We all know the very important role that midwives play in the birthing process today. They are tertiary educated, highly qualified and extremely important in supporting women as they give birth.
In fact no doubt, women supporting women to give birth goes back to when time began and the recognised role of the midwife in the early days of district settlement was invaluable.
With hospitals few and far between and generally small privately owned facilities in some of the larger towns, it was not an option for women to stay in them for any length of time so home births were the norm.
When the baby’s arrival was imminent, even if you could contact a doctor, getting him to come via horseback, in all sorts of weather conditions, at any time of the day or night, seldom meant he would arrive before the baby did.
One such valuable asset to Longwarry and district women was Mary Ann Bissett (nee McDonald) affectionately known as “Ma” Bissett. She was born in Nagambie in 1872 and came to the district with one of the very early Labertouche pioneers, her father, Alexander McDonald.
The Bissett’s lived in a small workman’s cottage in Kennedy Street directly opposite the Longwarry Public Hall
She began work as a midwife in the early 1900’s, not with the education of today’s midwives, but with the experience of giving birth to her own children and doing “an apprenticeship” with other experienced midwives of the time.
As babies have their own timetable for arriving, it would not be unusual for Ma Bissett to answer frantic knocking at her door any time of the day or night, in any weather to an excited youngster calling, “Ma come quick, Mum says the baby is coming.”
Apart from travelling around with a horse and jinker to visit expectant mothers on the farms, she would also set up the front room of her cottage as a “Maternity Ward” for when the baby was expected to be born..
Not just the local midwife, Ma was also the caretaker of the hall and she was renowned for the delicious coffee that she made at the hall dances.
There are many locals today who can thank Ma Bissett for the safe arrival of their forefathers and mothers.
From the two pictures of ‘Ma’ wearing her hat it seems a safe bet that it was her favourite hat.
Pictured: A Bissett Family Picnic – Photo courtesy of Mrs. Mary Davis.
We acknowledge the work of Clarrie McDermid in the book From Fraser Siding to Longwarry for The Longwarry Centenary Committee 1978