Sadie Canning

Sadie Canning was Western Australia’s first Aboriginal nurse. She was a member of the Stolen Generations and grew up at a mission in the north eastern goldfields.

Sadie Miriam Canning (née Corner) was born near Laverton in 1930. She was removed from her family when she was four years old and taken to the Mt Margaret Mission. She studied with the WA Correspondence School from Class 5 (Grade 6) through to the Junior Certificate with the goal of becoming a nurse. At that time Aboriginal women were barred from nursing training in Western Australia, so Sadie travelled to Melbourne to train as a nurse in Melbourne. She returned to Western Australia and worked in nursing. In 1956 Sadie was appointed to the position of Sister at the Leonora District Hospital and was subsequently promoted to the position of Matron, which she held until her retirement late in 1990.

Sadie Canning’s outstanding contribution and devoted service to nursing, improving facilities and indigenous healthcare in Western Australia was recognised in the Queens’ Birthday Honours in 1964 when she was awarded a MBE (Member of the British Empire). She was a Justice of the Peace and also served on many committees. In 1977 she received a QEII Silver Jubilee Medal for her service to country nursing in Western Australia. In her retirement she was a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and the State Reconciliation Committee. She also served on the board the Australian Children’s Trust and was a patron of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses.

When asked about her memories of correspondence lessons Sadie remembered “receiving her work back together with lovely letters from her teacher, Mrs Bowman.” She enjoyed studying Physiology and Hygiene because she wanted to be a nurse. She believed that education was very important and credited her education with her enjoyment of her life and her career success. “Education is the key to success because it enables you to determine your own future, because you know what is happening and you can think for yourself and represent yourself and others in your community.”

“She was an inspiration to many. She has been in every way an outstanding ambassador. What she showed was that an Aboriginal woman could get to the top in a white person's world.”

Professor Fiona Stanley on Sadie Canning’s death in 2008.