National Library of Australia

Ellen Kettle’s diary

Ellen Kettle (1922–1999)Service diary 1960–1962

manuscript; 16.5 x 10.5cm

Donated by Ellen Kettle, 2000

Northern Territory Library
Ellen Kettle’s diary

When Ellen Kettle arrived in Yuendumu in the Northern Territory in 1952 to begin work as a nurse on an Aboriginal settlement, her first clinic was a hut filled with holes: ‘the wind and the dust whistled through, there was no privacy and even less water’.

Over the next five decades she would almost single-handedly revolutionise Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory by creating medical records for thousands of patients and drawing attention to their plight, particularly in regard to high infant mortality.

A series of diaries kept between 1959 and 1997 and her autobiography, Gone Bush, provide a remarkable insight into the work of this dedicated and courageous woman.

Appointed the Commonwealth Department of Health’s first rural survey sister in 1954, Sister Kettle was blunt in her approach and her calls for change usually met with indifference and even opposition.

Her medical records, however, amounted to a body of evidence that the authorities could not deny. Gradually, Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory began to improve.

Sister Ellen Kettle died in Darwin on 2 August 1999, aged 77.