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AFTER 10 years as a physiotherapist at Calvary John James, and more than 60 years in the industry, Bernadine Mulholland retires this week on her 86th birthday.
It’s Bernie’s second retirement, though she says this one will stick.
“I retired from the Canberra Hospital but two years later in May, 2008, I was invited to work at Calvary,” she says.
“I was happy to go back to work because I love what I do, and I love people.
“I couldn’t sit behind a desk, I’ve got to be out there face to face, that’s what I like. I didn’t think I’d be here for 10 years though!”
Bernie started studying physiotherapy at the University of Queensland when she was 19 after a few months in medicine, which she left because “it was too much study”, she says.
Having graduated in 1955, Bernie worked for six months before getting married. She and her husband William went on to have five children.
Bernie’s career in helping others started with establishing the Canberra branch of the Childbirth Education Association and teaching Canberra’s first Lamaze classes at her home in 1968.
She also helped establish the Hartley Centre in O’Connor for children with cerebral palsy in 1973, helped integrate disabled children into local mainstream schools, while working with physically disabled children at the old Canberra Hospital. Much of her career was spent there, moving into orthopaedic and rehab in 1983 and aged care from 1990.
“Words can’t describe this profession, working with people that need your help, and if you can give it to them and get the results they want, it’s more rewarding than all the money in the world,” says Bernie.
“They’re free, they’re able to move, they’ve got their independence. It just brings tears to your eyes, it really does. And I feel so humble, because I’ve been given the opportunity to study, to be able to go into this profession and it’s really wonderful.”
Bernie says she’ll miss her work, the way it keeps her fit, the team at Calvary and the patients she forms connections with.
“Once you lay your hands on a person, there’s a rapport there, they unburden to you and you’ve got to be a good listener, with empathy not sympathy,” she says.
Bernie remembers in particular a child she worked with from the age of six months, Catherine Huggett, who went on to win multiple gold medals in swimming at the Paralympic Games.
“She was very special. I love the patients I’ve looked after, the children particularly. And being able to be a friend to the parents, and take on a bit of their burden, too.
“In rehab you have to work as a team, and part of that team is the patient. They need to be involved in the decision-making process for what they want to achieve.
“It’s very rewarding, and we all get excited when someone does something new like walk a bit further or dress themselves. It means a lot to us because we become part of our patients’ lives, and plan the journey together.”
Bernie received the Order of Australia for services to physiotherapy, was nominated for Australian of the Year and had a star bought for her by a grateful patient.
“It’s beyond my dreams, I still say why – I’m just doing something I love,” she says.
Bernie says she feels that at 86, it’s time to go and leave the work to “the young ones”, and is looking forward to a retirement learning about computers, taking long walks, joining a gym, enjoying the spring racing carnival in Melbourne and going travelling.
“I feel it’s time. I’d like to stay but I keep thinking, how much longer have I got?
“I’m very lucky, 86 is a long life, and who knows? Are we going to be here tomorrow? There are things I want to do. And I want to do them when I want to.”