Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greene, Anne (1884–1965)

by Cathie Clement

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Anne Greene (1884?-1965), known as Mother Mary Gertrude, missionary and nurse, was baptized on 18 May 1884 at Killard (Doonbeg), County Clare, Ireland, ninth of twelve children of Thomas Greene, a farmer of Ballaha, and his wife Bridget, née Clancy. Nothing is known of Anne's early education. Emigrating to Western Australia at about the age of 21, she completed her novitiate at the Convent of St John of God, Subiaco, and took the religious names Mary Gertrude. She trained as a nurse at the Order's hospital and studied midwifery at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Subiaco.

Small and wiry, with soft brown eyes that conveyed compassion, Sister Mary Gertrude ministered as both ward and theatre sister at Subiaco and Kalgoorlie, before nursing for two years at Ballarat, Victoria. In 1929 she volunteered to serve at the Order's foundation in the north of Western Australia where no less than four of her siblings had preceded her. Sister Mary Bernadine (baptized Emilia on 11 November 1882, d. 25 February 1923) had gone to the mission at Beagle Bay in June 1907 when the Order first sent volunteers to take charge of the Aboriginal women and girls who had been attracted there by the work of the Cistercian monks and their successors the Pallottine Fathers. Sister Mary Bernadine was joined by her sisters, Sister Mary Matthew (baptized Catherine on 13 September 1881, d. 1 April 1978), Sister Mary Brigid (baptized Susan on 30 April 1879, d. 16 May 1968) and Sister Mary Gabriel (baptized Margaret on 31 July 1886, d. 10 February 1984).

On her arrival in 1929, Sister Mary Gertrude initially taught in the school at Broome, then went to the Beagle Bay mission. The Sisters worked in Spartan conditions, offering health care, education and counselling. Their patients included Aboriginal people suffering from Hansen's bacillus (leprosy). At intervals from 1930 the Sisters offered to staff a leprosarium, if the State government were prepared to establish one in the North-West. Much indecision and lobbying occurred before Sister Mary Gertrude and several Sisters received permission in 1937 to work with 340 patients housed near Derby. Almost one-half of these people proved to be suffering from other diseases and were moved to the Derby Native Hospital for treatment. The Sisters cared for the remainder, alleviating as much distress as possible and brightening the leprosarium with cheerful proficiency. After Broome was attacked by Japanese aircraft on 3 March 1942, they moved with their patients into the bush for two weeks.

In 1947 Sister Gertrude was made provincial superior of the North-West, an appointment that brought with it the title of Mother. Her new responsibilities obliged her to stop working in the leprosarium. Next year she was appointed M.B.E., one of the first secular awards given to a St John of God Sister in Australia. Gentle and quietly spoken, Mother Gertrude served as provincial until 1953, and again in 1956-62, following which she became superior of the St John of God Convent, Derby. Early in 1965 her commitments took her to Broome. She died there on 20 February that year as a result of injuries received in a motorcar accident and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Durack, The Rock and the Sand (Lond, 1969)
  • W. S. Davidson, Havens of Refuge (Perth, 1978)
  • Western Australian Record, 25 May, 15 June 1907, 2 May 1908, 25 Feb 1965, 24 Feb-1 Mar 1984
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 June 1948
  • West Australian, 10 June 1948, 24, 27 Feb 1965
  • M. A. Daly, Healing Hands (typescript, c1980)
  • private information.

Citation details

Cathie Clement, 'Greene, Anne (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mary Gertrude, Mother
  • Mary Gertrude, Sister

Killard, Clare, Ireland


20 February 1965
Broome, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence