Jenifer (Jenny) Cooling came to midwifery after starting another career. On leaving school she went to Chartres Business College and then worked doing clerical work, initially with Scouts Australia and eventually in Government departments ending up in the Adoption Branch. She commenced her nursing education and training, in the very first group of nursing students at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Adelaide, South Australia (SA), graduating in early 1962.

Jenny first became interested in midwifery as a 2nd year student nurse when she was seconded to the postnatal ward at the QEH. She continued at the QEH undertaking her midwifery training and graduated in 1963. It was early in her days as a midwifery student, with the encouragement of one of the Charge Sisters, Sister Muller, that Jenny joined the SA Midwifery Special Interest Group (SIG), and despite a few breaks whilst overseas, has never really left.

Maybe midwifery was in her blood, without her even realising it. Her great grandmother, Jenifer Rowe, after whom she was named, turned her family home into a ‘Lying-in’ home in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, in Jamestown in SA, having been ‘taught’ midwifery by the local GP. The wives of farmers from outlying farms were also accommodated there, whilst they waited for their babies to be born. Jenny cannot remember her great grandmother, who died when she was a toddler. Perhaps Jenny inherited her passion for caring for women, particularly in the postnatal period, from her great grandmother, as postnatal work became the focus of much of Jenny’s ongoing clinical work.

In 1965, Jenny went to Canada, where she worked for three years at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto in the postnatal and antenatal wards. She also experienced being a patient in a Canadian hospital, herself. Walking to work in the snow, she slipped and fell. It was very cold and she felt no pain, so picked herself up and continued her walk to work. But once at the hospital, she thought she should get herself checked, only to find she had a fractured fibula, requiring initially a plaster and then surgery to insert pins.

Jenny went to the UK in 1968. She travelled throughout the UK and parts of Europe for 12 months, enjoying a long break and experiencing different countries before returning home to Adelaide. A day she remembers well as it was the day before the moon landing.

Jenny returned to the QEH in the role of Home Sister and reconnected with the SA Midwifery SIG. In 1974, she moved to the newly opened Modbury Hospital, working in the postnatal ward until 1976, when she went to Melbourne to the College of Nursing to undertake her Diploma of Nursing (Midwifery). In February 1977, Jenny returned to Modbury Hospital to be in charge of the postnatal ward. Soon after, she became the President of the SA Midwifery SIG.

In late 1977, there were a number of discussions at the SA Midwifery SIG meetings about needing to have midwifery representation on the SA Nurses Registration Board. Efforts to date to achieve this had been unsuccessful. It was felt that if there were a national midwifery organisation behind them, there would be greater ability to influence. About that time, an English midwife attended some meetings and spoke about the value of a national midwives organisation. She spoke of the role and value of the Royal College of Midwives and encouraged those present to form a national organisation. A short time later the decision was made to write to all other states and territories suggesting they all meet with the intent of forming a national organisation for midwives. The SA Midwifery SIG at that time were not aware of the ICM Congress in Lausanne where Australian midwives had resolved that Australia should form a national organisation; nor were they aware that NSW and Victoria had been admitted to ICM.

As President of the SA Midwifery SIG, Jenny wrote to all state and territory branches of the RANF. It became obvious that the information had trickled down to the Midwifery SIGs in some states as on 11th March 1978, a meeting was held in Adelaide of interested parties. Margaret Peters from Victoria, Pam Hayes from NSW and Margaret Campbell from Southern Queensland attended, along with a significant number of midwives from the SA Midwifery SIG. It was resolved that a National Midwives Association (NMA) be formed under the Federal RANF. The inaugural office bearers were elected: Margaret Peters (President), Pam Hayes (Vice President) and Jenny Cooling (Secretary/Treasurer). In a symbolic gesture, the three inaugural office bearers signed a document, confirming that the NMA (RANF) was formed. In July 1978, Jenny worked with the RANF (SA Branch) Secretary, Barbara Bond, who was also a lawyer, to draft the first NMA Constitution. Margaret Peters and Pam Hayes came to Adelaide in July 1978 to meet with Jenny and Barbara Bond about the Constitution.

In September 1978 at the ICM Congress in Jerusalem, Israel, the National Midwives Association (RANF) Australia was admitted to ICM. Jenny and Lesley Barclay, who had been duly elected, were the Australian delegates to the ICM Congress. Jenny became the first Australian representative to the ICM Board for the three years from 1979-1981, travelling to Paris in 1979 when she was admitted at an ICM Board meeting.

In April 1979, the first National Conference of NMA was held in Adelaide. The SA branch had been well advanced in the organisation of their state conference, so it was decided to turn it into the first National Conference of the NMA. It was a great success, with a big increase in NMA membership.

Jenny’s term as Chair of SA Midwifery SIG (1977-1981) and the inaugural Secretary/Treasurer of NMA (1978 -1983) spanned a significant time in Australian Midwifery History and a very busy time for those involved.

It is a little known fact that Adelaide, as well as Sydney, aspired to host the ICM Congress in Australia. Jenny on behalf of the SA Midwifery SIG, worked with the office of the Lord Mayor of Adelaide in developing a marketing campaign for Adelaide. However, as history has it, Sydney won out and hosted a wonderful and very successful ICM Congress in 1984.

Jenny decided to leave Modbury in 1985 in order to become Hospital Supervisor at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital (QVH). In May 1995, she moved into a Nurse Manager role when the QVH amalgamated with the Adelaide Children’s Hospital and physically moved to North Adelaide, to become the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The year 1995 was a significant year for Jenny. She helped to move a maternity hospital, was made a Distinguished Fellow and awarded Life membership of the Australian College of Midwives, and she retired.

Jenny has been involved over the years in a number of organisations and activities:

  • Many years ago she was on the RANF (SA Branch) Council and was their representative on Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations (ACSPA)
  • Her involvement in the Nurses Memorial Foundation saw her as President for a time and led her being their representative on the Leahurst Nurses’ Foundation Board. She is still a member of that Board.
  • She has held a number of positions, in the Salisbury Branch of the Country Women’s Association, including President; she is still involved as a member, today.
  • For the last 48 years she has been active in her local Church activities and that involvement continues. She enjoys television, time with friends and misses her border collie dogs since losing her last one a few years ago.

Australian midwives have a lot to thank Jenny Cooling for. She recognised the importance of forming a strong and cohesive midwifery organisation across Australia and of reaching out to others to work collectively to make that happen. Jenny made a significant contribution to the beginnings of what now is the Australian College of Midwives, the peak professional body for midwives in Australia.