Local Identities

Nurse Flora Maud Larsen 1888-1964

By Anne Kirkman, 2022.

Family Background

Flora Larsen was born in Port Melbourne, Victoria, and was orphaned at a young age. In an interview with the Harvey Murray Times, Flora tells us that her mother died from the shock of the big Melbourne bank crash of 1893 but there was no mention of a father. She was fostered by a Danish couple Anders Olaf Larsen, an engineer, and Caroline Rosalie Larsen, née Sorensen.[1] Anders and Caroline had emigrated with Caroline’s parents and siblings aboard the steamer Sommerfield from Hamburg, Germany, arriving at Port Phillip in Victoria in October 1890.[2] At what point the Larsens left Melbourne is unknown, but in 1895 they were living in South Terrace, Fremantle, WA.[3] Later that year in an advertisement, Anders describes himself as a machinist and practical engineer who sells and repairs any class of sewing machine.[4] In 1898 they were living in Geraldton, where Mr AO Larsen was the local agent for the Singer Manufacturing Company, with its depot based in Fremantle.[5] In May the following year Mr Larsen put himself forward as a candidate for the Municipal Elections, hoping to fill the vacancy in the Central Ward. He lost by five votes.[6]

In September 1900 the Larsen family was still living in Geraldton. Anders Larsen had been elected a member of the Geraldton Horticultural and Agricultural Society.[7] Flora can be found in several articles where she was a pupil of the Geraldton School of Music between 1899 and 1900, her part being Prince Hawthorn in the Fairy Play Prince and the Witch in December 1899.[8] At a bazaar held at the Central Hall in Geraldton in November 1900, stall holders wore fancy dress costumes, with Mrs Larsen dressed as a Swiss peasant and Flora as a postman.[9] An amusing incident about the Larsen family pet happened in 1901. Mr Larsen was away on business at Bunbury and was unable to vote at the extraordinary election, but he wasn’t forgotten – his pet kangaroo came hopping down Eleanor Street with a look of eager happy expectancy. Whether or not it had conceived an idea of voting in lieu of its owner, remains an open question. The town clerk consulted the roll, shook his head and the kangaroo hopped dejectedly away.[10]

By 1903 the family was living in Victoria Street, Bunbury.[11] Flora was old enough to remember the old days on the Leschenault Estuary and recalled the establishment of the first fire brigade in Bunbury and the first rifle range near Picton Crescent, which later moved to Roelands.[12] The move to Bunbury reunited the family with the Sorensen relatives who had established their homes there. Flora’s aunt, Ida Sorensen, was married to Jacob Fabricius, who was a produce merchant on Stephen Street and was highly respected by the country people with whom he did considerable business. Jacob passed away in 1909 leaving widow Ida with a five-year-old son, Valdemar Fabricius, who spent his childhood in Bunbury, became a solicitor and in 1940 was appointed, by the Consul General for Sweden in Sydney, as acting Consul General for Sweden at Perth.[13] Flora’s uncle Adrian Sorensen was a prominent businessman in Bunbury, managing Fabricius Produce Stores, before enlisting in 1915. In 1917 Adrian’s parents, Anders Peter and Elinor Rosalia Sorensen, received the news that their son had died from war wounds in France. Of interest, it was reported that Adrian’s father had fought against the Germans in the Danish War, resulting in the loss of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and his mother had experienced all the horrors of Hun military methods in the same war.[14]

Elinore Sorensen, Flora’s grandmother, had a business in Victoria Street, Bunbury, called the Alexander Café. The premises also incorporated a boarding house and rooms which Elinor rented out. She operated the business from early 1900 until 1910, when she retired.  Elinore and Anders Peter moved to Perth in 1929 after having spent many years in Bunbury.[15] The same year Ida Fabricius and son Valdemar also left Bunbury for Perth. Ida continued to visit the region, as her sister Caroline, brother-in law Anders Olaf and niece Flora lived in Harvey.[16]

Anders Olaf Larsen remained the agent for the Singer Manufacturing Company in the Bunbury region until December 1906. He then became the Bunbury and South Western District representative for Messrs AW Dobbie and Co. of Hay Street, Perth, the well-known piano and sewing machine house.[17] This position he kept until June 1917 when he resigned from the firm but remained a traveller for ‘first class makes of Pianos, Organs, Sewing-machines, Gramaphones, Separators and other lines.’[18] He probably repaired sewing machines over many years and from March to July 1922 he placed advertisements.[19] He sold sewing machines from the premises of RM Wilson’s general store in Harvey and in an adjoining building he had a music warehouse. In April 1923 Wilson’s store was destroyed by fire but the goods in the warehouse were saved.[20],[21]

Two months later on 25 June, Anders Olaf Larsen died aged 62.

Advertisement in the ‘Southern Times’, 1916.

By December 1903, we know that Anders had bought 7½ acres of land in Harvey, as he advertised for tenders for clearing and burning the land near the railway station.[22] He established an orchard, cultivating mandarins, naval oranges and other varieties – a successful enterprise it seems. In 1906 there were three properties east of the rail line in Harvey
that were said to show magnificent promise, owned by Messrs Snell, Hon. E M Clarke and Larsen.[23] In 1913 Prime Minister Andrew Fisher was returning from Bunbury to Perth with a stop in Harvey and was the guest at the Larsen orchard.[24]

The family moved to Harvey from Bunbury around 1910. Flora recalls the family home as one of the first brick houses to be built in the Harvey district and that the bricks were made of clay from a local clay pit.[25]

Mrs Larsen was an active community member and in May 1915 collected donations in order to raise enough funds to make improvements at the local cemetery as the Harvey Cemetery Board had insufficient funds for the upkeep.[26] It was noted in July of 1915 that the Cemetery Board had made considerable improvements.[27] [This activity was prior to the first burial in the Harvey Cemetery on 5 February 1916. Prior to that, Cookernup was the place of interment for the area.]

A Nursing Career

In November 1913 when Flora was about 25 years old she was appointed as a probationary nurse at the Perth Public Hospital [later ‘Royal Perth Hospital’].[28] This was much to her parent’s dismay, as they were devoted to their daughter and would have much preferred she stayed at home, but reluctantly allowed her to take up her chosen vocation.[29]

Flora trained for three years as a nurse and gained her Hospital Certificate from the Perth Public Hospital. She was 29 and had been nursing for 3½ years when she applied to the Australian Army Nursing Service in May 1917.  On 16 November 1917 she enlisted in the AIF in the Nursing Staff Unit and embarked from Fremantle on 23 November 1917 aboard the HMS Canberra. She served at Abbassia and Choubra [sic, Shoubra] and spent seven days at the Convalescent Home in Alexandria. Those few days are recorded as leave on her service record.[30] The Abbassia Hospital was east of Cairo, a building that had been built by the British Government in 1907 to provide additional hospital accommodation for the Army of occupation. The building had thick walls that kept the place warm in winter and cool in summer. Wide verandahs gave protection from the dust-laden winds of the desert, while mesh screening on the windows kept flies and mosquitos out. These elements provided much more comfort for the patients and staff. Abbassia Hospital not only treated the wounded but those with respiratory infections, malaria and dysentery. The military Infectious Diseases Hospital at Choubra was staffed with Australian nurses only and British doctors. This hospital had about 400 beds, treating cases of diptheria, typhoid, measles and mumps.[31]

Sister Larsen returned from service on the Dunluce Castle on the 17 August 1919. Disembarking at Fremantle must have been a sight to behold, as several other troop ships arrived that day and large crowds were there to greet their sorely missed loved ones.[32] An Imperial Army Nurse recalled her time in Egypt and spoke of the skilled Australian nurse as being ‘splendid, level headed and practical’. Many, however, returned sick and broken from the strain of their service.[33]

Like many returned nurses, Sister Larsen spent the remainder of her professional life nursing. She also completed a Midwifery certificate. Her first position was at East Kirup Hospital [later ‘Grimwade’] in 1921.[34] Two years on she was the Matron of the Bridgetown Hospital -in what year she took this position is unknown but in December of 1923 she resigned as she wished to return to Harvey.[35] Perhaps her return to Harvey was related to the death of her father.

Anders Larsen’s grave, Harvey Old Cemetery.

THE Plaque reads ‘REMEMBERED, A. O. LARSEN, DIED 22ND JUNE 1923. Photo: HHO Collection.

Once settled back in Harvey, and with a subsidy from the Government of £50 a year, she opened a private hospital in King Street called St Olaf’s Hospital, but locally known as Nurse Larsen’s Hospital. The hospital only had a short life, from 1924 until 1926, when it closed down. For the next seven years Harvey residents campaigned for a hospital; their efforts came to fruition in May 1933 when the new hospital was officially opened.[36]

Photos showing a portion of the old St Olaf Hospital in King Street when the Santostefano family lived there in the 1960s. 

Photo: Memories of Harvey Facebook.

In January 1927, Sister Larsen was employed at a hospital in Gnowangerup.[37] The following year, January 1928, she was Matron of the Ravensthorpe Hospital. The chairman of the hospital board spoke highly of her qualifications as a general and maternity nurse. He said that her experiences had been most varied, ranging from public hospitals to the position of war nurse for a period of three years and latterly as a nurse at a private hospital at Gnowangerup. In his opinion the people of Ravensthorpe were most fortunate in procuring the services of a nurse who was doubly qualified and one who was most sympathetic and kind in her treatment.[38] Aside from her nursing prowess she hoped to make the hospital grounds a place of beauty and not a place to be dreaded. Her vision was to see a crowded hospital ground where tennis and croquet would be a pleasant pastime while visitors lay about on the lawn or picked grapes from the vined trellis over the entrance to the hospital.[39] In December 1928 the hospital committee gave her permission to erect a tennis court on the condition it was done by voluntary labour.[40] In May 1929 she received a letter of thanks for the improvements made to the hospital.[41] Maybe the tennis court did get built! Back in September 1928[42] she had presented to the committee a letter of resignation but a replacement was not found and she stayed on. In February the following year she offered to take over the hospital.[43] She remained at the hospital until the end of that year.[44]A short distance from Ravensthorpe, near the Phillips River, were several goldmines[45] that attracted many prospectors including, it seems, Flora, as the local paper in March 1928, reported that Sister Larsen was still prospecting and was of the opinion that she had struck a lode carrying some precious metal. Local assayers were assisting her to analyse the discovery.[46] There is no follow up on Sister Larsen’s find.

Her next position, a controversial one, was taken up on 1 April 1930 at Mingenew. She had been appointed the District Nurse by the CWA Mingenew-Yandanooka Branch.[47] After only being there a month Flora wrote to the Branch suggesting that a private hospital, which she would manage, would provide a more efficient medical service within the district. She also wrote to the Health Board about her proposition but her proposals were declined and her employment was terminated.[48]

Undeterred, Flora took up a new position as Matron of York Hospital in December 1930.[49]  In January 1931 it was reported that since Matron Larsen’s employment the efficiency of the hospital had improved considerably.[50] Later in the year at the annual RSL dinner held in the Quairading Hall the many ‘diggers’ present reminisced about past experiences and were delighted to receive a gift of a box of cigars from Matron Larson whom they called a good friend.[51]

Miss Larsen was among those present at the annual dinner of the Returned Sisters of Western Australia, held in Perth in 1933, an event where reminiscences were exchanged among friends. The guest of honour, Mrs Val Oldham of Sydney and formerly matron of the Base Hospital at Fremantle, believed Western Australia was the only state where returned sisters held an annual dinner. She saw this as an excellent example and would be suggesting to the sisters in Sydney that they do the same.[52]

It would seem Flora’s nursing career came to an end in 1932 (although the 1937 Australian Voters list shows her as a nurse). She was living in Harvey when she was fined for allowing pigs to pollute the river water.[53] Perhaps this occurred on the farm land that had been given to her through the Government Repatriation Scheme.[54] A change of lifestyle occurred in 1944 when Flora suffered a complete general breakdown and haemorrhage. The doctor told her that she may not recover. Could this have been symptomatic of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as we know today?  Her solution was to look for something that would give her the will to recover and so she decided to breed dogs, in an effort to improve her health and wellbeing. Four years on, her health was much improved and she believed it was because of her faithful animals who gave her an interest in life and kept her busy.[55] Mr Vivian Edmund Ferrier lived in Harvey for a short time and was the editor of the Harvey Murray Times from 1946 to 1947.[56]  His departure from Harvey to work in Hong Kong meant he had to leave his dog behind, a red setter called ‘Leeth’, who was then cared for by Miss Larsen. In 1949 Edward Ferrier, student of Muresk Agriculture College and son of Vivian, visited Harvey as a guest of Major Palmer. Flora had to part with ‘Leeth’, as Edward was keen to have his father’s pet to take back to the college.[57] In the same year a surprise birthday party for Flora was held at Mrs A Hinge’s home. The guests enjoyed a sumptuous spread and cake and well-known Harvey resident, Major Palmer, presented her with a bunch of daffodils.[58] Major Palmer’s daughter was born in March 1925 at Sister Larsen’s Hospital in Harvey.[59]

In her later years Flora liked to call herself a ‘pioneer pensioner’ and certainly she had close links to the early days of the South West of Western Australia. She was a well-known figure in the district and on alternate Thursdays her slightly stooped and wiry frame was seen walking towards the local Post Office, having walked from her home, known as the Shack, on the hills east of Harvey. She had a friendly and pleasant manner, was very decisive in her opinions and was frequently up for criticism, but this never deterred her from speaking up. She deplored the lack of decoration in Harvey on Coronation Day in 1953 and let it be known in a letter to the editor of the Harvey Murray Times.[60]

Miss Mary Charlotte Preston (1872-1952) came to Harvey about 1932 as a companion to Mrs Caroline Larsen, Flora’s mother, after being lady’s companion to Lady Fairfax. Mrs Larsen moved to Perth in 1951 and died in 1962, aged 97 years.[61] Caroline is buried next to her husband, Anders Olaf, at Harvey Old Cemetery. Two years later, 25 October 1964, Flora died at Alfred Carson Hospital [Alfred Carson Lodge], Claremont. The Alfred Carson Hospital opened in 1945 and was managed by the Silver Chain District and Bush Nursing Association.[62] Flora was buried at Harvey next to her parents on 29 October 1964.[63]

Sister Larsen has her name recorded on the World War 1 Honour Board at the Harvey War Memorial Library. She also donated several souvenirs from her time as a World War I nurse to the Harvey RSL Women’s Auxilliary.[64]

World War I Roll of Honour hung at the Harvey Library.

In conclusion, the following article, written by Flora, shows her great love of Harvey:

Recollections of Harvey Bush


The moon shines brightly as we move swiftly o’er the sea. I think of it shining so brightly over the Harvey bush and I visualise the glistening leaves of trees and shrubs and the dark silhouette of the stumps outlined by its glorious gleam. Yes, the moon could see that too, so wide its range of vision – so restricted ours. But not our thoughts – they could rival the moon; so in imagination I wander with the moon-beams. A little tin hut, erected whilst clearing, comes into my vision. How I loved it, loved to wander along the river bank, the fresh water flowing gently, with increasing noise as it tumbled over submerged logs into our swimming pool. I sighed as I saw the trees and bush disappear in flame. Ah me! They can never be replaced. Then I think of the roots being grubbed, the land tilled, protected by a fence – nature did not need a fence. An orchard was planted in the rich mineral soil – magnificent oranges grew on that soil the bush once thrived on.

I see a clay pit – bricks being made all so interesting at the time, but dead sea fruit to me now. The first brick house in Harvey arose. We had many visitors to numerous parties; we entertained many travellers. I think of a night of pouring rain, of the ladies having to be lifted across the pools of water on the fresh track outside – ladies’ evening dresses had trains in those days! I grip the rail of the boat at the memory and laugh quietly to myself at the vision. Yes, I think, there are roads now replacing those tracks, but are they any better? I am afraid not; water still lies about in winter, shining in puddles as we step warily; but our skirts are shorter now and we do not need to be lifted over the pools of water. Later, in Egypt, I am glad that our skirts are shorter – the dirty, dusty roads there; the filth and the smells. Feeling strangely isolated I wish myself back to the still quietness of the Harvey bush, away from the shouting medley of crowd and sound.

It was moonlight when we arrived in Egypt and the golden dust hung amid myriad bright stars in an azure sky; so bright was the light, I missed the beams that shine in the bush; it seemed to me it was only one vast light and brightness. We spent two days visiting the pyramids, the sphinx and the tombs – riding camels and donkeys. But I was disdainful – I wanted a horse. And sand, sand, sand everywhere. I was used to sand in the bush, but where were the trees, the shrubs and the flowers? Only cultivated ones in favoured spots – and again I was disdainful.

In Harvey we have all that Egypt lacks – a few palms, yes, very graceful, but so stiff. Glorious sunsets, glorious moonshine – but all glorious it seemed to me – all artificial as though painted there. No darting gleams amidst the leaves making a fairyland bush; no moving, swaying beams – everything so very stiff. Give me the Harvey bush, I thought, and so I wandered back to my little home, my little shack in the bush in the midst of freedom and happiness, surrounded only by the birds and the animals I love. The flowers are out – what a variety of kind and colour and that fresh smell of the bush! I wander through the bush culling the flowers to send to those less fortunate, less free than I.

 Again it is moonshine – Oh, our glorious bush! How I revel with you all about me and how grateful I am to God who lets me enjoy it so. Yes, I like the Egyptian scenery by moonlight, but, oh, a thousand times more I like our Harvey bush with the kookaburra laughing in the moonlight.[65]


[1] Harvey Murray Times, 4 December 1953, p. 7.

[2] Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839-1923, https://www.ancestry.com.au

[3] Daily News, 14 March 1895, p.3.

[4] The Messenger, 5 July 1895, p. 13.

[5] The Geraldton Express and Murchison and Yalgoo Goldfields Chronicle, 22 July 1898, p. 12.

[6] Ibid., 26 May 1899, p. 6.

[7] Ibid., 14 September 1900, p. 3.

[8] Ibid., 29 December 1899, p. 4.

[9] Ibid., 30 November 1900, p. 7.

[10] Ibid., 28 June 1901, p. 4.

[11] Ancestry.com – electoral rolls.

[12] Harvey Murray Times, 4 December 1953, p. 7.

[13] Daily News, 14 November 1940, p. 9.

[14] South Western Times, 23 October 1917, p. 3.

[15] Bunbury Herald, 31 December 1907, p. 2.

[16] South Western Times, 12 February 1929

[17] Southern Times, 22 December 1906, p. 4.

[18] South Western Times, 28 June 1917, p. 2.

[19] South Western Times, 11 March, 1922, p. 4

[20] South Western Times, 19 April 1923, p. 3.

[21] Ibid., 21 April 1923, p. 4.

[22] West Australian, 24 December 1903, p. 10.

[23] Bunbury Herald, 30 March 1906, p. 2.

[24] Collie Miner, 1 March 1913, p. 3.

[25] Harvey Murray Times, 4 December 1953, p. 7.

[26] Southern Times, 15 May 1915, p. 3.

[27] Ibid., 15 July 1915, p. 3.

[28] Bunbury Herald, 18 November 1913, p. 1.

[29] Truth (Perth), 25 April 1914, p. 5.

[30] Australia, World War 1 Service Records, 1914-1920, https://www.ancestry.com.au

[31] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 September 1915, p. 8.

[32] Western Mail, 21 August 1919, p. 20.

[33] Prahran Telegraph, 23 August 1919.

[34] Sunday Times, 6 November 1921, p. 22.

[35] South Western Times, 11 December 1923, p. 3.

[36] Ibid., 27 May 1933, p. 2.

[37] Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette, 8 January 1927, p. 3.

[38] Wagin Argus and Arthur River, Dumbleyung, Lake Grace Express, 2 February 1928, p. 4.

[39] Ibid., 5 April 1928, p. 4.

[40] Ibid., 6 December 1928, p. 5.

[41] Ibid., 9 May 1929, p. 5.

[42] Ibid., 20 September 1928, p. 4.

[43] Ibid., 7 February 1929, p. 5.

[44] Ibid., 8 August 1929, p. 5.

[45]  Western Mail, 15 October 1942 p. 14

[46] Wagin Argus and Arthur River, Dumbleyung, Lake Grace Express, 8 March 1928, p. 4

[47] Geraldton Guardian and Express, 7 June 1930, p. 4.

[48] Ibid., 7 June 1930, p. 4.

[49] York Chronicle, 5 December 1930, p. 4.

[50] Ibid., 16 January 1931, p. 4.

[51] Ibid., 3 April 1931, p. 4.

[52] Daily News, 17 November 1933, p. 10.

[53] West Australian, 16 March 1932, p. 10.

[54] Harvey Murray Times, 4 December 1953, p. 7.

[55] Ibid., 3 December 1948, p. 1

[56] Ibid., 29 August 1947, p. 10.

[57] Ibid., 8 July 1949, p. 10.

[58] Ibid., 5 August 1949

[59] Western Australian, 3 March 1925, p. 1.

[60] Harvey Murray Times, 5 June 1953, p. 7.

[61] Ibid., 4 July 1952, p. 5.

[62] West Australian, 7 October 1946, p.12

[63] Shire of Harvey, Harvey Old Cemetery records, available on this website.

[64] Harvey Times, 30 November 1951, p. 3.

[65] Harvey Murray Times, 6 September 1946, p. 8