HerStory Archive

Olive O'KEEFE

Also known as: née Harvey, Keefy, O'Keeffe

Born: 14/05/1907

Died: 10/11/1988

Special Achievements:

Matron at "The Bungalow" at the Old Telegraph Station, Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Volunteered to help Catholic nuns with 35 Bathurst Island children travel to Alice in Army convoy after the bombing of Darwin.

Additional Information:

"She came to" Northern Territory "in 1936 and worked at Darwin Hospital.  ...  When Darwin was bombed and women and children were being evacuated, Keefy volunteered to go with a party of Catholic nuns and 35 small children travelling in an army convoy to Alice.  As the children were from Bathurst Island and had no warm clothes, Keefy and the nuns knitted and sewed all the way to Alice and eventually Adelaide and Melbourne.  So each child had at least one warm jumper or garment.
After the war John and Mrs O'Keefe became Superintendent and Matron at the "Bungalow" --- now the Telegraph Station --- which is where all Aboriginals in Alice lived --- they were not allowed to stay in the town area, from sunset to sunrise ___ many went to work each day in the town."
Mrs O'Keefe set up a kitchen and provided cooked meals, a ___ bay and a sewing room.  She trained Aboriginal girls to use a sewing machine and they made clothes --- skirts, dresses, and shirts for all the people there.
When the Bungalow was closed the O'Keefes moved back to Katherine and lived in a house on the river bank which had been the medical mess during the war.  Here Olive had a thriving garden as she always had 'green fingers' and of course a huge circle of friends.  She and Johno lived a very happy retired life there until Johno died.  Olive died in her beloved Katherine in 1987 or 8.
... though she had no children of her own, kids adored her and she befriended h___ of Aboriginal children."
Her surname has been recorded with a variety of spellings.  The family believes that it should be O'Keefe.


Resources

  • Image - Olive O'Keefe

    Image used with permission and taken from Reg Harris's book, "Legendary Territorians", Harris Nominees Pty Ltd, 2007, pages 28-29.

    Reg Harris


  • References

    Harris, Reg. (2007).  Legendary Territorians.  Alice Springs:  Harris Nominees Pty Ltd., pages 28-29.
    "Olive was a large woman known over much of the Territory simply as Keefy.  She worked at the Katherine Hospital and also at the hospital in Alice Springs.  She had a great rapport with Aboriginal people and was placed in control of what was known in the 1950s as "the Native Ward."  Many of her Aboriginal patients had very little contact with Europeans but Keefy had their confidence.
    Aboriginal women in their last stages of pregnancy would admit themselves to her ward but when the baby was on the way they would wander off into the bush which was then quite thick south of the hospital.  There they would have the baby with help from their own people, and then roll the baby in the sand to dry it off.  Keefy would locate the women after it was all over and provide any further help as required.
    Keefy had previously been a nurse with the legendary Dr Clyde Fenton, ...
    ...
    ... Keefy and her husband "Johno".  ..."


  • Image - Mrs O'Keefe and Joan Deans, December 1946

    from NPWHF Olive O'KEEFE file

    Joan Deans