A simple life of faith

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Sister Camille Poidevin meets the then-Governor-General, Sir Michael Jeffery

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Sr Camille Poidevin

1925-2012

By Simon Poidevin

Camille Poidevin joined the Sisters of St John of God order in 1950 at Subiaco, Perth, when she was training as a nurse. She worked in hospitals in NSW and Perth before moving to the Kimberley in 1954, beginning a 56-year devotion to one of Australia's most beautiful regions.

After leaving her nursing positions, she taught classical music to hundreds of children in Derby and Broome, giving them an opportunity to attain a skill that would give them immense pride in their lives.

Camille Bernadette Poidevin was born in Goulburn on July 8, 1925, the fourth child of Ernest Poidevin and his wife, Ada (nee Barden), a devout, Catholic farming family. She was always musical and after finishing at Our Lady of Mercy College, Goulburn, went to Sydney to earn a music and performers licentiate in 1947.

Camille had become familiar with the St John of God sisters in Goulburn because the order had a hospital there that treated her father's Parkinson's disease. When she decided to join the order, she entered its novitiate, which was based in Perth, and became Sister Dolorosa.

After being transferred to the Kimberley, she started work in the Derby Native Hospital as a general and midwifery sister, then was invited to work in the leprosarium, which was a place of quarantine for what was then the incurable disease known as leprosy. However, after studying in the US for three months in 1969, Sister Camille preferred to call the condition by its modern name, Hansen's disease.

Along with her medical work there, Sister Camille made use of her musical training. In the 1940s, Mother Alphonsus, realising the importance of music therapy in rehabilitation, had formed a patients' orchestra.

The fact that these patients were unable to read music and most had serious hand deformities did not stand in their way and for many years, the orchestra performed classical concerts for patients, staff, visiting officials and dignitaries. Sister Camille was delighted to help with the program and was also matron of the facility from 1970 to 1974.

In 1986, the Derby leprosarium closed as medical advances in the treatment of Hansen's disease and the introduction of multi-drug therapy made patients non-infectious and isolation was no longer necessary.

In 1984, Sister Camille had returned to Sydney to take a music teacher's diploma. Returning to Derby in 1986, she taught music until she retired in 2007. She created many stars but her greatest source of pride was Brendan Backhouse, a piano student who went on to become Australia's first indigenous conductor…

Full obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/a-life-of-music-and-faith-20130212-2eay6.html

A related obituary: http://www.goulburnpost.com.au/story/952928/sister-silently-steals-away/

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