Monday, February 24, 2014

Newcastle’s Almoners - Grace Parbery & Rosemary Ramsey

Broadcast Notes
ABC1233 Local Treasures
March 2014
By Ann Hardy

To understand people we need to understand the place in which they live. This was a motto of Grace Parbery, respected former Newcastle social worker.  When she came to Newcastle she was interested in the city’s history and how it had shaped the people who lived there.
One of her keenest interests at the moment is the history of Newcastle. She likes this for its own sake, but also feels that it is difficult to understand people in relation to their background unless you understand also the growth and development of the place in which they live. (Grace Parbery) Newcastle Morning Herald 1947
Stories about people contribute to the culture of the city of the Hunter. There is often much emphasis on built environment, but not on social history and the contributions and legacy left by individuals. Two Hunter women that certainly left a legacy were the late Grace Parbery (1913-1993) and Rosemary Ramsey (1925-2012) both were ‘almoners’, known today as ‘social workers’ and made a significant contribution to field of Social Work. They helped established healthcare practices in Newcastle that influenced new caring cultures to develop in NSW.

Grace started work at the ‘Almony Department’ at Royal Newcastle Hospital in 1943. Five years earlier she had completed a Certificate of Social Studies in Sydney and after completion of her studies gained experienced in the mental health setting working for the Red Cross at the Army General Hospital at Goulburn, NSW. At this time the Army General Hospital was the main psychiatric hospital in NSW and provided care for soldiers who had returned from New Guinea.

When Grace arrived at the Royal in Newcastle she was one of three almoners at Newcastle and worked across many different areas of medicine. The Almony department at Newcastle was the first outside Sydney (at a public hospital), they would do ‘rounds’ every Friday with the medical staff and visiting all 278 patients.  Medical issues and the patient’s social situation were noted and if social work support was required, the almoner would take a ‘social history’. This was a story about the person’s life, their social supports, interests, employment etc. The gathering of personal information was an integral part of the medical assessment.

The almoner’s role at Newcastle also involved visiting patients at other locations. The Newcastle Hospital Almoners undertook home visits when a patient left hospital, they visited the Waratah convalescent home, as well as the Rankin Park ‘Chest’ Hospital where patients with Tuberculosis were treated. Almoners also worked extensively with mental health patients. Two psychiatrists visited Newcastle Hospital on a regular basis and social work intervention was part of patient care.

Source: Hospital at Rankin Park. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Grace believed that an Almoners job was to “see that any problem- financial, emotional or environmental that would prevent a patient from deriving full benefit from prescribed treatment” (Parbery : Newcastle Morning Herald 1947)

In 1955 Grace was instrumental in establishing a Domiciliary Care Service and Retraining Unit for the elderly at the Royal Newcastle Hospital, a scheme which launched Home Care Service of NSW. What originally started as a service proving housekeeping services, branched out over the decades to support other groups including mothers and the aged in the 1960s, to families of children with a disability in the 1970s, to a focus on care of young people with a disability in the 1980s. In 1986 Grace received Australia Day Honours and was awarded an OAM for her contribution to health care. 

Rosemary Ramsey is another important figure in NSW's health history.  Born in Salisbury in the county of Wiltshire in England she came to Australia with her family when she was 4. At the age of 16, Rosemary moved to Perth to undertake a degree in psychology at the University of Western Australia. As part of her final year in the degree, she worked at a children’s home in Perth. Her son Steve advised that whilst she was there “she was so appalled by the treatment of the children that she was moved to write a letter to the responsible Minister.” Rosemary received a response from the minister and interestingly was offered a scholarship to study social work, a new course, at the University of Melbourne. When in Melbourne she worked at Royal Park and Mont Park Hospitals and is believed she was the only social worker working in a mental hospital in Australia. It was in Melbourne she met her husband Jake and had her first son Steve, and two years later another son Richard. During the 1950s they family moved to Lake Macquarie where their third son Michael was born.

Rosemary Ramsey in Perth 1945. Photograph courtesy Steve Ramsey

In 1965 Rosemary got a job as an almoner at Royal Newcastle Hospital where she worked for several years before becoming social worker at Newcastle Psychiatric Centre, or Watt St as it was more commonly known, a position she held until her retirement. She was certainly the first non-medical unit director at Watt Street where she headed up the addiction unit. She was the only social worker at this mental hospital when she started there. Social workers assisted mental health patients find appropriate accommodation, and seeing there was a need in this area Rosemary helped set up Trelowarren one of the first residential facilities for this group.  The location of Trelowarren was to the right as you entered the main hospital grounds. Today this is the area of the Thwaites Building. This building provided short term residential accommodation until more permanent accommodation could be found.  Rosemary also provided care to patients at Shortland Clinic at Newcastle.

Children playing at school house at Newcastle Mental Hospital. 1957. Later become Trelowarren.
Source:  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Shortland Clinic. Source: University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

While working at the hospital, she started the Newcastle branch of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA) in Newcastle an organisation with which she continued to work with for many years after her retirement in 1985.  PRA is organisation that was first established at Callan Park Hospital in 1955. The Newcastle service was established in 1961, and in 1981 a program that provided social support, this came as a result of the Richmond Report that recommended the closing of some mental health institutions in NSW.   Rosemary received an award from PRA for her lifetime contribution to that organisation. Apparently on her retirement, she was described by the then Medical Superintendent, the late Brian Thwaites, as the conscience of the mental hospital. 
In 1993 the Australian Association of Social Workers established an Award in Grace Parbery’s honour. Each year this goes to an outstanding social worker who has made a contribution to the field social work. A year after Grace’s death, the inaugural award went to Rosemary Ramsey, fellow Novocastrian who had also made a significant contribution as a social worker and to health care, primarily to mental health care.  In 1995 Rosemary was presented with the Premier’s Award for outstanding service to the Community, “Rosemary Ramsey was a contemporary of Grace Parbery and similarly has been at the forefront of innovative service development. Her work exemplifies social work values, ethics and practice principles, and has been of enormous benefit to people within the Hunter.” Her contributions are warmly remembered by those whose lives she touched.

Rosemary Ramsey in 2011 Photograph courtesy of Steve Ramsey.

Rosemary Ramsey on her 80th birthday. Photograph courtesy of Steve Ramsey.
The contribution Grace and Rosemary have made to the well-being of individuals and the wider community is significant because health practices they helped to establish are part of NSW’s ‘health history’, something that today and in the future we will be able to reflect on and learn. There was a strong sense of connection, and a certain relationship between the ‘hospital’ workers and the Newcastle community.
The attitude of the community to the Hospital is different from in a larger city. The Hospital is the Hospital of the People; it is supported by the people and serves a greater cross section of the community. People know more about the Hospital and consequently more is known about the function of the Almoner Department, both within the community and within the Hospital. Grace Parbery

Many Thanks to Rosemary's son Steve Ramsey for sharing his mum's story and beautiful photographs.

Parbery, Grace Australian Journal of Social Work; Mar1950, Vol. 3 Issue 4, p1-4, 4p
Publication Year: 1950.

Parbery, Grace Mary Australian Social Work; Jun1994, Vol. 47 Issue 2, p16-16, 1p 1994.