Nurse, social worker, author: Beth’s story
Mrs Beth Robertson (97) of Resthaven Malvern – who gained her third tertiary qualification when she was 90 – has published a 50,000-word memoir, which will be available in bookshops in April 2023.
This latest milestone is no surprise to those who know her, with Beth’s tenacity and intelligence well known throughout the home.
Born in Adelaide Memorial Hospital on 9 October 1926, Beth grew up in Adelaide, although moved around a lot during her early childhood.
‘Dad went off to WWI aged 19 or 20, and he came back a nervous wreck,’ she says.
‘My mum had come out here for a visit and got stuck here for the war. They weren’t at all compatible. My mother made an effort, but she struggled. Dad was out of work for three years after the war, times were tough. They split up when I was 12.’
This wasn’t the only difficulty Beth faced: ‘Being a coloured person in a white world, you know – it was very discriminatory,’ she says.
‘My grandfather’s name was Vaules Wordie – he was the son of freed slaves in Jamaica. He spoke against the White Australia Policy in parliament.’
‘He was well-known, and greatly loved and respected.’
Following a difficult experience at state school, Beth’s mother made heroic sacrifices to send her to Methodist Ladies College (MLC), which improved her situation greatly.
She explains, ‘I made up my own theories on life … but I was way off track! I thought the best thing to do was not try. Besides, I had a natural streak of laziness. But God had given me a good brain I guess.’
‘We were always a very religious family – I went to church four times on Sundays. When I was little, I had a great faith, but sort of lost it in high school.’
That all changed when Beth attended a camp aged 16, where she describes how she realised that her ‘whole life had been coming to know Jesus as my personal saviour.’
From that moment on, Beth ‘went from being bottom of the class, to right at the top of the stadium.’
Aged 18, Beth started her nursing training, completing three years at what is now the Royal Adelaide Hospital (pictured right). Once this was complete, she moved to Melbourne at age 21 to study midwifery for 12 months.
On her return to Adelaide, she attended Bible College in Payneham for two years, where she gained her Diploma in Theology.
‘In 1954, aged 28, I went to Africa, where I worked as a missionary nurse in remote places,’ she says.
‘I worked in clinics way out on the backroads. I remember at one stage walking 30 miles through lion-infested terrain to reach someone to help them.’
After eight years working as a missionary nurse overseas, Beth came home for a year, before heading back again. However, a bout of Hepatitis A forced her to return home.
‘By then, my mother was in her 80s and I felt like I should stay in Australia,’ she says.
‘I wondered what to do, until a friend told me they were doing social work, and I thought, “I could do that”.
‘I remember that I drove along North Terrace in my car, and I said to myself, “If I can get a park right outside the uni, I’ll go in.” And I did! My life is full of “coincidences” like that.’
Beth studied for three years, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Social Studies.
On graduation, Beth was granted one of only two studentships to work at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), where she eventually became Head Social Worker.
At 46 years old, she met her husband, Albert: ‘He was by way of being an agnostic, and I was by way of being a Bible basher, so of course we didn’t know where to get married!’ she says, ‘So we got married in a garden!’
‘We had 45 years together before he died in 2019.’
‘Following my engagement to Albert, I resigned from QEH and worked part-time in other agencies, until my retirement aged 56.’
An active retiree, Beth played bowls, tennis and golf, however, she felt ‘at a bit of a loose end.’
It was one day at church that Beth, who’d seen a pamphlet for the Tabor Writing College, mentioned that she would like to enrol, however, thought she was ‘too old for that’.
Her church community weren’t having that, however, and encouraged her to enrol.
So, it was that, aged 88, she enrolled in a Diploma of Arts at Tabor College.
It was following this that Beth had the idea to publish her life story: ‘We had writing exercises to do, and I had a lot to write about my life, and it just kind of grew from that,’ she says.
With the book now published – available in regular and large-print versions for the vision impaired – Beth says that she ‘has been helped by God and many people.’
‘I feel that when I gave my life to Jesus Christ, He enabled me,’ she explains.
Beth’s book, ‘Into the Light,’ will be available in bookstores in April 2023, or can be purchased from Resthaven Malvern reception prior to this.