Guru, saviour, doctor: our early settler honoured
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Guru, saviour, doctor: our early settler honoured

At age 90, with 65 years of nursing experience behind her, Rhodanthe Lipsett yesterday became a doctor.

The Canberra mothercraft legend and author of best-selling book Baby Care was yesterday awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Canberra for a lifetime of services to baby and maternal health.

Rhodanthe Lipsett, 90, grained an honorary doctorate for services to midwifery and used her skills to calm fellow graduate Tess Farrell's six-week-old daughter Jade at the graduate class.

Rhodanthe Lipsett, 90, grained an honorary doctorate for services to midwifery and used her skills to calm fellow graduate Tess Farrell's six-week-old daughter Jade at the graduate class.Credit:Gary Schafer

Her doctorate was conferred alongside 25 bachelor of midwifery degrees - a new and popular course for the UC which provides three years' dedicated midwifery education as opposed to a one-year graduate diploma in midwifery.

Yesterday's graduates were in awe of Mrs Lipsett's career achievements, which include a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992, having helped an estimated 23,000 local mothers and their newborns adjust to those first crucial days and weeks together during her time as one of Canberra's first dedicated mothercraft nurses and 19 years at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.

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Mrs Lipsett recalls the days when the ACT consisted of a few sparse suburbs under construction - where O'Connor was considered ''out in the sticks'' and new mothers would gratefully congregate at the Westlake Hall in Yarralumla to share their experiences of sleeplessness, unsettled babies and the changes their lives had just undergone.

Sixty years ago, mothercraft nursing required Mrs Lipsett to jump in a trusty Holden and visit new and isolated mothers along many a dirt road in Tidbinbilla, Pierces Creek and Royalla.

She was adept at changing tyres and dodging angry bulls but recalls being very nearly swept off Point Hut Crossing during a storm.

Still, Mrs Lipsett loved her housecalls - an ''occasion'' for which new mothers prepared a lunch, brought out the Royal Doulton and had a chance to unload the stresses and strains of their babies on a kind and understanding ear.

Of course, all conversation stopped at 1pm when the popular radio show Blue Hills came on.

It is highly probable that Mrs Lipsett helped some of the mothers of yesterday's midwifery graduates - and perhaps even a few of their grandmothers.

Her approach to babies and her theory that mothers know their own babies best was enshrined in her 1994 book, No One Right Way.

The book was relaunched in February as Baby Care by Governor-General Quentin Bryce and provides an authoritative and detailed guide to those first mysterious weeks at home with a newborn.

Mrs Lipsett's now famous mantra is that there is no one right way to look after a baby.

''Were it possible I would eliminate the word 'should' from our language and substitute 'could','' she said.

''Could'' allowed for choice and empowerment and new mothers needed most of all to feel empowered.

For UC bachelor of midwifery graduate Tess Farrell and mother of nine-week old Jade, it was an honour to stand beside such a ''babycare guru''.

And as she passed her hungry baby into the waiting arms of Mrs Lipsett during the post-ceremony photoshoot, no one was the least bit surprised when Jade stopped crying.

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