NZNO celebrated International Nurses Day in Wellington today with the launch of Listening with my heart: Poems by Aotearoa New Zealand nurses. Edited by Professional Nurse Advisor Lorraine Ritchie, this fabulous new book features the work of 35 nurses, three of whom – Clare Mills, Gayle King-Tamehana and Ali Morris – read their poems aloud to us. Reverend Don Rangi blessed the books, which were then snapped up by the invited guests. Production of this poetry book is part of NZNO’s Visibility of Nursing Project. It can be ordered online here. Some photos of the launch, and my few words of welcome, are below.
“E ngā reo, e ngā mana, e ngā karangarangataha maha, tēnā koutou katoa.
To the voices, the authorities – too numerous to mention – and the many affiliations, greetings to you all. A special welcome to those who have travelled from afar, and the nurse poets who will read to us shortly.
We are gathered today to celebrate nursing, past and present. International Nurses Day is marked every year on May the 12th, the birthday of our great foremother, Florence Nightingale.
I have been re-reading the poems of William Wordsworth, which I enjoyed so much when I was younger, and recently came across his description of “the best portion of a good man’s life: the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love”.
So I think that today is about not only the nursing greats, who are rightly celebrated and who give their names to our scholarships, our buildings, and our ceremonial events. It’s also about the unremembered and unsung nurses – the Mary Seacoles as well as the Florence Nightingales; Heni Whangapirita, the second Māori Trained Nurse, as well as Grace Neill; the famed Hester MacLean of the Army Nursing Service, but also Miss Ethel Jennings of Wellington, one of the nurses who joined Ettie Rout’s Volunteer Sisterhood during World War One.
We are gathered not only to celebrate nursing, however, but literature. And it occurs to me that so many of the great literary works I’ve had the privilege of discovering over the years have been by, or about nurses. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, is familiar to many, I’m sure. The main character in Nor The Years Condemn, by my favourite New Zealand author Robin Hyde, is the beautifully drawn Nurse Bede Collins. Last year, I was introduced to another nurse author at the Hui-a-Tau of Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa – Helen Waaka, who read from her short story collection, Waitapu.
And soon, we will launch another fabulous literary work by nurses, edited by Lorraine Ritchie, Listening with my heart: Poems of Aotearoa New Zealand nurses.
Without further ado, then, thank you for coming and welcome, welcome, welcome to you all.”