East Gippsland’s Marion Burden lives a quiet life in her century old homestead in Ensay North.
Her picturesque home, with its striking red roof sits well back from the road overlooking the peaceful paddocks where cows graze contentedly.
From the front verandah, the Morass Creek can be heard trickling nearby.
Sitting in a comfortable wicker chair on the verandah, Mrs Burden soaks up the morning sun enjoying the warmth of its rays on an otherwise cold winter’s morning.
For almost two decades, Mrs Burden was the nurse at the Ensay Bush Nursing Centre.
Now 86, the mother of six recalls her days as the local bush nurse with clarity.
After growing up in Bairnsdale, Marion McDonald, as she was then known, went to Melbourne to do her nursing training.
She returned to East Gippsland where she worked at the BRHS and in 1956 married Hubert Burden, whose family were pioneers in Ensay.
The newly wed couple settled into the large comfortable home, which Mrs Burden still lives in today.
A farmer, Mr Burden oversaw the running of the 2000-acre property stocked with sheep and cattle.
Mrs Burden said life on the farm was an idyllic existence to bring up children even when the going got tough.
She recalls living through a couple of droughts.
“I remember we had to feed out for about 12 months with one of them, it was draining for everyone,” she said.
Filing back through her memory, Mrs Burden remembers a drought in the 1960s and then “another around the time Bob Hawke came to power”.
She says through them all, the Little River has never stopped running.
After having her children, one of which was stillborn, Mrs Burden was working night shift at the Bairnsdale hospital.
“The kids would be at school and I could have a sleep when I came home.”
In 1975, Mrs Burden began working weekends at the Ensay Bush Nursing Centre.
When it changed to a community health centre a few years later, Mrs Burden applied to become the community health nurse at Ensay, “although everyone referred to me as the bush nurse”.
It would be a role Mrs Burden would hold until her retirement in the early 1990s.
As the local ‘bush nurse’ Mrs Burden relished her job serving the community attending to those with coughs, colds and more serious ailments.
“I used to do some stitching if someone had cut themselves or remove fish hooks,” she said, from hapless fishermen who found themselves tangled in their own fishing line.
“I could always ring a doctor and get advice about what to do or what to give.”
Her days were filled with attending to all those who required her services.
“I used to do home visits back then,” Mrs Burden said.
■ NURSING THE ANIMALS
However, not all home visits were to attend to human patients. There were the occasional animals that required the bush nurse’s attention.
“I remember being called out to remove a lump from under a (milking) cow’s jaw for a local family,” Mrs Burden said.
Another time she recalls having to administer medicine to the pigs that Paddy Murphy, who had the local pub, owned.
Ringing the vet in Bairnsdale to take her instructions, Mrs Burden was sent some penicillin to inject into the boar.
“The nuns from Omeo were having lunch at the pub so they came to watch as well,” Mrs Burden said.
“I used to take stitches out of dogs regularly too, but not put them in.”
With the closest doctors based in Bairnsdale and Omeo, Mrs Burden was often called out to local car accidents in the Ensay and Swifts Creek areas.
She would meet the ambulance at the scene of the car crash.
“I had to attend a lot of car accidents in those days,” she said.
Mrs Burden remembers being called to a particularly horrific crash at 10 o’clock one evening, not far from Omeo, back in the 1980s.
A woman and her three young children were travelling from Melbourne to Omeo when she fell asleep at the wheel and struck a tree.
The woman was killed while a six-year-old child died in the back of the ambulance.
Two other children, aged eight and four, survived.
Her face saddened at the memory.
“It was very distressing. The children were going to visit their grandparents in Omeo,” Mrs Burden said.
■ BUSH ART GALLERY
As the focal point of the town, the bush nursing centre morphed into an art centre by night to host art exhibitions of an evening. “Bruce Evans was the local member at the time
and he agreed to open them, so that always guaranteed a crowd,” Mrs Burden said with pride.
“Everyone loves to get close to a politician so they were a real success.”
Mrs Burden was also instrumental in introducing a home help service in the late 80s, in what was then the Omeo Shire.
“It wasn’t met with enthusiasm,” Mrs Burden said, but she managed to convince the reluctant shire president to agree to a 12-month pilot program.
“I could see there was a need for it,” she said.
Mrs Burden oversaw the successful program, hiring and firing staff, and negotiating their wages. The pilot was a success and the program remains in place to this day. Mrs Burden also organised meals on wheels, which were provided by the pub. “We had no problems finding volunteers to deliver them,” she said.
While there have been many happy times in Ensay,
Mrs Burden has also endured great sadness. Hubert Burden died at home of a brain tumor in
1983. He was just 61. His father, George Burden, had also died in the
Ensay homestead. In 1986, Mrs Burden’s son, Paul, died of leukemia. He was 21 and being cared for at the family home.
After remarrying, Mrs Burden’s second husband, Oscar Thoms, passed away at home in 2004.
Mrs Burden’s daughter, Bridget, died last October.
Since retiring, Mrs Burden has travelled overseas to England, China, Turkey, New Zealand and Fiji.
But these days are spent largely at home and it’s where Mrs Burden is most content.
“I love living here. My friends and family visit and I do enjoy my own company,” she said.
While her nursing days are well behind her Mrs Burden still smiles at the memories of a life well lived.
Marion Burden was Ensay’s bush nurse for almost two decades and has fond memories of her nursing days.