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Scarfe, Betty (1915–2010)

by Janet Scarfe and Suzanne Scarfe

Betty was the youngest child of Charles and Annie Campbell, and sister of Donald, Jean, Bob, and "Puss" (Dorothy). Her father was stud master on Anlaby, once the largest large merino sheep station in South Australia owned by the Dutton dynasty, 15 kilometres north of Kapunda.

Betty had a happy childhood growing up in the country. She went to school locally by horse and trap. Like most of her generation in the country, she finished school in Grade 7. Betty took up golf as a child and joined her father, brothers and sisters on the Anlaby Golf Team. With two clubs and a putter, she won numerous trophies, beating ladies many years her senior. As the youngest daughter, she then helped her mother run the busy household and look after a constant stream of visitors. She milked cows, made butter, and could cut up a sheep carcass with ease.

In 1938, Betty’s father reluctantly allowed her to start nursing at the Adelaide Hospital where her older sister Puss could keep an eye on her. She loved every aspect of nursing. Betty topped the state in her final nursing exams in 1942, beating university graduates. The Florence Nightingale Medal she won was among her proudest possessions.

Betty nursed in various Adelaide private hospitals. These were the days before penicillin. She told some hair-raising stories of accepted nursing practices during these times. She also looked after patients in their homes, which often included cooking and cleaning for the patient’s family.

In 1943, Betty married "Eb" Scarfe, a brilliant young lawyer whom she had nursed in hospital. They spent the latter part of the war in Melbourne where Eb was stationed with the Royal Australian Navy and where Betty continued to nurse.

In 1947, Eb and Betty moved to St Peters. They had 2 daughters. Betty raised the children and supported Eb as he built his reputation as an up and coming barrister in Adelaide’s legal establishment.

Betty returned to nursing in the mid 1960s. She was a senior sister at Aldersgate, then one of Adelaide’s largest aged care villages. She worked closely with Dr Colin Robjohns, a pioneer in the field of geriatrics. They shared a passion for the care and respect of the elderly, their health and well-being. On leaving Aldersgate, Betty worked for a number of years at the now closed Home for Incurables.

When appointed matron of a nursing home in Norwood in the early 1970’s, Betty immediately set about improving the residents’ quality of life. She insisted that tasty, nourishing meals and residents’ comfort be a priority.

She was greatly appreciated by staff, patients and relatives. In fact, her last doctor recognised her as the kindly matron who had looked after his grandmother thirty years earlier!

In retirement she focussed on her other passions. She baked a variety of cakes and scones for shops in North Adelaide, knitted dozens of beautiful jumpers, and grew vegetables and giant sunflowers.

When these activities became impossible she found other interests – the Crows and footy tipping, talkback radio, sport and nature programs on television, and always family and friends.

Betty was proud that she had maintained her independence but after a fall last year, she moved into residential care. She accepted her circumstances with good grace and dignity. She adapted well to her new situation, relishing conversations with staff, residents and friends who dropped in. She described herself as "very content".

Betty is survived by her daughters, Janet and Suzanne. She was a caring mother, a devoted sister, a warm-hearted neighbour and friend. She was strong and determined, generous and enthusiastic, and genuinely interested in others and their well-being. Her contentment and happiness were both completely genuine and contagious. She felt richly blessed, as do those who knew and loved her.

Original publication

  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 10 July 2010, p 74

Citation details

Janet Scarfe and Suzanne Scarfe, 'Scarfe, Betty (1915–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 September 2020.

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