Hewitt, Bronwyn

  • BronwynHewittportraitBackground

    Bronwyn’s story begins in Lismore, NSW where she was born in the early ‘baby boomer’ period. Her parents had met in Melbourne when her father was training at the RAAF base in Laverton. However, medical issues he experienced during his training was diagnosed as early and incurable kidney disease, side effects of which would lead to his untimely death only 20 years later. As a result, he was repatriated out of the RAAF and later set up business interests in Lismore. By the early 1950s, and because of his declining health, he was advised to move to Melbourne where his wife’s family could provide support.

    Early career

    From an early age Bronwyn showed an interest in and aptitude for music and began piano lessons aged 6. By the time she was accepted into MacRobertson Girls’ High School which had an established music program, this offered her the opportunity to take up the cello as well. Cello became her passion and after entering the University of Melbourne Conservatorium to do a Bachelor of Music degree as a pianist, she soon achieved the required standard to change her principal study from piano to cello. During her studies she taught classroom music part-time in several government schools in the inner suburbs. After graduating she was employed by the Education Department to teach instrumental music in schools in the Western Suburbs where she lived after marrying during her degree. A few years after, her son was born, but the marriage was over and she became a single mum. She continued teaching for the next 20 years, being in the vanguard of setting up stringed instrument programs in Technical schools and some of their feeder Primary schools in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and witnessed the various waves of migration which passed through them during that time.

    Career change

    In 1987 Bronwyn decided to make a career change. She had also remarried (to a musician) the previous year. An initial interest in archival work had been sparked by doing research into family history at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). A casual enquiry to PROV about the possibility of working as an Archivist was fortuitous as they happened to be offering a training position, applications for which closed the next day. Having nothing to lose by applying, she was successful in her application and was suddenly catapulted out of teaching and into the Public Service. The training involved a steep learning curve requiring detailed understanding of legislation under which government functions and procedures are regulated, in an environment which was vastly different from that of the teaching profession.

    PROV was a good training ground and after a couple of years there, she took up a position at BHP Archives, which in those days was a large department of the corporate giant. Bronwyn left BHP at the end of 1990 to begin a Graduate Diploma in Information Management, Archives & Records, at the University of Melbourne. To support her studies, she took up a part-time position at the University, seconded as an Archivist to Walter & Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), as well as simultaneous positions at the RCH and at the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), in 1991. It was from the work in these institutions that she found her niche in medical-based archives in the diverse archival world.

    Work at the RCH

    The existing RCH Archives Dept had been in the doldrums for a number of years without any human resources when Bronwyn was appointed. It needed to be re-established as a formal, working department, reporting in its own right and to that avail she set about the task, albeit on one day per week. There were many battles to be fought to achieve this though and eventually she was able to convince management to allow her to increase her number of days working there, while gradually relinquishing her other work positions. Archival work at the RCH was fascinating and she was constantly surprised by what records and museum items turned up amongst the hundreds of boxes of material stored in various locations around the old hospital, in which were found many historical gems. Eventually  many series of records were processed and generally accessible enough for the hospital to embark upon writing a major history, the author for which was Dr Peter Yule whose work was published in 1999 after several years of full-time research. Bronwyn collaborated closely with Peter during the research and with the publisher. Another memorable event was the opening of the professionally designed Historical Room and museum at the old hospital in 1992. This became an important show-piece for the RCH.

    Bronwyn retired from the RCH in mid-2017 having worked since the move of the hospital in 2011 to ensure that the majority of the important historical records were transferred to the PROV for permanent, accessible and safe retention there. The RCH in-house archival collection was among several projects celebrated for excellence and innovation in records management at the annual Sir Rupert Hamer Awards, the award being presented to Bronwyn at Parliament House in 2016. She feels inspired by and honoured to have known and worked with so many of the post-war clinicians who even in retirement, were still actively involved with the hospital when she started there, many of whom were very supportive of the work of the Archives Department.

    Other involvement with RCH

    Bronwyn continued to play in Melbourne orchestras throughout her working life, but RSI and an unexpected loss of interest post-COVID put an end to her playing career. However, in 2004 the orchestra with which she was involved and then administering, became an Auxiliary of the RCH Foundation (The Melbourne Sinfonia Auxiliary), with which it is still affiliated. For the first few years, funds raised from the orchestra’s four regular concerts per year were donated to the RCH Music Therapy Department and after that department eventually secured ongoing funding, the Auxiliary moved its support to the Gatehouse Centre which it currently supports.

    She has been on the RCH Alumni Executive Committee since 2017. 

    In retirement

    Bronwyn is at her happiest when working out in the garden and has a busy exercise regime to keep healthy as well. She is a regular attender of performances of the Australian Ballet and the MSO. Her lifelong research into family history continues. She has two teenage grandsons who are, in every way, as different as chalk and cheese.