When Christina Campbell’s plans for a week’s holiday fell over, she wasn’t particularly annoyed. Especially when she could see it would lead to a journey of a different kind.
Hamilton based midwife Christina, initially wondered what to do with her “spare week” in April so, she decided to look at locuming in Central Otago, where she had family connections.
“Being a locum offered a change of scene, a new experience for me and I thought I could provide some relief for a busy midwife at the same time. They say a change is as good as a holiday and I thought this would be perfect!” she says.
Christina’s parents live in South Canterbury and she has a strong family history in Central Otago with her great grandparents settling in the region in the late 1800’s.
“Barbara and Donald Nicholson were hardy farming stock. They arrived from Scotland in 1877 when Barbara was in her early ‘20’s and they settled in three places around the Ida Valley region near Ranfurly,” says Christina. “It was not an easy time as you can imagine, not made any easier as they lived in a cave for the first year with their first baby. They had nine children in total.”
Christina mentioned to her dad that she was applying for a position as a locum midwife in Ranfurly and that was when she found out, quite coincidentally, her great grandmother was a lay midwife for the same area.
“He told me she used to go out and tend to women in labour. She would be there one day and then be gone the next, sometimes for days,” Christina says.
This gutsy pioneering woman from Scotland was a shepherdess and was trained in ‘Kirks Treatments’, a healing regime of the time. Kirk was an early doctor in Scotland. His “treatments” were based on remedies involving hot and cold water applications using olive oil, bran packs (wheaties), barilla soap and hot compresses. Reportedly, Barbara nursed many people back to health using these applications, tending to patients when the local doctor was out of the area. In one case, there was a person in the valley very unwell with acute appendicitis and the doctor was away tending to another patient. Christina’s great grandmother was dispatched on her horse (yes, horse!) and set about using her Kirk’s Treatments. By the time the doctor arrived, the patient had fully recovered.
“My great grandmother was well known for her good practical knowledge of birthing; there’s a section about birthing in the Kirks Treatments books which I still have actually. She also kept bees, had 5 daughters and 4 sons, was very fit, resourceful, hospitable and very capable - a true pioneer,” says Christina.
She knew a little about her roots in the South Island but Christina was keen to learn more while working with women in the region as a locum midwife. She made a call to the Rural Midwifery Recruitment and Retention Service and the ball was soon rolling.
“The Rural Midwifery and Retention Service talked about what the service does and only a few weeks later, I was picking up my hire car in Christchurch,” Christina says.
Ida Valley (Ranfurly) midwife, Jill Crosby, had applied to the RMRR Service for a locum to cover for a week. Jill works with women in the same area that Barbara Nicholson had lived and worked in.
“When I told my father exactly where I was going, he couldn’t believe it! And my father’s mother was born in Ida Valley with the family later moving to Southland where my father was born”.
Christina says the RMRR Service really focussed on making a good match for Jill (Crosbie) and her clients with their knowledge of the region playing an important part in Christina getting the locum position in Ranfurly / Ida Valley.
She found it emotional driving through the Valley knowing that her ancestors had settled there so long ago. And the landscape is so beautiful and isolated.
“It’s such a glorious part of New Zealand. Whenever I come back, I am in awe yet again of the wide open space together with the wonderful colours of the trees and hills. I arrived in the afternoon, met with Jill and we went through the handover,” says Christina.
Her first opportunity to explore the family history came the first weekend she was on call and everything was quiet. Christina found that Moa Creek was where her grandparents first settled, then the Poolburn dam area and finally Glen Ida at Oturehua.
“I saw the Poolburn dam (one of the main ‘Lord of The Rings’ settings) on my last day and was blown away by how isolated it was. Travelling everywhere on horseback, sometimes gone for days; it suddenly seemed so much more real,”
Three of Jill Crosbie’s clients lived in the areas Christina’s great grandparents had lived themselves.
“I had a map of the region on the wall in the practice and when I first met Jill’s clients, I asked them where they lived and put a pin on the map. It was neat having that connection with the clients. Here I was from Hamilton coming down to relieve Jill and there was already a connection; it was quite special,” she says.
And there was one more connection Christina made before she headed home to Hamilton.
“I had to pop to Dunedin on business and went through Middlemarch. I stopped for a coffee and called into the Kissing Gate Cafe. Who should be there but two of my midwifery colleagues from Hamilton having a quiet coffee in the Otago sun. They were doing the rail trail!”
Working in the Maniototo was quite an adventure for Christina and she loved it.
“I really enjoyed the contact with the women and their families during antenatal and postnatal visits. They were all very friendly and hospitable living in quite isolated locations on remote farms but supported well by family and friends. The pace of life was refreshing too. The rugged landscapes, wide open skies and sunsets of the Maniototo certainly were good for the soul!”