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Remembering Ray Wyeth
On October 11 2021, Nurse and Midwife Raymond Clifford Wyeth tragically lost his life while working in an ambulance in Stanwell, Central Queensland, along with the patient he was caring for. Ray’s colleagues share their dearest memories and reflect on his legacy.
Ray at Bloomfield River, 1979.
In 1979, Ray and Jennie sat on the banks of the Bloomfield River in Far North Queensland with the Kuku Yalanji, Kuku Nyungul and Jalunji people.
These moments were a revelation to Ray, who had just completed his final nursing exams and made the bumpy journey to visit his partner near her workplace at the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Community.
“When we get married,” Ray said, “This is the nursing I want to do. I want to work with these folks.”
Commitments such as raising their son, Tim, took precedence, but Ray never lost sight of his goal, taking every opportunity to equip himself for service.
Ray, top left, during his nursing studies.
In the early 1980s, Ray could be seen in scrubs, training as a midwife at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, and later, walking down St Paul’s Terrace, textbooks under his arm, during his Maternal and Child Health studies.
He subsequently worked at Maryborough Hospital, St Stephens Private Hospital, and Hervey Bay Hospital, until 33 years after that influential afternoon on the Bloomfield.
“In 2012 we resigned our jobs and ventured into this world of Indigenous health,” Jennie says.
Ray’s remote career began in Cherbourg, working for Barambah Regional Medical Services (now known as CRAICCHS).
The Royal Flying Doctor Service
Ray and Jennie in Kalgoorlie, WA.
In 2013, Ray became a flight nurse with Royal Flying Doctor Service and operated out of Kalgoorlie, Derby and Port Hedland until 2016.
“Ray was a lovely bloke, very much a bushie,” Senior Flight Nurse, Shane Miller, says. “He was down to earth, no airs or graces.
“He loved remote and rural areas of Australia… One of the pilots used to go out with him occasionally. They used to go camping, sitting by a campfire, having a yarn.
“He was just very relaxed. To be so relaxed, chilled, adaptable… In our work as flight nurses, you have to be extremely flexible because things can change in a matter of minutes.”
Fishing at Cape Leveque, WA, while with RFDS Derby in 2015.
Ray’s passing was felt across the entire flight nursing sector, which is small enough for everyone to know everyone.
“There’s only a small group of us – probably 100, 120 in the country,” Shane says.
“From Kalgoorlie base to Ray’s family, his wife Jennie, and his son Tim, we send our condolences, and we thank Ray for the time he spent with us.”
When there were no patients onboard, Ray sometimes gazed out of the window at the desert below, Jennie says.
“Ray did what he called ‘reconnaissance’ flights over the state to decide where to work next,” she says.
Ngaanyatjarra Health Service
Ray with Wingellina kids.
In 2016, Ray found his next location – Wingellina, remote WA. As an RN, Jennie had worked near Ray previously; but in Wingellina, they worked together as RANs.
“Before sunset we would sometimes drive the few minutes to the tri-border of WA, NT and SA, where it was fun having dip and crackers in three states at the same time,” Jennie remembers.
“Ray’s main desire was to learn from the people, rather than teach them. He was keen to learn their traditional ways, their cultural lore, to listen, to talk, to befriend, and to assist in their health care needs.
“Ray consistently performed a service to others in need, whether this was a person, family, a community or a loved dog, and regardless of the time and effort.
A brewing storm near Wingellina.
“One time Ray was honoured to lead a funeral procession by driving the ambulance containing the coffin. On weekends he would take the children on adventures, or to a nearby community swimming pool.
“He had compassion, empathy, and conviction. He often delivered help, which was not without risks and cost to himself, and always without external gain.
“He was a caring father figure who encouraged the kids to come to the clinic after school and learn first aid. As a midwife he gained trust with mums-to-be, delivering positive outcomes.”
Ray seated in the Ambulance Troopy.
When Jennie returned to Queensland, Ray continued at Wingellina on a FIFO contract for two more years. Beverly Tysoe, Specialist Coordinator at Ngaanyatjarra Health Service, fills us in on the period until Ray’s departure in 2019.
“Ray was a professional and caring person who will be fondly remembered by the people in Wingellina and by his co-workers at Ngaanyatjarra Health Service,” Beverley says.
“At work Ray was a dedicated health professional who advocated for his patients and supported them in their health journey.
“In his spare time, he would often drive locals and visitors to water holes and landmarks.
“It was a pleasure and a privilege to have known and worked with Ray.”
Ray’s return to midwifery
Ray and Kerri Green.
Ray had joined nursing agency CQ Nurse in 2016. CQ Nurse tells CRANAplus that “Ray was a much-loved member of the CQ Nurse team, and he represented our organisation impeccably for five years… He continues to inspire us”.
Through CQ Nurse, Ray obtained a contract at Biloela Hospital, where he crossed paths with former colleague Kerri Green, a midwife who knew Ray from Hervey Bay Hospital.
“If you understand that the term ‘midwife’ comes from the Old English: ‘mid’ meaning ‘with’ and ‘wif’ meaning ‘woman’, you will understand that Ray wore the title ‘midwife’ without a problem,” Kerri says.
“The women he delivered care to, [quickly] loved and trusted him. The students he supported and his colleagues respected him and enjoyed his sense of humour. They cannot help but smile when remembering him.
“Most will be able to tell you an amusing ‘Ray story’ – some involving ‘knitting’ while supervising a student managing a labour.
“On a more serious note… Ray had the ability to deescalate the rising emotions of all involved while coordinating a calm approach to resolve [high stress situations].
“He did briefly consider giving up his Midwifery in 2018 but he made the mistake of accepting a contract in Biloela where a previous Midwifery Manager was already working. He was dobbed in as a ‘midwife’ and given a rapid re-entry… I was privileged to be that ‘Midwifery Manager’, colleague and friend.
“My life is richer for having known this incredible human being.”
Badu Island, Torres Strait, at Christmas time in 2016.
New acquaintances also awaited Ray in Biloela, such as Director of Nursing at Biloela Hospital, Tracey Hansen.
“What really stood out for me was the way in which Ray treated all the people he came in contact with,” Tracey says. “He cared for his clients as if they were his family.”
Ray was valued not only as a colleague but as a house-sitter, who enabled others to take much-needed leave while looking after their plants, cows and dogs.
Ray with Bugz and Chili.
“When Ray house-sat, he would open all the windows and let the fresh air in,” Tracey says, before sharing an anecdote passed onto her by colleague Maria RN/RM:
“One day he was snuggled on the lounge when he felt a ‘presence’, only to find one of the chooks had come inside and nestled beside him. Even the chooks felt relaxed with him!
“Ray has enthused many of us to stretch ourselves and do things we really want to do but were never game.”
Ray’s younger colleagues, who encountered him during formative periods, echo this sentiment.
Ray was NUM on the postnatal ward at St Stephens Private Hospital when Lorraine Woods commenced as a midwife. She later worked with him at Hervey Bay.
“He was a caring, sensitive, and gentle man who had a passionate composure for women-centred care,” Lorraine recalls. “After a couple of years, he decided to work rural and remote which was a passion of mine but was never the right time.
“His stories of his work were amazing.”
Those stories inspired Lorraine and in 2021, she obtained a position as clinical midwife in Weipa.
“Once I made my decision [to head] rural and remote we were to have lunch with friends and workmates from St Stephens Private Hospital… Ray was tragically taken from us two days prior, which was devastating.
“I was so excited to tell him of my plans. [Then I felt], I will continue his amazing work with as much passion as he had.”
Burning the candle
Ray Wyeth near Wingellina, WA, in 2016, soon after he started working for Ngaanyatjarra Health Service.
RFDS Doctor Nick Enzor; Steven Williamson, then-CEO of the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service; Ray’s former workmate and celebrant Fred Hampson; close friend Andrew Butkus; and Dr Tom Dunn, Maryborough RSL, all spoke at Ray’s funeral.
Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner and Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Queensland Health, Adjunct Prof. Shelley Nowlan, presented a Florence Nightingale Tribute, during which she asked all nurses and midwives to stand.
“40 to 50 per cent of the group that were present stood, not to mention the large number that joined online,” Shelley tells CRANAplus.
Ray with his grandson.
“Ray walked the tracks that not many nurses and midwives do… Often, we get stuck in metro areas because there, life has ease of access, but Ray saw a different world within rural and remote – not just for nursing, but for his own growth and development, and contribution to communities.
“He was real, he was Ray… He brought his own personality, values, and beliefs to share them with community, valuing the community’s culture and beliefs [in turn].
“He came without judgment, he came without condition, and he cared for their needs, whatever they might be – whether they were mental health, whether they were maternity – and sometimes just to be an ear, to be a friend that was having a yarn at the local pub or local park.
“He is joined by a profession who mirror his values, his concerns for community, and the investment to continue to be better, to continue on with his study… [as] evidenced by his membership with CRANAplus.
“What we saw in Ray is a mirror image of what we all aspire to have as attributes and traits within his profession. Our admiration is one collegiality, one of: ‘Thank you for burning our candle’.”
Jennie, Ray and Tim.
Jennie believes her husband’s legacy can be one of inspiration.
“I hope in Ray’s death, his life of caring and service is inspirational to any nurse willing to combat adversity in a remote setting, to develop courage and determination, and to overcome any obstacles in order to achieve better health outcomes for all Australians.”
CRANAplus is offering the Ray Wyeth Early to Remote Practice Award for the first time in 2022. The award follows Ray’s lead in encouraging and recognising an emerging remote health professional who demonstrates commitment and cultural safety. Read more.