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Nurses, Nurturing & Nature... By Lydia Fraser

"Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation as any painter's or sculptor's work." - Florence Nightingale

"People can accept you sick or well. What's lacking is the patience for the convalescent." - Alain de Botton

Magnetic Island is synonymous with nurturance and nature. She has provided a haven of restoration and relaxation for local residents, holiday makers and travelers alike. It is a place for replenishing the body and fortifying the spirit. Her peaceful surroundings provide an environment that soothes the soul and harmonizes a frazzled nervous system. The Island was also a place of healing for the Wulgurukaba people. Babies were birthed here, and sacred ceremonies were held. The essence of this Island provides a source of regenesis that many people are attracted to. And it was during the 1950's and 60's that our nurses the eminent healers of our western culture came here for well-deserved holidays and stayed at a hostel known as "Centaur House."

This establishment was built on Magnetic Island as Convalescent and Rest Hostel for nurses in memory of those that lost their life on Hospital Ship Centaur, which was torpedoed in World War Two. The land that the hostel was built on was situated on Marine Parade at Arcadia, overlooking the natural beauty of Geoffrey Bay, and it was donated to the Townsville Hospital Board in1927. The building of it commenced in 1949, and there were many delays due to weather conditions and lack of funding. It officially opened on the 1st of November 1953.

Centaur house was a building of representative honour. And I would like to honour the nurturing skills of nurses. Nature heals, and so do good nurses. Healing is a science as well as an artform. Nurses that advocate patient care understand the art of nurturance and its ability to support the body and spirit back to health. It takes a certain kind of nature to be a nurse. It is a profession that sees the processes of the life/death/rebirth cycle, they witness the birth of new life, aid the revival and rebirthing processes of the body's healing potential, and assist with the supportive care of the dying. This is profound work, and there are nurses' that have profoundly affected my life, and I am grateful to those that have supported myself and my loved ones. Their names and kind deeds are etched in my heart forever. Your skills and kindness did not go unnoticed. In ideal world I wish that places like Centaur House would still be available to you. Because convalescence is essential not only to our recovery in illness, but also as a preventative measure that sustains our well-being and future health. Nurses now work in a system that does not promote this healing principal. In fact, our whole societal system negates the idea, and many people are living in hyper-adrenalized states that leads to physical, emotional and mental burnout.

In previous times the medical profession implemented convalescence and rest as a part of their protocol. Our fast-paced world and ''modern thinking'' has dismissed this philosophy. The word convalescence comes from the Latin term convalescere: “to grow fully strong.” Growth cannot exist without restoration. Nature teaches us this, when we sync with her cycles we can learn the art of convalescence. Resting is preservation and life convalesces through abated states in order to repair and fortify itself.

Thankfully Centaur House is still operating today as a hostel, and it is known as Arcadia Beach Guest House. In 1963, the property was leased out and converted into a guesthouse for tourists. But After Cyclone Althea in 1971, Centaur House was out of operation for months, and its patronage was greatly impacted. Continuing challenges led to the Centaur Memorial Fund's Townsville Committee recommending the property's sale in 1973, and it was sold to Graham and Betty Jackson. During the 1980's my mother-in-law Gwen (fondly known as 'Grannie Gwen' by her grandchildren) ran Centaur House as a hostel for tourists and backpackers. Coincidently, she was a retired nurse herself. She had vitality, wit, insurmountable energy, cheeky humor, and the sharp thinking of good nurse. And she loved to party! These attributes would have served her well in running a hostel.

Footnote on the Australian Hospital Ship (AHS) Centaur:

The Centaur was originally a passenger liner and cargo ship, then it was converted into a hospital ship in March 1943. It came to its demise in May of 1943. Out of the 332 medical personnel and civilian crew, only 64 of them survived. There was only one surviving nurse of the 12-nursing staff on board. Her name was Sister Ellen Savage, she courageously assisted the remaining survivors, and was awarded the George Medal for her brave and noble efforts.

I was intrigued by the naming of this ship, apparently it was named by its British owners Alfred Holt and Philip Henry Holt. I am curious as to why someone would name a ship after a Greek mythological creature. The Centaur is half human/half horse, and they dwelled in the mountains of Thessaly and Arcadia. I think that it quite serendipitous that Centaur House was built in Arcadia Bay.

There is also the wise Centaur called Chiron, who was known for his great wisdom and as the tutor of the god of medicine Asclepius. Chiron the Centaur was also named the "Wounded Healer", due to the woundings of his past. Although he helped others heal their wounds. There is a strange correlation between this archetypal figure's name and the Hospital Ship Centaur as it was a target for wounding healers.


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