When Louise Gourlay AM was approached by Lady Rosemary Derham to first join the Board of Management of The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in the early 1980s, she was initially taken aback. Louise was a mother of four small children, but fortunately, had never had to set foot inside the hospital. She was quite involved with the Free Kindergarten Union – which is what brought her to the attention of the RCH Board.

The phone call from Lady Derham presented another problem for Louise. As she recalls, “I rang her back and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this because I’m not properly equipped with clothes’. Because all the members of the Board of Management put on their suits and their hats and almost their white gloves to come to meetings and I was a young housewife with no money and four children. She said, ‘I think it’s probably time we made ourselves less formal’”.

Despite this initial hesitation, Louise quickly became a passionate advocate for the RCH and nearly 40 years later is still involved with the hospital. “It was like a full-time job” Louise reflects, “because I was involved with so many different aspects of it”. Nervous at first, chairing events or giving speeches, Louise quickly found her stride and began to quite enjoy it. One of the first roles Louise was given was to oversee the Auxiliaries, but as she remembers, “I didn’t know what an auxiliary was”.

Louise learned swiftly and soon found herself heavily involved with the Good Friday Appeal. She has vivid memories of her first appeal when she was required to join the firefighters who were collecting money in the middle of the St Kilda Junction:

“I had to get myself into the middle of the verge and go and say thank you – shake their hands and tell them what a wonderful job they were doing – and almost lose my life in the process of getting across the road with all these tin rattlings.”

Over the years Louise never shied away from any task, even those she didn’t fully understand. “Things like the finance committee,” she recalls, “I often used to ask questions, quite naïve questions, about financial things … but the men often said ‘I’m glad you asked that question’. They never had the courage to ask questions because they didn’t want to look foolish”.

Louise is the Patron of Auxiliaries at the RCH, a position she has held since 1998. She received an Order of Australia Medal in 1999 for her work with the RCH Auxiliaries, and in 2021 was made a Member of the Order of Australia. But for all the work she has done for the hospital, Louise says she’s received much more than she’s given.

“To be in amongst the compassionate people that are part of an organisation like this is stimulating, it’s part of my makeup that I appreciate that there are good people doing good things and I want to be part of it I suppose … It’s not giving back, it’s just being part of helping if you can … I am going to keep going as long as I can.”


Listen to an audio extract from Louise Gourlay’s 2019 oral history interview 

Transcription of audio extract:

“It was like a full-time job because I was involved with so many different aspects of it. So I was very fortunate – and still am – because even at this late age I still do things. And I’ve got friends who used to work for other charities but they’ve sort of grown out of it; but this place goes on, you can just keep going on, it never stops. That’s the wonderful thing about it.”