A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis – Denise Petersen (2017)


Born in a small country hospital in the grain-belt farming area of South Australia, Denise Petersen struggled in her education, but nothing would stop her from emulating the nursing career and adventurous travels of her much-loved Aunty Mavis.

As a Midwife and Registered Nurse, Denise cared for people in far off countries, found romance in Papua New Guinea and sailed yachts on vast oceans. She eventually settled in Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, Australia, with her husband and two children. At Cairns Base Hospital she further enhanced her nursing career of over fifty years and discovered her passion of caring for children with cancer and their families.


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About the Author

Denise Petersen (McCallum) was born in Jamestown in 1949, and lived in Caltowie, a small town near the grain belt of South Australia.

She now lives in Cairns with her husband and adult children. She still works happily at the Cairns Hospital.

As a child in the 1950’s Denise was asked many times “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Aunty Mavis, her mother’s sister, was a much-travelled nurse, who would chat extensively about her great adventures travelling overseas and her many stories of nursing experiences. Denise always answered she wanted to be “A Nurse Like Aunty Mavis”.

The family moved to Port Augusta. After a difficult time at school due to her dyslexia, Denise commenced nursing training at Port Augusta General Hospital in 1966.

This began her journey with nursing, from the fun days of training, where student nurses learned compassion and camaraderie, to the hard life of a nurse’s life. This led to Midwifery training, remote nursing out on the Nullarbor Plains of Australia, and patrol work and Midwifery in Papua New Guinea.

After 20 years in Papua New Guinea, Denise returned to Australia and settled in Cairns, Queensland with her family. She continued to expand her career at the Cairns Base Hospital, working up to a Level 2 position in Paediatric Units, higher duties in Nurse Management positions and finally settling as the Regional Case Manager for Children with Cancer.

Her story incorporates her many travels and experiences of living in Papua New Guinea, her family, and ocean sailing on the yacht, Vitiaz.