In 1920, Bishop George Harvard Cranswick of the Anglican Diocese of Gippsland, invited the newly formed Bush Church Aid to the region; About this time he went to England and recruited six men for bush brotherhood. As well as sister Dorothy Allmond, a nurse and deaconess. Deaconess Winifred Shoobridge and Miss Edith Reece, also a sister. It became known as BCA’s Croajingolong mission.
In 1925, the parish centered on Cann River traditionally but more recently on Mallacoota. The women lived in tents their “nursing centre” in harsh and foreign surroundings, separated by 80 kilometres of bush track from the nearest doctor in Orbost. They administered to the medical and spiritual needs of the sparse and widely scattered population.
With its isolated setting so far from Melbourne and Sydney the area was characterized by tall timber and forestry in the hills, as well as dairy and farming on the rich and fertile river flats. These industries have now declined, but in those days brought many individuals and families to the region, people in need of medical support.
Sister Ivy Gwynne, gave 22 years of service in the parish and was the longest serving nurse from Bush Church Aid, from 1940 to 1962. She was highly respected and valued for her nursing skills and her strong Christian witness. One of the first impressions for Sister Gwynne, was the immensity of the district and the apparent density, and “I felt, how long is it going to take me to know such a district and to know my way about, and to get to know the people? But I was not left to wonder for long. I had not time to unpack and get the least little bit like settled when the telephone rang asking if I could go out to a case. Certainly yes! Where and how? Place named and the “How?” answered, “They will call for you.” At 9 p.m. a car arrived. A few questions elicited the nature of the case and gave one some idea of what to take. How far is it to the patient? Forty five miles. We arrived at 11:40 p.m. Fortunately the patient was then asleep. Having had a look at the patient – pulse good, and apparently a natural sleep – the motto of “Let sleeping patients sleep” was strictly adhered to. A cup of tea which was very refreshing and welcome, and to bed shortly after midnight, bought me to the end of my first day. Returning next day, and with only two or three minor cases for a couple of days, gave me time to get more or less comfortably settled.”
Miss Edith Reece recruited to be an Anglican deaconess, served in Cann River from 1925 to 1933. She was a gentle woman already aged in her middle years and of independent means. She rode many long distances on bicycle or horse in her commitment to minister to the sick, troubled and isolated folk; often encountering women who had not spoken to another woman for many months. In 1930, she returned to England to visit her family but came back to Cann River in 1932, bringing Sister Bazett. They settled at Cann River in a cottage, which is on the opposite side of the road to our current building. Miss Reece conducted her last service at Cann River on June 26, 1933 and returned to England that year, she died during World War II.
Mrs Harriet Connley served in the Croajingolong area from 1934 to 1936 as the nursing sister with BCA in Cann River. She travelled by bicycle, horse, borrowed buggy, fish truck or butcher cart to see people in Mallacoota, Wangarabell, Genoa, Combienbar, Club Terrace, Bellbird, Cann River and Noorinbee. Mrs Connley also helped the vicar with church services, played the organ and taught Sunday school. “My nursing skills at first were slight, as I was just out of training school, but in time I could adapt to treating anything with confidence and helpfulness”, Mrs Connley wrote in a memoir. She treated “one patient gored by a bull 100 miles from a doctor; another patient 90 years old with acute pneumonia who refused to give up smoking her long clay pipe; another who chopped her leg with an axe and I had to sew it without painkillers. The doctor was 50 miles away in Orbost, contactable by telephone that was seldom working, as the wires were strung on trees. However, we were able to give very satisfactory service”
Sister Dorothy Allmond was not without some vigor in looking after the people of Croajingolong. An English newspaper clipping of January 5, 1924, tells the story of a woman whose life depended on urgent medical attention. Sister Dorothy rode a horse from Cann River to Bemm River, a distance of 40 miles, in five hours. She organized eight men to carry the woman on a stretcher in a fierce storm along a 16 mile bush track to Bellbird, with Sister Dorothy providing medical aid. They were met at Bellbird by a doctor from Orbost. On another occasion, when Bishop Cranswich was visiting Cann River, Sister Dorothy persuaded him to ride horseback to a bush hut to help her set a man’s thigh. Using the bush telegraph, Sister Dorothy would find out when a doctor was traveling through the region and organized groups of people to receive roadside medical treatment along the highway route. An extract from the Evening Sun of that period described Sister Dorothy who had served in World War I, as “one whose name is forever written in pure gold”