The Diggers Friend

The Diggers’ Friend: Sadie Charlotte Macdonald (1875-1970)

Sadie MacDonald

Guest Bloggers Marg Doherty (MPhil Candidate UNE) and Madonna Grehan (JOL Fellow SLQ) introduce a decorated WWI nurse from the Rockhampton region.

Sadie was born at Gracemere, one of six daughters to grazier Donald MacDonald, and his wife Ann (née Frazer).  As did her five sisters, Sadie became a nurse, training for five years at Gladstone Hospital. She served as matron at Gladstone Hospital from 1904 to 1907 and then nursed at private homes in Brisbane and Melbourne.

From September 1910 Sadie was Matron at the Torres Strait General and Military Base Hospital on Thursday Island where she did what she called ‘war work’. In mid-1915, her sister, Flora, left Australia for war service in Europe. Sadie followed, embarking on RMS Morea for Suez in August that year.

1st Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis Image: AWM H02266

1st Australian General Hospital

In June 1918 she was awarded a Royal Red Cross 2nd Class, in recognition of conspicuous service with the armies of France and Flanders. Sadie was also one of the many Australians affected by influenza which put her in hospital for two weeks in early 1919. On the voyage home to Australia in July 1919, Sadie was in charge of the nursing staff aboard the Bremen.

"Nurse Army" SLQ Centaur House Records

In 1948, aged 73, Sadie joined the Centaur Memorial Fund’s quest to establish a recreational and educational centre for the nursing profession. Sponsored by the Army in the “Queen of the Nurses’ Quest” Sadie and her committee raised £4000 in ten months. This money went towards the purchase of Centaur House in Queen Street.

'Queen of the Nurses Quest' winners: Sister Catherine Evan, Sister Peggy Taylor, Matron Sadie Macdonald

Leonard Shillam, Sandstone Bas Relief 1957, image by Matt Smith, QLD War Memorial Register

Matron Sadie MacDonald with her Florence Nightingale medal. Image: SLQ 107724

In 1951, Sadie was awarded the Returned Servicemen’s League’s Gold Life Membership Badge, the highest honour which can be bestowed on a member and, possibly, the first given to a woman in QLD. For outstanding dedication to nursing, in 1953, Sadie was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal.

Further reading:

Marg Powell



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Thanks - what a great story and good to read about the amazing contribution this nurse made during the war and after it. The War never ended for her and she continued to work so hard and achieved so much.

She was Matron at Archibald House New Farm in the 60s.

Support for Sadie's campaign was strong with a range of working men who had come across her services either during World War I or as veterans. I've read this week that QLD’s Post Office staff were firmly behind her campaign as Nurse Army in the Queen of the Nurses Quest, and committed to deliver donations to her campaign Treasurer, even if the envelopes containing them were marked only as “Sadie, Brisbane”.

Re the Leonard Shillam, Sandstone Bas Relief: I found a photo dated 1914 of Len, Charlie, and Harry Shillam with Bert Blackman, all in uniform, sitting at a table. The photo notes that Bert married Elizabeth Shillam, brother of the 3 aforementioned Shillam. I have "Googled" combinations of these data and this is the only "hit." Can anyone provide guidance and/or information that may get this photo to someone who would want it without a profit motive in so acquiring?

Hello RickApologies for the tardy response to your enquiry. I am wondering if anyone was in touch about this photograph. SLQ.i'm wondering who the photo is of. Len Shillam the sculptor was born in 1915 in Brisbane, so perhaps it's his father? I am not familiar with the family history.Is it possible to send a copy of the image to Myles Sinnamon at SLQ?With thanksMadonna Grehan JOL Fellow 2015