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With Fiona

by Sam Regi

In a story session with Fiona Hawthorne, we delve into the seminal moments of her life, shaping her commitment to service and leadership. As the former general manager of Hummingbird House, Fiona recalls stories from her life journey, painting a vivid picture of resilience, determination, and purpose. Through the echoes of her past, she unveils how she built a nurturing community by whispering, and then roaring her self-belief, encouraging us to own our potential, no matter the odds. This audio short serves as a testament to Fiona's pioneering spirit and her enduring impact on the world of palliative care.

00:00 / 14:39

Press play to listen to an extract from the conversation with Fiona.

“I created my own community and I sat back and I thought, if I don't back myself now, I will never, ever, ever back myself again. And I have to do it. And I also have to have the courage to say out loud, I am the best person for that job. Did I believe it? Not at all. Did I say it out loud? I whispered it. But by the time I finished at Hummingbird House, I roared it,” Fiona.

14/90 Minutes

00:01:17:13 - 00:01:19:18
Can you tell me About the trajectory of your work?

00:01:19:24 - 00:01:20:20

00:01:20:22 - 00:01:22:10
And different milestones.

00:01:23:09 - 00:01:27:10
And tell me about your achievements and your disappointments.

00:01:27:12 - 00:01:30:04

00:01:30:06 - 00:02:03:16
So I left school and did Nursing, I was accepted in to be a nurse at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and turned up. On my first day, was my first stumbling moment. It was when I was given all of my uniforms and everything I owned had N.Bradbury on it and I thought, That's not me, that's not me. So I went up to this desk and I said to her, Excuse me, I think I've got someone else's uniform because I'm not N.Bradbury.

00:02:03:16 - 00:02:11:14
I'm F.Bradbury. And she said to me, N stands for Nurse love, get used to it.

00:02:11:15 - 00:02:39:16
Right. So. So here I was - this Ms.. Individual. The baby suddenly had to become part of the generic. And. And partially that's because I needed to learn to take orders in an emergency and not question. I also then needed to learn that there was a hierarchy in nursing, whether I accepted that or not. So I did my nursing training at the Royal and I really enjoyed it.

00:02:39:18 - 00:03:03:03
I hated night duty, but I enjoyed what it taught me. And I left by the time I finished nursing. I went back and I worked in a few areas. And then in 1988, my father dropped dead. That was a really catastrophic moment in my life. And I thought, I have two choices here. I can lie down and die with him, which is what I wanted to do, or I can get up and move on.

00:03:03:05 - 00:03:25:09
And then it was nursing that made me realize I saw so many people die and so much sadness, but I saw so much joy and life that could continue around that. One of the biggest moments in my life was I woke up the morning after my father had died, and the woman in the house next door to me was laughing and playing her dog.

00:03:25:11 - 00:04:01:10
And I thought, How dare you? Like my world has ended here? And you're laughing and you're finding some joy. And I realized then that I either can lie down and die with him. Or I get up and make him proud. So I got up, and that's kind of what I tried to do through my nursing career was I went back, but it changed me because I realized that the bubble that I had existed in, where everything went really well, suddenly I was a, I was a fatherless daughter.

00:04:01:12 - 00:04:23:24
I was down a parent. And so I watched other people's fathers turn up and do things. And how was that? You know, why did that happen to me? Because it just did. It just did. So I look I started to look at things much more critically. And I guess I grew up. I grew up much faster than I was going to.

00:04:23:24 - 00:04:41:04
I think I would have said at the time I was grown up and I was mature and I was doing all of these things, but that was up to me. And so I got up and I realized I loved nursing so much. I hated what nurses were doing to it. My father's words around, you know, integrity and all of those things.

00:04:41:06 - 00:05:01:23
So I decided I was going to change the world. And I went into nursing education and started to teach nursing. And I really enjoyed that. I stayed with that and had both of our babies whilst I was teaching nursing. And then I was a bit bored with nursing and I was a bit bored with teaching it because I teaching the same old stuff.

00:05:02:00 - 00:05:26:11
And with much respect to my college, with much to the colleagues that I was working with at the time, I guess, or maybe no respect to them at all, I wasn't making a difference. Maybe it was me that wasn't making a difference. Maybe it wasn't them. Maybe that's my fault.


Fiona on film.

That's when I did the first of my infamous moves in my career, which was, I wonder what else is out there?


00:05:26:11 - 00:05:51:09
And I stumbled across something shiny called genetic counseling. And I thought, I'm going to do that. That's for me. So I applied, told outrageous lies in the interview to get in. There's no nursing, there's no genetic counseling jobs in Queensland. Would you move? Of course I would. At a drop of a hat. I had no intention of it. I just wanted the masters because I knew I needed.

00:05:51:15 - 00:06:15:19
I just wanted to learn. And it was again, something shiny. It was something for me to read about and to immerse myself in. But it also had that that string, that thread of justice and that and, and supporting vulnerable communities and vulnerable people. So I specialized in prenatal counseling, and I met someone in that role who would then become, you know, one of my lifelong friends.

00:06:15:21 - 00:06:38:03
And she mentored me a little bit. And so I did some prenatal work. And out of that, I did my Ph.D. And the reason I did my PhD was because I hated having women coming in to talk to me about prenatal screening. And I'd say to them, Why are you here? I and they would say to me, because my doctor said I needed to or because my husband said I should.

00:06:38:05 - 00:07:16:24
And the individual that my parents had created, the autonomous being was, well, stuff that it's not your fault. It's not their job to tell you what you want. What do you want to do? And I realized I couldn't get any cut through in the system because I didn't have a title. So being this epic, competitive person that I am, I decided what's better than being a doctor is being a proper doctor, and that's being a Ph.D. So I went and got a PhD in sources of influence in and around screening, prenatal screening, and then I became a proper doctor, but a proper doctor in a medical system - no one's interested in.

00:07:17:01 - 00:07:38:07
They know that it is, you know, something to be respected. They just don't care. So I wasn't getting the cut through this. So I thought, okay. And the funding for my position stopped. So what was I going to do? So I went back to teaching, but this time I went to teaching and in medicine. And so I worked in the School of Medicine for a little while.

00:07:38:09 - 00:08:03:04
And then I lost again the contract that I was on, ran out of money. So I was unemployed for 24 hours. And then I said yes to something short, which was acting as a clinical ethicist at the hospital. Did I know what a clinical ethicist did? Oh, yeah, I read about it. Did I think I was qualified?

00:08:03:06 - 00:08:28:10
No, but I was going to give it a red hot go and I was still doing my Ph.D. at this time as well, or I might have just finished it up. I can't remember now. So that job ended and then I went into patient safety at the Royal for the Queensland Government for a little while. And so I learned a lot there and just sort of finished.

00:08:28:12 - 00:08:48:04
I'd graduated with my Ph.D., I'd been awarded my Churchill Fellowships by then as well. And I just thought that my life would then be as a public servant. And then one day, I was trying on a pair of jeans, and most women would know that when you try a pair of jeans, it's a bit like a swimsuit, it's a bit torturous.

00:08:48:06 - 00:09:22:20
And I was standing there a
nd I was looking in the mirror and I was thinking, does my bum look big in these jeans and that's when my phone rang? And I never answer numbers that I never recognize, but I answered this phone call and it was a fellow, it was a perinatal neonatologist, rather, from Adelaide. And...


"He had found my Churchill fellowship report and said, With your permission, I'd like to present it to the Federal Government's inquiry into palliative care, because I recommended in my report that there be a perinatal hospice."

00:09:22:22 - 00:09:52:21
And I said, sure, you know, I bought my jeans and went on with life. I was then asked to be the researcher at the outcome of that inquiry, said that they should be a pediatric hospice in Queensland. So I then bounced around a little bit, noted that and thought great, and I was being asked to present my Churchill Fellowship results at some places and I was talking about what it what does, what a perinatal hospice might look like and what would this be?

00:09:52:23 - 00:10:15:17
And I met a woman called Gabrielle Quilliam at this particular conference and she was what struck me was she and I were like she was huddled over a phone. It was plugged into a power point in a random corridor just outside the conference, trying to negotiate someone to pick up her child from school because, you know, her husband had been held up or something had happened.

00:10:15:19 - 00:10:30:21
And she was in Melbourne and she was trying to get a car. But she just, you know, she was doing her very best as a working mom. And so I hung around and probably made her a little bit uncomfortable while she'd had this conversation. And I said to her, The conference have paid for me to have a cab to the airport.

00:10:30:23 - 00:10:50:19
The least I could do as another working mum is get you to the airport. And I said, I sit in the cab with me, that's fine. I've got you've got to the airport. And we spoke and she said to me, would you want to be involved in a children's hospice in Queensland? And I said, No thanks, I'll stick to perinatal and I'll stick to the work that I'm doing.

00:10:50:21 - 00:11:15:13
But then over the next two years I would pop out of a meeting in the city randomly and I would run into Paul and Gabriel Quilliam, like clock into them as a, you know, and I'd say, Oh, excuse me, Oh my goodness, it's you. And Gabrielle used to say that God had put us into each other's paths. Now I'm an atheist through and through, but I genuinely would say to you, something was putting us in each other's path.

00:11:15:13 - 00:11:32:08
Something or someone. I don't know what it was. And so each time they would have a question and I would answer it. What do you think about this? Well, I think you should do that. Or how about this? Maybe not think that. And so then I moved down to the Gold Coast. I worked down the Gold Coast.

00:11:32:08 - 00:11:55:18
I was commuting. I worked down the Gulf Coast, and I was doing some work for clinical governance down there. And I was sitting on the clinical advisory committee for Hummingbird House, and Gab rang and she said to me, Would you write the job for the general manager? And I said, Sure. So I stayed back one night and I wrote it, and then I sent it to her and I called her on the drive home and I said, I pity the fool who has this job.

00:11:55:18 - 00:12:19:12
This is an enormous job. And she said, okay. She said, Well, do you want to? And I said, No, no, not at all. I said, But I'll sit on your interview panel because I know I can get you someone really good. Anyway, as time went by, a couple of weeks went by and I just kept thinking about the questions I would ask these people and and I thought and again, this is one of the, you know, the big moments that you talk with your life partner about.

00:12:19:12 - 00:12:36:19
I said to him, what if I go for this? And he said to me. He said, I don't know why you've taken this long. He said, I don't know why you're not going for it. But anyway, you don't die wondering what my husband thinks. But it's delivered with love. And so I called Gabrielle this one night and I said to her, I'm going to break your heart.

00:12:36:21 - 00:12:58:02
But next week I'm not sitting on the interview panel. And she said to me, Oh, why is that? And I said, Because I'm going to apply. And I applied and I got the job and I had to sit.


"There was two times in my life where I had to sit down because I thought I was going to pass out with the enormity of what I was doing."

00:12:58:04 - 00:13:42:09
The first time was when I had a positive pregnancy test with Bronte. The second time was when I was awarded
general manager of Hummingbird House, and I thought, Kid, you'd better get good at chewing because you have bitten off more. But I just knew I I'd never done it before. None of us had done it before, but I just knew that if I could bring all of the wisdom that I'd gotten from patient safety and from working with vulnerable people and the values that my parents instilled in me and my family instilled in me, this notion about the whole, my whole life, my family has walked beside me.

00:13:42:11 - 00:14:10:24
They have never directed me. They've never held me back from anything, but they've been beside me or behind me. If I could craft a service that walked behind or beside families that nurtured them, but I gave them their autonomous as much control as I can give someone when their child is dying. If I could craft a service that did that, then I knew I was on the right thing and I knew I also.

00:14:10:24 - 00:14:22:20
My father also said to me, If you want to be successful in life, then you make damn sure you're the dumbest person in the room. So I knew I just had to find the smartest people I could. And that was what started Hummingbird House.


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