Dawn Wybrow was born in Dunedin in the forties and is the oldest of six siblings.
As a youngster her family moved around the South often to care for unwell family members and manage farms. Dawn had a great childhood and enjoyed the small things in life – outdoor life, biking, storytelling, and especially reading - A passion she continues to hold dear.
Dawn laughs as she recalls enjoying reading so much that she’d often get into trouble at school for reading under the desk or behind text books.
Fascinated by how the human body worked, she decided from a young age to become a nurse. As a child and young adult she’d enjoyed looking after her siblings when they were sick, she says.
At 11-years-old Dawn attended Te Waipounamu College in Christchurch, a boarding school for Maori girls. At 15-years-old she applied for nurse training at Balclutha Hospital, and at 17 she started the training.
Just 18 months into her training she met her husband-to-be – a fisherman and freezing worker – so she left the hospital, married and had three children.
The family later moved to Tokanui where Dawn stayed home to care for the children until the youngest went to school. It was then she began wool handling in the shearing shed, nurse aiding and cooking at the Tokanui Maternity Hospital.
Keen to get back into her original passion, she applied for comprehensive nurse training in 1981. Dawn was forced to completely re-train because she did not complete her first attempt.
Ahead of and during her training she also worked as a relieving mail contractor, a relieving post mistress, a bartender, a wool handler, and a cleaner. She had no choice, she explains, the extra jobs were to cover her running costs. The commute to Invercargill took about 45 minutes each way.
Dawn graduated in 1983 as a registered comprehensive nurse and started her first nursing job at Lorne Hospital before moving on to Kew Hospital where she worked in neurological, medical, district nursing, and the children’s ward. During this time she was medical delegate for Southland and Otago Child Cancer Foundation – “A real eye opener”.
Eight years later she came out into the community as a Maori Public Health nurse and following that she headed to Southern Public Health Services in the Maori unit working with nurses and health promoters.
She left that position when her husband became ill and later took on a role as a nursing tutor at the Southern Institute of Technology where she taught for three years.
She also held positions for Kaitiaki Hauora, Community and Public Health Advisory Committee, Kawa Whakaruru Hau, Te Ara Kewa, PHO, Mana Whenua Maori Health Roopu, CPHAC, community nursing forums and networks.
One day Dawn decided to visit Tracey Wright-Tawha looking for experiences for her student nurses.
“I didn’t really know Tracey but I was really nosey and I wanted to know what this place (NKMP) was all about.”
Soon after Tracey called Dawn and asked if she’d like to help set up a Maori mobile nursing programme at Nga Kete, and so she did. Dawn also moved to Invercargill.
An office was set up in Riverton and Dawn would be there five days a week assisting people who come in to the clinic, and visiting people in their homes. Eventually it grew to three more nurses and an administrator.
When house prices began to soar in Riverton clients started moving to Ohai and Invercargill and so did Dawn and her team. Back in the city the nursing team worked from former Nga Kete buildings on Don Street and Victoria Avenue before fitting into the new building at 92 Spey Street.
Two years ago the Cancer Kaiarahi service was implemented and by that stage Dawn was looking for a change. “It wasn’t a clinical role but it was support and awhi; using community knowledge of agencies. It was about supporting people and coordinating their care.”
Dawn has enjoyed her career and her time at Nga Kete, recounting the highlights which has always been about the people.
“Whether it’s going into hospital or developing a disease, or being in an accident, I am amazed at people’s mental strength and how everyone copes in different ways, how they adapt to whatever life throws at them.”
“Not only the clients, but the other health care workers I’ve come across who all seem to go way past their job requirements.”
Working at Nga Kete has been a dream for Dawn. “To work in a place that you love, a place that you feel at home and fits in with your own philosophy? It’s just the best place to work.”
Would Dawn change anything? Not a chance.
“I’d do it all again. I wouldn’t change anything I’d just hopefully do it all better.”
Dawn is looking forward to retirement and plans to catch up on “all the whakapapa things, the land issues, and get around all the whanau to catch up.”
Her three children all live in Southland now and she is grandmother to 10 and great grandmother to 20, with a great great grandchild on the way.
“My cup overflows.”