Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Olive Eva Anstey (1920–1983)

by Criena Fitzgerald

This article was published:

Olive Eva Anstey (1920-1983), hospital matron, was born on 9 August 1920 at Fremantle, Western Australia, youngest of three children of Terence Edwin Anstey, a sawmill benchman from Victoria, and his Western Australian-born wife Eva Annie, née Donovan. When Olive was eighteen months old the family moved to Sydney, where she completed her schooling. Returning to Western Australia in 1934, she learned commercial bookkeeping, shorthand and typing at Perth Technical College. At 15 she started work in a box factory at Fremantle while continuing her studies at night. She then worked as a bookkeeper with the soft goods manufacturers Creek, Petersen & Co. until becoming head bookkeeper at the shoe retailers Betts & Betts.

Against the wishes of her family, who wanted better things for her than the `servitude’ of nursing, Anstey began training at (Royal) Perth Hospital in 1941. She passed her final examinations in May 1944 and became a staff nurse; that year she was elected a council member of the local branch of the Australasian Trained Nurses Association. In 1946 she took part in the successful campaign waged by the Western Australian Nurses’ Association for better pay and conditions, before moving back to Sydney to train for her midwifery certificate at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington. Registered as a midwife on 8 January 1947, she ran a small private hospital and, as organising secretary of the New South Wales Nurses’ Association for a year, gained experience in industrial relations. In 1949, while a charge nurse in surgical wards at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, she served as founding honorary secretary of the New South Wales College of Nursing. She then worked in South Australia as a community health and school medical nurse for three years.

Back in Perth, Anstey was employed (1953-57) at the Perth Chest Clinic. After gaining a diploma in nursing administration at the College of Nursing, Australia, in Melbourne, and completing a short stint as matron of Collie hospital, Western Australia, in May 1958 she was appointed matron of the new Perth Chest Hospital. In 1963, renamed the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, it began admitting general patients and providing acute care. Under Anstey’s leadership, it also became a community health centre. She initiated, encouraged and supported many innovative programs in various areas of nursing practice, education and administration.

Continuing to be an advocate for the nursing profession in Western Australia, Anstey was elected in 1958 to the council (president 1962-66) of the State branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation. She had helped to found the RANF Nurses’ Memorial Centre of Western Australia, and was for many years also a member of the Florence Nightingale Committee and of the Nurses Registration Board of Western Australia. For four years she served on the nursing advisory committee, Western Australian Institute of Technology. Nationally, Anstey served as a council member (1964-71) of the College of Nursing, Australia, and sat on the nursing standing committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council for three years. As federal president (1971-75) of the RANF, she helped to establish the Australian Nurses’ Journal. She completed her service to nursing as president (1977-81) of the International Council of Nurses. In 1978 she was made an honorary fellow of the New South Wales College of Nursing.

A sturdy and cheerful woman, Anstey was respected by her colleagues as an enthusiast and an optimist with an unswerving belief that anything was possible. On her retirement in 1981 Catherine Martin described her as `having a natural simple manner’, through which `honesty, integrity and serenity’ shone. When addressing an audience she had the power `to touch the hearts of people’. Having been appointed MBE in 1969, in 1982 she was elevated to CBE. She died suddenly on the night of 18-19 August 1983 at Shoalwater, Perth, and was buried with Catholic rites in Karrakatta cemetery. An accommodation block for student nurses at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital had been named after her in 1974; shortly after her death the hospital’s board of management established the Olive Anstey Nursing Fund.

Select Bibliography

  • V. Hobbs, But Westward Look (1980)
  • C. Polizzotto, A Fair Sized Town (1988)
  • Australian Nurses’ Journal, Aug 1981, p 28, Oct 1983, p 9
  • West Australian, 19 Nov 1981, p 69
  • C. Jeffery, interview with O. Anstey (typescript, 1977, State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Criena Fitzgerald, 'Anstey, Olive Eva (1920–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 August, 1920
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia


18 August, 1983 (aged 63)
Shoalwater, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.