Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Phyllis Katherine Fraser Mullens (1908–1962)

by Vilma Page

This article was published:

Phyllis Katherine Fraser Mullens (1908-1962), nurse, was born on 19 September 1908 at Mosman, Sydney, second daughter of English-born Harold Weymouth Mullens, Anglican clergyman, and his wife Adeline Maud, née Fraser, who came from New Zealand. Educated at Holmer girls' school, Parramatta, and Woodcourt College, Marrickville, Phyllis trained at Prince Henry Hospital, Little Bay, and was registered by the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association on 1 June 1932. She remained at Prince Henry as a staff nurse until becoming matron at Bexhill Private Hospital, Maroubra. In 1939 she joined the Sydney District Nursing Association.

Mobilized on 9 October 1940 in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Mullens was posted to Darwin in the following month. From December 1941 she worked at the 113th Australian General Hospital, Concord, Sydney. Appointed to the Australian Imperial Force in September 1942 as a sister (captain 1943), she joined the hospital ship, Wanganella, and tended wounded soldiers from the Middle East and South-West Pacific Area. In 1945 her duties included the care of prisoners of war who were being repatriated in the ship. Attached to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, she served (from March 1946) in Japan, at Kure and in Tokyo. She returned to Sydney in September 1947, transferred to the Reserve of Officers and spent two years farming with her brother-in-law at Mount Tootie, near Bilpin.

Miss Mullens was a skilled nurse with extensive experience across a wide range of illness, disease and injuries. She chose to devote her life to the sick poor of Sydney and rejoined the S.D.N.A. in September 1950. Within three months she was made deputy-matron, with a staff of twenty-three nurses. A brisk, efficient and cheerful woman, round-faced and small in stature, she was appointed acting-matron in November 1954. She proved a capable administrator, coping with the increased demand for home care (that stemmed from the compulsory tuberculosis X-ray programme), engaging more nurses, and encouraging the establishment of a central sterilizing depot to increase efficiency. In October 1955 she became matron. Under her direction, care of the aged and chronically ill increased, and district nurses were regularly accompanied by student nurses and almoners. Following a stroke, she underwent surgery in January 1957, but was back at work by the end of April. She was always mindful of her patients' welfare, and provided hospital-type beds and tripod walking-sticks for their use.

In 1957 the rehabilitative side of district nursing was commended by social workers from Lidcombe State Hospital and Home. By 1961 Mullens was in charge of forty-seven nurses ministering in thirty-six districts. That year her lecture on 'Domiciliary Care' was published, and overseas delegates from the International Council of Nurses visited the Glebe headquarters of the S.D.N.A. Mullens played an important role in retaining the original stonework and iron railing that contribute to the historic and heritage value of the Glebe property. A member of the Nurses' Club, she enjoyed reading and gardening.

Phyllis Mullens died of subarachnoid haemorrhage on 18 September 1962 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was buried in the cemetery of St Stephen's Anglican Church, Kurrajong, where her father had once been rector.

Select Bibliography

  • Lamp, Jan 1961
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 25 June 1962
  • Sydney District Nursing Assn, Annual Report, 1938-41, 1950-62, Monthly Board Meeting Minutes, 1950-62 and Matron's Monthly Report Book, 1955-62
  • war diary, Hospital Ship Wanganella (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Vilma Page, 'Mullens, Phyllis Katherine Fraser (1908–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 September, 1908
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 September, 1962 (aged 53)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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