|6 Nov 2023
|Past Student News
Boarding is an integral part of the St Margaret’s school and wider community, and in its nurturing, familial environment, has produced some of the most remarkable St Margaret’s Old Girls who attribute much of their personal and professional identity to their time as a Boarder. Annabelle Brayley nee Ford (’72) is one of these exemplary Old Girls who called the boarding house her second home during her time at St Margaret’s, and she attests to how both the trials and tribulations of her time in boarding shaped her then and into the future, personally and professionally.
Annabelle is a bestselling author of a myriad of books, including Bush Nurses (2013), Nurses of the Outback (2014), Outback Vets (2015), Our Vietnam Nurses (2016), and Bush Doctors (2017). She did not aspire to be a writer, and while English was one of two subjects that Annabelle recalls being genuinely interested in, writing was not the career she pursued. Despite wanting to be a hairdresser, she completed her nursing training in Charleville some years after leaving St Margaret’s but, as she recalls, her heart simply wasn’t in it. It was people that have always been of interest to Annabelle, and how their lived experiences form the fabric of their personal narrative. While she believes hairdressing would have equipped her much more effectively for her eventual move to a remote sheep/cattle station when she married her husband Ian, it was ultimately sharing other people’s stories that would become both her passion and profession.
Reflecting on her time as a Boarder, Annabelle says that her Boarding family provided a true home-away-from-home. Vastly different from the current Boarders, Annabelle recalls that in her day, the Boarder’s only contact with their parents was via weekly handwritten letters, and that it often felt like she was living “two different, but parallel lives” between home, and her life in Boarding school. Annabelle attributes those weekly letters with forming the foundation of her passion for storytelling, and while it is certainly no easy feat to be living away from home and family, recalls absolutely loving her time in Boarding. Speaking of her friendships formed in both the Boarding House and the halls of the school, she reflects these friendships are particularly precious to her because of their shared history at St Margaret’s.
The cornerstone of Annabelle’s professional career is embraced opportunities, and that is the best advice she has for others; “embrace opportunity; you never know where it will lead you.” Her own varied career has evolved by putting herself out there and seizing opportunities that fuelled her passions. In 2006, Annabelle emailed the editor of R.M. Williams OUTBACK Magazine to ask if anyone was covering the Centenary of the Victoria Downs Merino Stud, near Morven, co-incidentally the home of Carla (2001), Camilla (2001) Catherine and Candice Roberts (2004).
When she was asked, in return, if she could write the story, Annabelle said yes, and since that first story has written many others for the magazine. In 2011, she was asked to write a cover story for OUTBACK looking at rural health, and again, despite not knowing what a cover story was, she said yes. Health Matters was published in Issue 81 in January 2011. The following memory shared by Annabelle is a testament to her fantastic storytelling abilities, and how her willingness to say yes to new opportunities kickstarted her authoring career.
“A few weeks later, I came home from town and found a message on my phone which I can still quote verbatim, asking me to call a someone at Penguin Books Australia in relation to a possible project. I thought it was a joke, but it was also a Melbourne phone number, so I called.”
“It was indeed a Penguin publisher asking me if I’d be interested in curating stories for a book called Bush Nurses. Long story short, I was, and I did, and as a result they offered me a two-book contract for Nurses of the Outback and Outback Vets. Bush Doctors was a natural progression,” Annabelle said.
Her time in the Northern Territory interviewing for Nurses of the Outback would spawn yet another opportunity. Throughout the course of interviewing, the question of Australian nurses in the Vietnam War came up. A year later, Annabelle remembered the conversation, started to research them, and very quickly saw the need for these stories to be shared, to give voice to the incredible generation of Australian women who served in Vietnam, some of whom had never had the chance to publicly share their stories. She pitched the idea to her publisher and Our Vietnam Nurses was released in 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.
Twelve months after that, her experience writing Bush Doctors inspired Annabelle to seize further professional opportunities. In 2018, she was appointed to the board of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) as its first community director. Acknowledging the challenges of one person adequately representing all rural and remote Australians, Annabelle established an advisory group which would eventually develop into the ACRRM Community Reference Group. Committed to highlighting the issues of access for rural and remote Australian communities, this work has been of great importance to Annabelle, and demonstrates her passion for hearing these voices, telling their stories, and sharing their experiences so that others may understand the disproportionate tribulations of these communities.
“There are so many access issues facing rural and remote communities, lack of appropriate staff being just one of them. However, my current focus is remote/very remote Australians and their lack of equitable access to appropriate, or indeed any, Primary Health Care; the more remote one is, the more random access is.
There is no mandated minimum standard of PHC in remote Australia and yet, according to a 2023 analysis commissioned by the National Rural Health Alliance, there is a $6.5 billion shortfall in expenditure on rural/remote health despite much of the country’s wealth being generated by the agriculture, mining and resources industries.
Imagine the difference that money would make to the health and wellbeing of inland Australia which is, both geographically and spiritually, the heart of this country,” Annabelle said.
Having retired last year from the ACRRM board, earlier this month Annabelle also retired from her role in the Community Reference Group and will devote her time to chairing a new group called Remote Australians Matter (RAM) which is focused on establishing equitable access to universal health care for all remote Australians. There is a private Facebook page of the same name, and Annabelle welcomes anyone living in remote Australia to become a member of the Facebook group, particularly Old Girls who are either living remotely or have a keen interest in helping remote Australian communities. The link to the RAM website is www.remoteaustraliansmatter.com and Annabelle’s email is email@example.com.
Optimistic that, working together with visibility and awareness, the lack of equitable access in remote Australian communities can be addressed, Annabelle believes it is integral to rebuilding the heart of Australia. Her continuous work across her publications and advocacy efforts is a testament to the incredible work she does for remote Australian communities, and her passion for understanding people on the most human level. Storytelling and shared experience are key tenants of her passionate tenacity. Annabelle is truly a testament to what a St Margaret’s girl can achieve and do. She encompasses what it means to learn from one’s lived experience, to define one’s strengths and commitment, and always to embrace opportunity.
By Elizabeth Fowler (’19)
Congratulations to Hadassah Todd, the 2023 Old Girls’ Prize winner. More...
Congratulations to Hadassah Todd, the 2023 Old Girls’ Prize winner. More...