The History of the A.C.T. Branch of the Australian College of Midwives


The Beginnings:-

The ACT local branch of the Australian College of Midwives has been in place for well over 30 years. Initially known the ACT’s Midwives Association, some paper-based minutes are still available from the early 1980’s.

The branch has always maintained a small and ever-changing membership – as over the years many midwives have come and gone through the Canberra region. However, the branch has always had a strong committed executive group – many who have committed to various committee positions for many years.

While small in size – the branch has never been small in passion, strength, generosity, or vision. Over the years local members have held important and notable local, national and some international positions on committees and boards, providing many with the viewpoints and concerns of local midwives and the midwifery profession.

A very notable and passionate midwife and author, Rhodanthe Lipsett OAM was one of the ACT branch’s most well-known members. While Rhodanthe passed away in recent years – this year we would have celebrated her 100th birthday. Rhodanthe was passionate about providing care and support to vulnerable women and was integral in the development of the Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Fund – supporting indigenous midwives with grants towards education and resources. The ACT branch are so proud and lucky to have had Rhodanthe as a branch member and colleague.

The ACT branch led the way within the ACM with an annual Midwife of the Year Award – now known as the Rhodanthe Lipsett Award. Each year local members are nominated, and the winner receives a generous gift and can ‘mind’ the beautiful wooden trophy for the following year. The branch never fails to celebrate International Midwives Day in style – even over Zoom!

The Branch members over the years have also produced important resources for Australian midwives, including the Breastfeeding Protocol and Multicultural booklet. These items have been important fund-raising measures for the branch, which have also included many Movie Nights, Trivia Nights, and well received conferences. While fund raising has generously supported many branch midwives with educational activities, it must be mentioned that funds have also been used to generously support many local and international causes.

As a branch sitting within the nation’s capital, politicians are more readily available than they may be to other branches. Our members have had a significant influence on many important changes for midwives and women in the ACT. They lobbied in the 1980’s for a Birth Centre for Canberra, during the early 2000’s for the commencement of an ACT Bachelor of Midwifery course, and over all the years supported Homebirth and independent midwifery practice. ACT’s Publicly Funded Home Birth Program would not have been possible without the lobbying, petitions, strength, and commitment of our branch working group members.

The branch continues to grow, not always in numbers, but as we lose members, too often sadly, we gain new members who bring their own strength, passion, midwifery love and new ideas to our local membership, supporting women, families, and midwifery growth in Canberra and region.

Little is currently known about our local midwifery branch prior to the 1980’s. From our earliest minutes available, ACT midwives were meeting regularly to discuss local, national, and international midwifery matters. The group was called the ACT Midwives Association, with the minutes noting an ‘enthusiastic, active, and growing membership’.

In 1986 membership sat at 135 financial members – with 15 – 47 attending the meetings. Cold Canberra nights were noted as impacting on attendance. The committee members during the mid 1980’s included Kath Larsson – President, Helen DeBritt – Vice President, Phyll Groves – Secretary, Chin Wong – Treasurer and Margaret Braithwaite – National Delegate, having replaced Hiliary Hunter who had ‘welcomed a bouncing baby girl’. Workplace representatives included Meiriona Hahn, Judy Lamond, Rhodanthe Lipsett and Judy Burgess. Megan Lamb represented the local Homebirth midwives.

Towards the end of the 1980’s Chin Wong had been elected president, Carmel O’Meara -Vice President, Anne Kempe – Secretary and Mary Kirk – Treasurer. Trish Ryan was the hard-working newsletter coordinator, Marion Currie the education officer, Rhodanthe Lipsett managing the publication committee, and Bernadette Brady the social committee. Sadly, a number of these hard working and passionate committee members have passed away, but you will still find many of the midwives continuing their special work in different ways today, or perhaps enjoying retirement.

Many of the earlier branch meetings took place in the nurse’s lounge of Sylvia Curley House. This was the nurse’s quarters of the now gone Royal Canberra Hospital. It also appears that AGMs were held and enjoyed at various local restaurants. Later 80’s branch meetings were shared between Calvary Hospital, the then Woden Valley Hospital, and QEII Centre, with the hope to support attendance. A form of both of these traditions continues today.

Meeting discussions frequently included the hopes and plans for a Birth Centre for Canberra, with Chin Wong elected as the representative on the ACT Health Authority Working Party. In 1987 the report of the NHMRC’s ‘Working party on Homebirths and Alternative Birth Centres’ was tabled and discussed. These discussions would continue until the Birth Centre was finally established in 1992.

Other local topics of note during this time included visiting rights for local independent midwives, a planned ‘early discharge’ program 6-month trial (todays Midcall program), the separation of babies from mothers at caesarean, and the branch’s working relationship with the ANF. In 1989 the first major state-wide report into Maternity Services ‘the Shearman Report’ was published. This created much discussion on the future of midwifery, and the branch’s hopes and plans to raise the profile of midwives.

Education of members was important and upcoming education was noted on meeting minutes. Regular guest speakers during this time included local Obstetricians – Drs Mukerjee, Heaton, and Armellin. Education did also include some more midwifery related topics. Plans were in place for midwives to attend the ICM Conference in The Hague in August 1987 – with hopes for a ‘special package price with QANTAS’. Members were also planning to attend the biennial Conference in Perth, ‘Birthdays/Birthways’ in 1991. Many members were generously supported with conference attendance by the branch’s fundraising activities.

The branch also provided a bimonthly newsletter – informing members of current activities and news from National and International Associations. Items included planned local and national seminars and conference, membership fees, fundraising, and pupil midwives’ education updates. In one newsletter the 84 pupil midwives about to sit their NRB exam were wished good luck – a very large group! It appears the branch ran regular raffles as one of their many fundraising activities– with one member winning a copy of Maggie Myles 1989 textbook. The births of members babies were also a regular news item.

The associations ‘Breastfeeding Protocol’, launched in 1985, was noted as selling very well throughout Australia – 2,700 copies having been sold. The protocol was receiving very positive feedback, including ‘reducing conflicting advice being given to mothers. The 2nd edition was underway by the end of the decade. The branch was very proud of this achievement.


Prepared for International Day of the Midwife 5th May 2022

Written by Christine Fowler ACT Branch