Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Winifred Marion Petrie (1890–1966)

by Beth Knowles

This article was published:

Winifred Marion Petrie (1890-1966), nurse and hospital proprietress, was born on 21 November 1890 at Randwick, Sydney, eldest of three children of Queensland-born parents Fitt Charles Petrie, solicitor, and his wife Marion, née Hescott. Educated at Ravenswood school under Mabel Fidler, Winifred began (1918) to train as a nurse at the Coast Hospital, Little Bay, and was registered with the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association on 15 November 1922. In the following year she obtained a certificate in obstetrics from the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington. She spent much of 1926 touring Britain with her family.

In 1927 Petrie was appointed sister-in-charge of the obstetric ward at Canberra Hospital, where she again worked with Dr John James who had served at the Coast Hospital. Within a year she and three other senior nursing sisters handed in their notice. Sister Petrie informed a Federal Capital Commission board of inquiry that the matron should have made better arrangements for their comfort, that night nurses had no crockery or cutlery, and that they had next to nothing for supper. Pressed by the board, the matron resigned. In 1930 Petrie left the hospital to holiday abroad. She resumed nursing next year, at Auberne Private Hospital, Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

On 20 September 1935 Petrie leased a block on the corner of Empire Circuit and Arthur Circle, Forrest, with the aim of building a private hospital in Canberra. Returning to Sydney that year, she gained her mothercraft certificate from the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers & Babies. By May 1936 her twelve-bed Allawah Private Hospital had opened. For many years it was the bush capital's only hospital south of the Molonglo River. The building was the product of Petrie's practical experience and the skill of the architect Ken Oliphant. Their unorthodox design incorporated a curved-floor plan, with no right-angle turnings to enable easier manoeuvring of wheelchairs. Each ward had a private balcony. The hospital was equipped with a modern operating theatre with shadowless lighting, and a central steam-heating system. Nurses quarters were detached, and comfortable.

Petrie's economic gamble in the depressed 1930s succeeded, and she discharged the mortgage in 1940. Allawah gained a good reputation with medical practitioners as a general and obstetric hospital. Its patients received first-class care in pleasant surroundings. Petrie ran Allawah firmly and calmly, and became a mentor and friend to her staff. John Curtin, the Duke of Gloucester and his son Prince William, and (Dame) Alexandra Hasluck were among the hospital's patients.

Wartime shortages, the opening (1943) of new buildings at Canberra Community Hospital and Petrie's failing health forced the closure of Allawah in 1948. Moving to Deakin, she lived at 93 Empire Circuit where she made two rooms available for any of her friends who were convalescing. She died there on 6 May 1966 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Cordia, Nurses at Little Bay (Syd, 1990)
  • J. Newman and J. Warren, Royal Canberra Hospital (Canb, 1993)
  • A. Ide, Royal Canberra Hospital (Canb, 1994)
  • B. Knowles, 'Sister Winifred Marion Petrie (1890-1966)', Canberra History Journal, no 39, Mar 1997, p 11
  • Canberra Times, 27 Mar 1930, 27 Feb 1936, 11 June 1966
  • family papers (privately held)
  • family information.

Citation details

Beth Knowles, 'Petrie, Winifred Marion (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 April 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]


21 November, 1890
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


6 May, 1966 (aged 75)
Deakin, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 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.