Legislation to control Midwifery continued throughout the second half of the 20th century with regular updates and amendments to The Health Act of 1911. These changes included who the midwife must inform of her intention to commence private practice; the situations when a midwife must consult a medical practitioner; what drugs the midwife could and could not administer; the contents of her midwifery bag; and the paperwork the midwife was required to complete. The growth of general hospital services began with the establishment of small hospitals specifically for the impoverished and developed into the large publicly-funded institutions which began to dominate the provision of health care.

Sedation of the patient during labour was routine in most maternity hospitals from the 1920s onward, and the ‘twilight sleep’ method along with chloroform were used in the institutions.

From the 1930s most women in Australia gave birth in hospital; women still received midwifery care from midwives, although the care administered was ordered and directed by doctors.

Midwives now had to train in hospitals and most training expected them to be nurses first.

Henny Ligtermoet

With the increasing number of women birthing within the institutions the number of midwives offering midwifery care at home reduced dramatically and by the 1950s it was almost non-existent. This was the case when Henny Ligtermoet arrived in Australian in 1951 with her husband and two children.(1) Henny planned to have more children and wanted to birth them at home as she had done with her first two children in her home county, Holland. This plan proved to be difficult and led to a lifelong passion and fight for midwife-attended homebirth in Australia.(2) Henny was told by her GP that homebirth was illegal in Australia and it was only after she telephoned the Public Health Department that she was informed that homebirth was not illegal. Nevertheless, during the phone call she was advised that she should not have a homebirth as it was ‘highly dangerous’. It took Henny three years to find a midwife.(3) According to an interview undertaken by Carol Thorogood in 19994, Henny stated that once she found one midwife— a midwife who attended the Italian women living in WA who wanted a homebirth— she found there was a small underground homebirth movement. However, midwives could be found only by word of mouth, as the medical profession considered the practice of homebirth dangerous. Henny said that until the 1970s many babies were recorded in the official documentation as ‘baby born before arrival’; therefore, the name of the attending doctor or midwife was not recorded.(5)

Henny dedicated the rest of her life to birth activism, the fight for women’s right to choose to birth at home with a midwife and to promote what she termed ‘natural childbirth’. She founded the Midwifery Contact Centre in 1956, based in East Fremantle, Australia’s first organised homebirth group.(6) The Midwifery Contact Centre’s aim was to act as the go-between for women seeking midwives to attend their homebirths.

(1) Ligtermoet, Henny. 1999b. “My Thoughts in the Mid 1950s,” in Ligtermoet, Henny (1921‐1999), State Library of Western Australia.

(2) Ligtermoet, Henny. 1999a. “Correspondence, Documents and Submissions by Henny Ligtermoet,” in Ligtermoet, Henny(1921‐1999), State Library of Western Australia.

(3) Ligtermoet, “My Thoughts in the Mid 1950s.”

(4) Thorogood, “Politics and the Professions: Homebirth in Western Australia.”

(5) Ligtermoet, “My Thoughts in the Mid 1950s.”

(6) Ligtermoet, “Correspondence, Documents and Submissions by Henny Ligtermoet.”

We welcome the descendants of any of our profiled midwives to contact us to collaborate on how their ancestor is described or depicted, and how to best tell their unique midwifery story. We also welcome new stories.


Rhodanthe Lipsett © Gary Schaefer

Rhodanthe with Nicky Leap & Gill Hall

Rhodanthe Lipsett OAM, Canberra, ACT, 1922-2019

Rhodanthe Lipsett was born in South Australia and spent her early years on a fruit orchard at Cadell on the Murray River. She received her secondary education at the Presbyterian Girls’ College in Adelaide.

Rhodanthe began her career as a nurse at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, before gaining postgraduate experience at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Having developed a strong love for working with mothers and their babies she began her life as a midwife in 1947 in Broken Hill District Hospital. Rhodanthe then further expanded her qualifications by gaining her Infant Welfare Certificate from Tresillian in Sydney. Rhodanthe then travelled to England where she spent the next two years gaining further experience in maternal and child health.

In 1951, on her return to Australia, Rhodanthe moved to Canberra to work at Canberra Hospital, later moving into community care at Maternal and Baby Health Centres and visiting rural mothers and their newborn babies. Following her marriage to her husband John, there was a break in her career while she cared for their own three children. In 1971, Rhodanthe returned to the profession she loved. Joining the staff of the Queen Elizabeth II Family Centre in Canberra where she spent the next 18 years providing professional support and practical information for mothers and teaching parenting skills. By this time Rhodanthe was also teaching health care professionals both in the community and at the QE II.

Specialising in infant and maternal health, Rhodanthe was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia in 1992 for her services to Australian women and their families. In 1996, she was made a Fellow of the Australian College of Midwives in recognition of her work for the profession. Following retirement, Rhodanthe remained an active member of the College, and was enthusiastically involved in furthering the welfare of mothers and their babies.

Rhodanthe published her first book No one right way in 2004, a handbook for parents coping with the first three months of their baby’s life. This was revised and updated in the 2012 book Baby care: Nurturing your baby, your way a book to help parents understand the needs of their baby, with reassuring advise about the many ways to meet those needs. She says that the first six weeks are the most difficult for new mothers, and it is important to assist, encourage and inspire them so that they experience more ‘up times’ than ‘down times’.

“If they can experience less anxiety and more confidence in the early weeks, I believe it can set the pattern for the months and years ahead.”

Royalties from sales of the book go to the Rhodanthe Lipsett Fund to support the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives.

In 2006, the Australian College of Midwives created the ‘Rhodanthe Lipsett Award’ worth $1000 in recognition of her work.

In early 2009 the Australian College of Midwives established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Midwives Scholarship Fund. In September 2009 at the ACM National Conference held in Adelaide the then President of the College, Professor Pat Brodie, presented an award of recognition to Rhodanthe and announced that the Fund would, from that day forward, be known as the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Fund.

In 2012, at age 90, Rhodanthe was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Canberra for a lifetime of services to baby and maternal health.

Rhodanthe passed away in January 2019, 4 days shy of her 97th birthday.

For more information, visit indigenousmidwives.org.au

Sadie Canning © SIDE

Sadie Miriam Canning MBE, Leonora, WA 1930-2008

On April 11th 1930, I was born in the bush according to Traditional Aboriginal Custom.  Born under a tree, on the outskirts of the mining town of Laverton, in the North Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Laverton is almost 300kms north east of Kalgoorlie.

There were no hospital births for Aboriginal Mothers then.  Aborigines were only allowed in town during the mornings.  There were then rounded up at Midday and told to get out.  By dusk, they were often whipped out by police.

My mother was a full blood Aboriginal who lived a traditional lifestyle.  She could not read, write nor could she speak English. I was taken at the age of 4 years and placed in Mt Margaret Mission which was in the area my parents traversed. I was placed in the Graham home for girls with about 59 others, I entered the home speaking and hearing Wongutha, as English was completely unknown to me.

Sadie Miriam Canning in her own words, for CATSINaM

Sadie Miriam Canning was removed from her family at four years of age, and taken some 40km away to the Mt. Margaret Mission. Here she studied with the WA Correspondence School, with the goal of becoming a nurse: a bold and ambitious dream as, at that time, Aboriginal women in WA were barred from nurse training. Sadie began  her nursing training at Bethesda Hospital in Richmond (Vic) in 1949, and graduated in 1952. She  completed her midwifery training at the Haven Hospital in Fitzroy (Vic), run by the Salvation Army in affiliation with with the Queen Victoria Hospital, and Infant Welfare training at the Presbyterian Babies Home in Camberwell in 1954. Sadie is recognised as WA’s first Aboriginal trained nurse.

I was now a Triple Certificate Nurse!!  An achievement as the 2nd Aboriginal trained nurse.  I believe another Aboriginal nurse graduated from Bethesda Hospital before me.  I believe she was from South Australia and her name was Nelly Lester. I was now able to wear the veil!!  The starched piece of Viol, which was the pride and prize of graduating as a fully fledged nurse.

Sadie Miriam Canning in her own words, for CATSINaM

She returned to the Leonora District Hospital in 1956. Sister Canning was promoted to the position of Matron in 1958, and held the role until her retirement in 1990.

Leonora is not an Aboriginal Community it is a town  – although there is a large Aboriginal population. To take up a position in that atmosphere was daunting especially when there was still segregated wards and in particular the maternity wards. Aboriginal mums delivered in a tin shed just a few metres away from the maternity block of the hospital.   Aboriginal patients were also treated in a small shed away from the general wards.

My first and foremost desire was to, in some way, help our Aboriginal population of that town, but I had also to prove to the white community that an Aboriginal nurse could do the duties that was required.  It was very stressful to see Aboriginal patients having to wait till the very last to be seen by the resident doctor and to be treated as second rate.

As a nurse, our code of conduct was to treat every one the same regardless of colour or race.  Thus, I began to plan in my mind, how things could be changed. First of all my own professional integrity and ability to care for all patients, be they black or white, had to be such, that I could not allow any criticism of anything I did. My strong desire was to integrate the patients on the maternity and general wards.  But how????  When, these practices had been practiced for years.

My chance came in the form of resignation of the Matron.  I applied for the position of Matron in 1958 and was accepted as Matron of the Leonora District Hospital.  Changes were made very gradually but full integrated wards were achieved by the end of 1958!!!! The maternity section was my biggest achievement.

Sadie Miriam Canning in her own words, for CATSINaM

The life of a remote area nurse/midwife was tough, with a lack of staff, services, and support, but no lack of demand.

Often one had the role of cook, laundress or cleaner, as well as nursing and on occasions one had to these extra duties.  As it was a one Doctor practice town, with no back up from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, (as it is known today), no bitumen roads then to Kalgoorlie, high corrugations and Kalgoorlie being 247 kms away the Doctor did emergency surgery and some elective surgery i.e.;  herniorophies, appendices, tonsillectomies etc.  In these cases, as far as anaesthetics went, Dr induced the patient and then I had to take over while he operated.  Oxford vaporiser ether machine was used for the anaesthetics.  Huge responsibility but it had to be done.  At the time, if patients were transferred to Kalgoorlie, it was by road – and the only ambulance then was owned by the Sons of Gwalia mining company.

Sadie Miriam Canning in her own words, for CATSINaM

Sadie married Graham Canning in 1966; they have a son David and a daughter Miriam, and grandchildren. She was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1964, for services to nursing, improving facilities and indigenous healthcare in WA. In 1977 she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal for her services to rural nursing in WA, and a Centenary Medal in 2003. Sadie was a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and the State Reconciliation Committee, served on the Board the Australian Children’s Trust, and was a patron of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses. She was a claimant for Wongatha Native Title Claims in 1996, and one of 12 applicants for the Wongatha Claim accepted for registration in February 2007.

Sadie died on 3 September 2008, and was interred in the Guildford Cemetery, Guildford, WA. Leonora Hospital is now located on Sadie Canning Drive, Leonora (a little over 800km north east of Perth), and Sadie Canning continues to provide health care services to the community as a Royal FlyingDoctor Service plane.

Read more about Sadie’s life in her own words for CATSINaM, and an oral history interview and transcript is available in the State Library of WA.

You can also read about Sadie in the Women’s Museum of Australia, in the School of Isolated & Distance Education (SIDE) Hall of Fame, the Australian College of Nursing Nurse education in Australia: Part 7,  and on this WikiTree genealogy.

Faith Thomas © Wise Women

Faith Thomas AM, South Australia, 1933 –

Faith Coulthard was born 22 January 1933 at the Nepabunna Aboriginal Mission in South Australia. Her mother, Ivy, was an Adnyamathanha woman, and her father a German migrant. She grew up in the the Colebrook Home for Aboriginal Children in Quorn, SA, where she played cricket using stones for a ball and wood for a bat.

Faith completed her nursing training in 1954, one of the first group of six Aboriginal nurses to graduate from the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and the first Aboriginal public servant in SA. She then undertook midwifery training in Adelaide at Queen Victoria Hospital in Adelaide, and in 1958 was employed to work at Raukkan (known then as Point McLeay Aboriginal Reserve).

After a year’s training to become a midwife she delivered so many children that parents took to giving them her name. “There were a lot of Faiths running around the joint,” she says. “I’d feel really good about them all being named after me.”

Faith Thomas to Russell Jackson

Faith was reintroduced to cricket and shortly made the State team, playing for the SA women’s cricket team 1956-58. She was selected for the Australian team in 1958 and played an International against England. She was the first Aboriginal woman to be selected to represent Australia in any sport, and until 2019 she remained the only Aboriginal woman to play test cricket for Australia. She was a member of the Aboriginal Sports Foundation, and patron of the Prime Minister’s XI versus the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Chairman’s XI.

Faith chose to prioritise her nursing and midwifery career over cricket, and retired after only 3 years in the game. She played her last game in 1960, 8 months pregnant! In terms of her nursing and midwifery, Faith said “That’s the part of my life I feel really proud about”. She was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2019 for service to cricket and the Indigenous community.

There’s so much more to learn about Faith… read her entries in the Women’s Museum of Australia, Australian Women’s Register, and the Australian College of Nursing; read the 2016 interview with sport writer Russell Jackson of the Guardian. while the 2018 interview with Amy Clark focusses more on her life and career than her cricket (with a Cricket Australia video and loads of beautiful photos!). Listen to the ABC podcast series Fierce Girls: Faith Thomas and watch for a documentary to come soon on NITV!

Voices from the Armchair: Aunty Pamela Mam

Deadly Choices honour the life of Institute of Urban Indigenous Health patron Aunty Pam Mam

Pamela Mam, Qld, 1938 – 2020

Pamela Ah-kee/Bligh, descendent of the Kuku Yalanji peoples, was born in Richmond, western Queensland, in 1938.

Pamela grew up on Palm Island, as her mother had been removed from Cooktown under the Assimilation for Aboriginal People policy. She began working as a nurse’s aid in the Palm Island Hospital, before completing her nursing training Townsville Hospital 1954-1959, then midwifery training at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane. She is recognised as one of the first trained nurses in Qld, and a champion of culturally appropriate health services.

When working in direct service with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is important to offer humility and leadership, knowledge and learning, respect and culturally responsive care for people. We also must never neglect the everyday support and guidance required by all health care professionals to provide proper health care.

Pamela Mam

In 1973, Pamela co-founded the Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS), and was the inaugural inductee of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council Hall of Fame in 2008.  Griffith University and ATSICHS established the Aunty Pamela Mam Indigenous Nursing and Midwifery Scholarship in 2015. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University for services to Aboriginal people and to the community in 2018.

She was an inspiration to all people, a remarkable humanitarian, a First Peoples’ Elder, role model, patron and matriarch

Professor Carolyn Evans, President and Vice Chancellor, Griffith University

When Pamela passed away in 2020, aged 82, her obituary noted that she had championed care for Aboriginal people based on ‘respect, humility and cultural understanding’, her entire life. She is memorialised in Pamela Mam Drive, Eagleby Qld.

She has for over 60 years, provided tireless service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, starting out as a nurse at Palm Island Hospital and progressing to be the founder of the biggest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled health services in Australia. Aunty Pam championed proper care for our people; based on respect, humility and cultural understanding. Aunty Pam is a great Australian and will always be remembered for the legacy she has created in Aboriginal-controlled heath.

Donnella Mills, Chairperson, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

as reported by Keira Jenkins, NITV News


24 Jan 2020

MAM, Pamela Hope

Late of Camira, Brisbane. Passed away peacefully 17th January, 2020. Aged 81 years. Dearly beloved Wife of the late Ezra Stephen Leo Mam. Much loved Sister, Mother, Aunty, cherished Grandmother, Great-Grandmother and Great-Great-Grandmother. Relatives and Friends are respectfully invited to attend her service on Tuesday 28th January, 2020 at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 141 Brooke Street, Fortitude Valley commencing at 11.00 am. A burial will take place at Mount Gravatt Cemetery, 582 Mains Road , MacGregor following the Service.

Learn more about Aunty Pamela’s life in this statement from the Qld Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, this Griffith University statement at the time of conferring her doctorate, this NITV report,  the Australian College of Nursing, and the videos above 


Dahlen, H., Homer, C., Leap, N., & Tracy, S. (2011). Women and Birth 24, 105-111. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2010.09.002

Abstract A review of key historical texts that mentioned perineal care was undertaken from the time of Soranus (98—138 A.D.) to modern times as part of a PhD into perineal care. Historically, perineal protection and comfort were key priorities for midwives, most of whom traditionally practised under a social model of care.

With the advent of the Man-Midwife in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the perineum became pathologised and eventually a site for routine surgical intervention — most notably seen in the widespread use of episiotomy.

There were several key factors that led to the development of a surgical rather than a social model in perineal care. These factors included a move from upright to supine birth positions, the preparation of the perineum as a surgical site through perineal shaving and elaborate aseptic procedures; and the distancing of the woman from her support people, and most notably from her own perineum.

In the last 30 years, in much of the developed world, there has been a reemergence of care aimed at preserving and protecting the perineum. A dichotomy now exists with a dominant surgical model competing with the re-emerging social model of perineal care.

Historical perspectives on perineal care can help us gain useful insights into past practices that could be beneficial for childbearing women today. These perspectives also inform future practice and research into perineal care, whilst making us cautious about political influences that could lead to harmful trends in clinical practice.