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Biographical entry Curley, Sylvia (1898 - 1999)


8 November 1898
Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
24 March 1999
Nurse, Nurse administrator and Activist


Sylvia Curley qualified as a nurse in 1926 and spent her early years of nursing in country New South Wales. She worked for the Canberra Community Hospital (later known as the Royal Canberra Hospital) from 1938 until her retirement in 1966 as deputy matron. In her 'retirement' years she ran a nursing employment agency in Canberra and was a strong advocate for changes to nurses' education. In 1994 she donated her family home, Mugga Mugga, to the people of Canberra and oversaw its development into an environmental education centre. Sylvia Curley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia on 8 June 1992 for her services to nursing, to local history and to the National Trust.


A second generation descendent of Irish bounty immigrants Sylvia Curley grew up in Duntroon in what is now Canberra and was then a farming estate where her father was employed. In her life time she saw Canberra evolve from a rural farming community to be the capital city of Australia. Sylvia's strong sense of history and interest in local culture became a passionate concern and led to her activities in preserving local history. In complete concurrence with the wishes of her family, in 1995 she donated the family home Mugga Mugga Cottage, one of the oldest buildings in Canberra, to the people of Canberra to become a house museum and environmental education centre.

Similarly in her 28 years of service, she saw the Canberra Community Hospital evolve into the Canberra Hospital. (In 1979 the hospital became the Royal Canberra Hospital, later reverting to the title The Canberra Hospital in July 1996 after amalgamating with Woden Valley Hospital in 1991). The Nurses Home for the 'old' Canberra Hospital, opened in 1964 (demolished in July 1997), was named in Miss Curley's honour as Sylvia Curley House. It provided modern facilities for nurses and housed the School of Nursing on the ground floor.

Throughout her nursing career her two major concerns were the improvement of patient care through sound administrative practices and improved education for nurses. Miss Curley provides her own accounts in her book The long journey of the difficulties she encountered striving to bring about change in hospital practices and to provide basic equipment for teaching, suitably qualified nurses to run education programs and to develop an improved environment for nurses to achieve learning goals. She undertook fund raising for the purposes of achieving her vision for nurses' education. She is seen now to be ahead of her time in her advocacy for changes to nurse education. At a time when these matters were not established practice she supported a reduction in the length of the four year training program, extensions to the preliminary training period, the establishment of a qualified staff dedicated to teaching, to take charge of the education program and the provision of an adequately equipped tutorial department in which to conduct the education program.

On her retirement from nursing and her position as deputy matron of the 'old' Canberra Hospital in 1966, Sylvia Curley ran an employment agency for 20 years for nurses specialising in providing nurses for doctors' surgeries and rooms. She lived to celebrate her centenary at a mass in St Christopher's Cathedral in Manuka ACT, on 7 November 1998.


1923 - 1926
Undertook general training at Leeton Hospital, New South Wales
Staff Nurse at Leeton Hospital, New South Wales
2 September 1926
Registered as a general nurse with New South Wales Nurses Board
1929 -
Junior theatre sister Narrandarra District Hospital for two and a half years
School Nurse at Cranbrook School for Boys
1932 - 1934
Matron at Gundagai Hospital, New South Wales
Student Midwife at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney
9 May 1935
Completed Midwifery Certificate
1936 - 1937
Matron at Gundagai Hospital, New South Wales
1938 - 1966
Sub-Matron at the Canberra Community Hospital, later the Canberra Hospital and then Royal Canberra Hospital
9 May 1939
Registered with the ACT Nurse Board as a general nurse and midwife, registration number 122
1966 - 1985
Private Employment Consultant in Canberra
8 June 1992
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) received in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to Nursing and the Canberra and District Historical Society

Archival resources

Canberra and District Historical Society

  • [Sylvia Curley], 1970s - 1990s; Canberra and District Historical Society. Details

Historic Places ACT, Cultural Facilites Corporation

  • Papers of Sylvia Curley; Historic Places ACT, Cultural Facilites Corporation. Details

Mugga Mugga

  • Mugga Mugga; Mugga Mugga. Details

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Biographical cuttings on Sister Sylvia Curley, former deputy matron of the Canberra Community Hospital, Cuttings Files BIOG; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

Published resources

Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions


  • Curley, Sylvia, A long journey: Duntroon, Mugga Mugga and three careers (Canberra: ACT Government, 1998), 142 pp. Details


Resource Sections

See also

  • Newman, Janet and Warren, Jennie eds, Royal Canberra Hospital: an Anecdotal History of Nursing 1914 to 1991 (Mawson, ACT: Janet Newman and Jennie Warren, 1993), 430 pp. Details

Digital resources

Sylvia Curley


Sylvia Curley


Australian Nursing History Project, Helen Hamilton