Honour for a remarkable Blackheath woman

Averil “Rill” Gibson, a long-time Blackheath resident who died last year, has been posthumously awarded an OAM for her work as a children’s nurse and for her service to the Blue Mountains community.

Miss Gibson spent most of her working life nursing in the most difficult conditions in outback Australia. While she specialised in children, she treated anyone who needed help, be it setting a broken bone, suturing a wound, delivering a baby or even extracting teeth.

Miss Gibson was born in Gosford in 1917 and raised in Walcha. She was the eldest of nine children, only two of whom survive. Her only sister, Lin, is also an OAM, having been awarded the honour for her work on local history in the Clarence River district of NSW. 

She was initially rejected for nursing studies at Royal North Shore Hospital because she was under 150 centimetres tall but the “pocket rocket”, as many knew her, was accepted by the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital at Camperdown.

She started her career at Innamincka, a tiny dot on the map in South Australia, 1065 kilometres north-east of Adelaide. It had a population of five – Miss Gibson, her nursing colleague, a policeman, the publican and his housekeeper.

The nearest doctor was 650 kilometres away in Broken Hill and the nurses had to use a pedal wireless to keep in touch with the base. Rill visited remote stations, often travelling with the mailman for two weeks at a time to treat stockmen and Aborigines.

She also spent 15 years as a travelling baby clinic sister with the Royal Far West Health Scheme. Her home and clinic was a converted railway carriage  based at Inverell and Cobar railway stations. It would be hooked up behind a passenger or freight train and unhooked at a station or a siding where she treated the locals.

She also taught mothercraft to schoolgirls at Nyngan and Cobar, gave Sunday School lessons and organised slide evenings and other social activities.

Miss Gibson’s niece, Helen O’Brien, said her aunt was “very loyal, very dedicated and with an incredibly strong sense of duty”.

Although she never married or had children herself, Miss Gibson was always around to help her very many nieces and nephews, Mrs O’Brien said.

In 1970, she bought a house in Blackheath and spent the next seven years with the Government Baby Health Centre Clinics around the central west before finally retiring in 1977 after a 44-year career in nursing.

She also immersed herself in the Blackheath community, joining the congregation of the Leslie Memorial Church, the Presbyterian Women’s Association and the Blue Mountains Rhododendron Society. She helped in the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens for 20 years and also volunteered with the local bushcare group.

Her former neighbour, Helen Gillam, said she was a warm and generous woman.

“If she knew it was your birthday she would be down with a ginger cake. 

“She also had a huge network of friends around the world — she was even still corresponding with some of the children she had delivered.”

It was only in late 2012 that Miss Gibson had to leave her home and move to an aged-care facility in Springwood. She died in March 2013, aged 95, a true quiet achiever.

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