Backblocks Baby Doctor



One of the questions posed in Monday’s Quiz was the name of the author of Backblocks Baby Doctor . I’d been thinking about the book because the news about swine flu reminded me of Doris Gordon’s account of working during the 1918 flu epidemic.

I thought others might be interested in reading the book because Doris  had a no-nonsense approach to writing and the result is a fascinating and down to earth account of her life and times.

She was one of the first women to qualify as a doctor in New Zealand, graduating in 1913. She married in 1917 and two weeks later her husband, who was also a doctor,  left to serve overseas. She lectured at the University of Otago during the war then worked as a locum in the North Island during the 1918 flu epidemic. 

At 9pm I was in the home of a master painter whose only two children had both got out of bed and walked round two blocks to witness the Broadway celebrations. I verified that the elder son was dead, went into the kitchen to sign the certificate, and was startled to find the undertaker there, tape in hand; and I literally shivered when he suggested that I also sign the death certificate for the other lad who was undoubtedly just about to die.

It seemed ghoulish to sign while there was a flickering pulse but the undertaker was as hard pushed as I was.

When her husband returned to New Zealand the following year they set up in general practice together.

Doris had a particular interest in maternity services. She was instrumental in establishing the NZ Obstetrical Society and by skill and perseverance raised the money to endow a Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Otago Medical School and for the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin.

Early on she learned the power women wielded:

Starting just after one triennial election has passed, various items of reform are decided on by twenty or thirty women leaders who comprise the National Council of Women. These are usually the presidents and leaders of the women’s organisations. For the next two years they indoctrinated thousands of women in hundreds of branches. In the third year – election year again – a deputation with a substantial women’s vote solidly behind it, bears the request to the appropriate minister. This represents petticoat government at its best and is a system seldom known to have failed.

Doris was the first Australasian woman to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (FRCS) and was also awarded an MBE.

While working full time, studying, fund raising and advocating on maternity services she also raised three children.

This book, and its sequel Doctor Down Under,  should appeal to anyone with an interest in health, politics, the politics of health, maternity services, history and/or inspirational people.

Backblocks Baby Doctor  by Doris Gordon, published by Faber & Faber, 1956. It’s out of print but a Google search located several second hand copies.

Tuesday’s answers


Gravedodger got three out of five in yesterday’s quiz.

The answer’s are:

1. What’s the name of the mother of Dog’s pups in Footrot Flats?


2. Who wrote Backblocks Baby Doctor?

Doris Gordon, one of the first women doctors in New Zealand.

3. Where was Phar Lap born?

At Seadown, near Timaru. His sire Night Raid, stood at Elderslie near Enfield in North Otago and his dam Entreaty was brought down for the mating in 1925 according to the book From Teaneraki to Enfield by Lindsay Malcolm where I found this photo.


Night Raid is in the stall, Entreaty is the horse on the right; the horse on the left and the foal were full siblings of Phar Lap.

4. Who said, “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well.”?

Margaret Thatcher – The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says it was in a television interview on January 6, 1986 and in The Times  six days later.

5. The Corriedale was the result of crossing which breeds of sheep?

Lincoln & Merino. James Little came from Scotland to Corriedale in North Otago where he started cross breeding merinos and continued experimenting until he developed the breed after moving to North Canterbury.

Monday Quiz


Keeping Stock has a Monday Quote, The Hand Mirror has Monday Funday .

This is the first of what may or may not be a regular Monday Quiz.

1. What’s the name of the mother of Dog’s pups in Footrot Flats?

2. Who wrote Backblocks Baby Doctor?

3. Where was Phar Lap born?

4. Who said,” No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well.”?

5. The Corriedale was the result of crossing which breeds of sheep?

The first to answer all five correctly gets the glory, the judge’s decision isn’t final, correspondence may or may not be entered in to.

%d bloggers like this: