Lorraine Evans was only 19 years old when she started working at Lort Smith as a vet nurse, with no training, in the 1970’s.
“Back then, parents thought that only boys needed an education. So at 16, I went to work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. While there, I decided I wanted to be a vet nurse. No one typed in those days, I handwrote God knows how many resumes and sent them off to every vet in town!” laughs Lorraine.
Finding science interesting, Lorraine says she must have had some kind of natural technical talent as she used to do surgery on day old mice.
At the time, no veterinary nurse course existed, so Lorraine enrolled herself in the brand new Animal Technical course at Box Hill TAFE (four years part-time) while still at Walter and Eliza.
“I had an interview at Lort Smith and got the job. They put me with Joan Humphries, a female vet, to learn from. She showed me how to correctly hold the different animals, how to scrub up and how to set up the operating theatre,” explains Lorraine.
Lorraine worked 13 hour days, from 8.30am-9.30pm and recalls being paid approximately $30 per week when she first started.
“If there was a big emergency that couldn’t wait til the next day, like stuck puppies, pyometra or a twisted stomach, there would be nights I’d be still cleaning at 11pm and due back early the next morning. We were so busy, it was like animal MASH. I learnt that young people are very resilient,” says Lorraine.
During Lorraine’s tenure, the entire staff was made up of two ‘office ladies’, four vets, four vet nurses, two people in cattery and six in kennels, a tea lady named Jean and a yard man named Harry.
“Back then, we didn’t take appointments. People would just turn up, check-in at the office and the office ladies were expected to know what was an emergency! We would use index cards and nurses had to remain with their assigned vet for the full 13 hour shift. We were not to leave their side and told our very first priority was ‘don’t let the vets get bitten!’ Vet nurses really are instrumental,” shares Lorraine.
Lorraine’s main duties were; surgical nurse, consult nurse, drug dispensing and x-rays – including hand developing in the dark room.
“I liked working in the theatre most. We would bring in cassette tapes and sing along to Abba and Joan Baez,” smiles Lorraine.
“I think Lort Smith reaching 85 years is absolutely wonderful and I think it has kept up with the times. NO – it has lead the times! I’m proud I was a part of the evolution of Lort Smith. Things were tough back then, but they were good.”
“Louisa Lort Smith was obviously an animal lover, there cannot be any doubt about that. Her heart was always in the right place and Lort Smith did a lot things early on in regards to education. Like promoting the abolishment of traps, handing out fact sheets about the exponential population growth of cats if you didn’t have them desexed, the importance of vaccinations – during my era, there was lots of distemper and feline enteritis,” recalls Lorraine.
“Overall, Lort Smith back then provided low cost, mostly very successful treatments to thousands of animals who otherwise would have missed out. I think the strays and staff were victims of the prevailing circumstances of the time – the tail end of the biggest Depression Australia has ever had. Lort Smith did a magnificent job despite this and I feel proud to have been a part of it,” says Lorraine.