Nursing tales go live with launch of new website

11 March 2015

Tales of the days of nursing hostel curfews, starched caps and when 'doctors were God' can be heard online with the launch of New Zealand's first nursing oral history archive.

Margaret Woodcock 1960sSnippets of the stories of nearly 60 nurses who trained in the 1950s and '60s are available on the website, which is the culmination of a three-year oral history project by the Nursing Education and Research Foundation (NERF).

Dr Jill Clendon, a New Zealand Nursing Organisation researcher, was an advisor to the oral history project and project facilitator for the new website (, which she hopes will become a "repository for all things nursing history in New Zealand".

"Our intention is that this is the ‘go to’ site for information about nursing history in New Zealand," she says.

Clendon says in the past oral history recordings were only archived in the Alexander Turnbull Library and not easily accessible to nursing students, researchers or nurses in general.

The new website, designed using open source software, aims to be an 'online museum' for NERF, not only containing easy to 'click and hear' snippets of oral histories but also serving as a home for historic photos, documents, mementos, reminiscences and research into New Zealand's nursing history.

In 2012 NERF contracted a University of Auckland project team – made up of health historian Professor Linda Bryder, nursing academics Associate Professor Margaret Horsburgh and Dr Kate Prebble, and historian Dr Debbie Dunsford – to carry out oral history interviews with a wide range of nurses who trained in the 1950s and 1960s.

The resulting nearly 60 oral histories feature nurses from well-known nursing leaders to 'everyday' nurses and includes male, Māori and mental health nurses. While many are retired, a number are still practising.

“I’m pleased that people will be able to listen to fascinating snippets of history, and dip in and out of different nurses’ stories," says Bryder. "The audio files are the perfect length to listen to on the train or in the car.”

Clendon says the full recordings are held by the Alexander Turnbull's oral history archive, which is also the home of 300-plus other nursing oral histories (185 of them collected by NERF), which include those of nurses who registered before 1920, wartime nurses, nursing nuns and Plunket nurses. 

She says the Turnbull is in the process of digitising its oral history archives and in the future snippets of these other nursing stories may also be loaded onto the site.

Nurses and researchers who think they have material that could be a good addition to the site can contact Jill Clendon ( to discuss further.