils in those days, and I wanted to wear a cape,” she says.
“I got to wear a cape, but they stopped wearing veils the year before I started nursing.”
That year was 1966, and 50 years later Ondria Cheeseman is still working as a nurse in the Ballarat community.
Ms Cheeseman has written a book about her life as a nurse – a life that saw her working on her own as a young woman in Papua New Guinea, in Western Australia and in the Outback.
Along the way she managed to deliver the actor Aaron Pedersen after his mother went into labour – on an aeroplane flying to Alice Springs.
“The hostess comes up to me and says, ‘This lady’s going to have a baby!’ So I jumped up, found the lady doubled up on the floor. She was in distress, so I took her down the back of the plane, put her on the floor in front of the loo, and a little while later she had a baby.”
In New Guinea Ms Cheeseman worked in the Duke of York Islands, which are a three-hour fishing boat trip from Rabaul.
“I was in a litle hospital, and we were training Papua New Guinea nurses, from all parts of Papua New Guinea, in a three-year course. There was another Australian nurse and myself, and we’d go out to all the islands.
“We’d go out and do health talks and family planning clinics. We had about 500 children on our rolls.”
Ms Cheeseman went to our northern neighbour twice, and remembers often being being without electricity when antiquated generators broke down. She was forced to rely on kerosene lamps and often worked 48 hours straight.
Her book, Nursing: Challenges, Laughter and Tears is a humorous memoir of her life both within Australia and in New Zealand, PNG and Timor Leste.
It will be launched next week and is available through Eureka House.