Rae Knox Collection

Guest blogger: Edwina Crowther (niece of Rae Knox)

State Library of Queensland has recently received the photograph collection of Nurse Rae Knox (nee Seamark). This collection provides a window into the fascinating life and service of Rae, whose nursing career took her to Borneo and Cape York during World War Two. Rae's niece, Edwina Crowther, has provided key insights into the life of Rae Knox.

Nurse Rae Knox (nee Seamark). 33007 Rae Knox Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Rae Seamark was born on 20 May 1912 on the verandah of Nurse McKeowen’s house at Dingo Pocket, near Mt Quinan, on the Atherton Tableland in North Queensland. It is notable that the verandah in question was screened to keep marauding dingos out.  Her mother rode a horse side-saddle for 20 kilometres for the birth.

Rae’s parents were Erskine Dore Seamark and his wife, Marina Seamark née Hurst.  They were very early settlers on the Atherton Tableland, arriving from Victoria, and taking up a selection that they called ‘Cooee’ at the end of what is now Seamark Road, Jaggan (the road now named after them) in 1909.

In 1918 a huge cyclone destroyed their slab house at ‘Cooee’, and to be near to schools for the children, the family moved down into the valley to a farm at Tarzali.  At first they were schooled by a hired teacher on the verandah, while the school was being built, then the younger two were home schooled by their mother until they were old enough to walk the five or so miles each way to Tarzali School.  So in 1921 Rae attended Tarzali School. Rae and her sister then attended St Mary’s Anglican boarding school in Herberton for years 7 and 8.

In 1930, when she was 18, she commenced nursing training at Atherton Hospital, and completed it in 1934.  She nursed, and did further training, at Herberton, Innisfail Brisbane, Sydney, Gladstone, and back to Atherton, and became a highly trained nurse for her time. 

Atherton District Hospital, Queensland, 1931. Negative number 109908, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Rae Knox and other nurses at the Atherton Hospital. 33007 Rae Knox Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1943 she was appointed a lieutenant in the Citizen Military Forces, and at the time of the Hospital Ship Centaur sinking off Stradbroke Island in May, 1943, she was the acting Matron of Greenslopes Hospital, where the survivors were treated.  In July 1943 she was called up to the regular army, and sent to Jacky Jacky, on Cape York, where she nursed casualties from Dutch New Guinea in a tent hospital.

In 1945 she was stationed at Wondecla, near Herberton, North Queensland.  From there, she was sent to Moratai, by boat from Townsville.   From Moratai, she was landed by barge under fire, along with troops and six other nurses, on the island of Tarakan, Borneo, where Australian troops were fighting a bitter battle.  The hospital, 110 Casualty Clearing Station, was set up in what had previously been a Dutch Hospital, only very recently  vacated by the Japanese. Here they nursed the wounded, often under fire from snipers.

Nurse Rae Knox (nee Seamark) with other Australian Army nurses. 33007 Rae Knox Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

On return to Australia Rae married in Victoria, and became Rae Knox, and had a child.  Her marriage failed at about the time her baby daughter was diagnosed with brain damage from a bout of encephalitis. Rae needed a job urgently, and one where she could have the baby with her in the nurses quarters. This she found at the small mining town of Mt Mulligan, in North Queensland. When her daughter was five, the tiny local school could not cater for her daughter, so Rae sought schooling for her, and put her in a residential training school in Victoria. From then on, Rae saw her only once a year when she made her annual trip to Melbourne.

Rae became Matron of Gordonvale Hospital, and then Atherton Hospital in 1954. In 1960 she became Matron of Cairns Base Hospital, and in 1963 was appointed as Matron of Nambour Hospital.

Rae retired in  Maroochydore in 1974, and in 1984 she remarried, and became Rae Parkinson. She died in Nambour in 1999, survived by her daughter. 

The collection, 33007 Rae Knox Collection will be available for viewing via State Library's catalogue, Onesearch.

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Relevant John Oxley Library original material collections:

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