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The Vi Elliott Occupational Health Nurses Trust annual grant

The Vi Elliott Occupational Health Nurses Trust annual grant

Vi Elliott (left) with E Hughes-Jones and A.G. Staley. Photo: The History of Occupational Health Nursing in Victoria

Every year, the ANMF (Vic Branch) helps administer the Vi Elliott Occupational Health Nurses Trust annual grant. This grant, up to the value of $3000, is designed to assist the professional and career development of a Victorian nurse or midwife working in the field of occupational health and safety (OHS).

But who was Vi Elliott, and why is there a perpetual trust fund in her name?

Meet Vi Elliott

Born in Melbourne in 1911, Violet Elliott was the first child and only daughter of Harold Edward Elliott – colloquially known as Pompey – who would go on to become one of Australia’s most revered WWI soldiers.

In 1934, Vi graduated from her nursing studies at the Royal Children’s Hospital and, following a year of midwifery training at the Royal Women’s Hospital, she accepted a job as a private nurse. One of her patients was the wife of Andrew Gray Staley, the founder and managing director of Holeproof Ltd, who was so impressed with the young nurse that he ‘invited her to establish an industrial health service at their Brunswick mill to care for the 900 employees’.[1] (Industrial health was the term at the time for what we now call occupational health and safety.)

As the first manufacturer to produce Australian-made hosiery, Holeproof was a booming business, but workers’ conditions were far from ideal. When Vi started with the company, water had to be carried to the medical centre by bucket – from the toilet block! – and many employees were in poor health even before factoring in ailments and injuries resulting from their working environment.

Vi remained with the company for 26 years (excluding her service during WWII), overseeing the occupational health of its staff across all of its expanding operations. Upon her retirement in 1962, A.G. Staley presented her with a gift of £500 to thank her for her dedicated service. In 2023 terms, this is close to $17,000[2].

‘It was quite extraordinary for a nurse to be given the money that she was given.’

‘It was quite extraordinary for a nurse to be given the money that she was given when she left Holeproof,’ says Lorraine Hedley, one of the fund’s trustees. ‘Her ambition was to use the money to set up a training course for occupational health nurses. There wasn’t ever enough to do that, however.’

Lorraine is one of the original members of the then Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) occupational health nursing special interest group (SIG) that was formed in the 1980s. At the time, Lorraine was one of the younger nurses in the group and she had never met Vi, who died in 1971. But many of her older colleagues had worked with and known Vi, and so they began discussing how best to honour her wishes for the gift.

It took a while – during which time the money sat in the bank, earning interest – but after establishment in 1998, in 2000 the Vi Elliott Occupational Health Nurses Trust was officially launched in her memory, with the aim of supporting the professional development of Victorian nurses and midwives interested in OHS.

The Vi Elliott Occupational Health Nurses Trust grant

To support this goal, the trust gives out an annual grant that is available for the recipient to use to attend conferences, seminars or workshops, or to undertake an education course or a research project in the field of health and safety.

The grant is available to Victorian nurses and midwives already involved in the fields of OHS, manual handling, fatigue management or the prevention and/or management of occupational violence and aggression; it’s also available to those interested in transitioning to work in these fields.

They have had many very worthy, and some interesting, applications over the years, Lorraine says. ‘We had a woman in Mount Waverley who was making perfumed soap, which she thought would be good for people’s health,’ she laughs. ‘That was probably the funniest one.’

Suffice to say, she did not receive the grant.

Those who have received it have included:

  • applicants pursuing post-graduate qualifications in OHS, OHS management, occupational hazard management, applied ergonomics, agricultural health and medicine, and leadership of quality and safety in healthcare
  • an applicant completing a research project on student nurse perceptions and actual experiences of occupational violence while on clinical practice
  • applicants involved in training registered nurses in risk assessment and safe manual handling
  • an applicant preparing a conference presentation about the results of a trial of a newly developed risk assessment tool to identify the risk/potential for patient and/or visitor aggression
  • an applicant preparing a conference presentation on the manual handling of people
  • an applicant preparing an international conference presentation on workplace violence in the health sector
  • applicants seeking assistance for conference registration/attendance costs
  • applicants seeking assistance for training in mental health first aid.

Applications for the 2023 Vi Elliott Trust Grant close on 30 September. Visit the Branch’s grants, awards and prizes page for more information.