IWD 2024: Dr. Geraldine Archer

Image of a portable anaesthetic apparatus that belonged to Dr. Geraldine Archer

Image: portable anaesthetic apparatus case that belonged to Dr Geraldine Archer. Photo: QVMAG.

Remembered for her forceful no-nonsense approach combined with utmost dedication and unending generosity, Dr. Geraldine Archer is a figure who stands tall in the memory of Launceston locals.

For our International Women's Day 2024 editorial series, we're examining historical objects and artefacts that belonged to significant women in Launceston who inspired inclusion — and there are few women who have had more local impact than Dr. Archer.  

Colloquially known as 'Doc' and 'Dr Gerry', she was a well-known obstetrician and gynaecologist who championed women's health and helped deliver many children. She also tirelessly gave her time towards social causes to benefit the community.  

Early in her life, Geraldine Archer knew she wanted to practice medicine to help others — despite her parents' objections that it was "not a suitable profession for a woman!" (Tasmanian Government, 2024). Her childhood was overshadowed by her own mother's permanent illness, which according to close friend Miss Aida Ball, gave her a great understanding of the sick and influenced her future career (Ball, 1998).  

Geraldine attended the Rocherlea Primary School and the Methodist Ladies College on Elphin Road, Launceston, and completed her matriculation certificate at MLC around 1923 (Dine, 2020). She captained the Northern Basketball team around this time, leading to losing a contest against the Southern team in 1925, but nonetheless Geraldine showed "good sportsmanship" (The Mercury, 1937). 

Photo of young Geraldine Archer from the Trove archive: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/25417924


Image: Young Geraldine Archer (left), captain of the Northern basketball team, congratulates Eileen Crow, Southern captain, at the conclusion of the intra-State contest at Queenborough in Hobart, on Saturday 31 July, 1937.

When her mother died, Geraldine stayed at her family home to assist with home duties — albeit temporarily, as she had already planned to become a doctor. Scoffing at her decision, her father threatened to 'cut her off penniless' if she pursued medicine (Ball, 1998). She left her family home with almost-empty pockets, yet undeterred and set on her course.  

She returned to Launceston towards the end of her intern year, giving up further studies to care for her father, who had been diagnosed with cancer. After his death, Dr. Archer stayed in Launceston to become a Resident Doctor at the Launceston General Hospital. Her specialist services — as a female doctor treating female patients — was a much-needed role, and she was widely known for her work in obstetrics and gynaecological services.

During this time, her full tenacity was revealed. Dr. Archer often defied orders to ensure the best care for her patients. She provided all kinds of assistance far beyond the call of duty, and it is reported that "no patient was ever denied help — whatever the hour, no call for treatment was ever refused" (Tasmanian Government, 2024). One such incident relates to the time when the QV Board made a controversial ruling: uninsured patients could not have their own doctor; the nurses had to deliver the babies. Dr. Archer "would never have that" — so she defied the ruling and paid for them out of her own pocket as private patients (Ball, 1998). 

After some years at the LGH, Dr. Archer moved into general practice. It is during this time that she would have used the object from our collection: a portable anaesthetic machine that was used from the 1950s to the 1970s. The apparatus would have assisted in delivering newborn babies for home visits and calls. 

Image of a portable anaesthetic apparatus that belonged to Dr. Geraldine Archer

Image: QVMAG Assistant Curator of History Burcu Keane demonstrates how to open Dr. Archer's anaesthetic apparatus. Photo: QVMAG.

The machine's main body is held in a brown leather suitcase, featuring a clip at the top and two on the face's side, that allow the front panel to completely open. The main apparatus contains a motor with plates, linked to an aluminium box with two light bulbs hidden behind. This box is connected by rubber pipes to an empty glass jar, positioned laterally.  

Dr. Archer's name is featured on the ventilator and mouthpiece that were used as part of the anaesthetic apparatus, and we can assume that these labels were personally penned by Dr. Archer herself.  

While the apparatus was designed to be portable, it is quite heavy, and the case alone weighs 19kg. One could imagine the intrepid Dr. Archer marching through the Tasmanian bush, labouring with the heavy case and its attachments with dogged determination.  

The apparatus would have been used by Dr. Archer until the 1970s when regulations changed.  

Attachments for an anaesthetic apparatus that belonged to Dr. Geraldine Archer.Image of various attachments used with portable anaesthetic apparatus, bearing Dr. Geraldine Archer's name. Photo: QVMAG. 

Dr. Archer worked tirelessly — not only for her patients, but also for her community. She made herself available to her patients day and night, year-round. Not satisfied with simply being a physician, Dr. Archer regularly took patients into her own home and paid for their medical needs — even making a 200km return trip to Lake Leake one evening, in order to pick up a husband on a fishing trip whose wife had gone into early labour (Ball, 1998). She did schedule one week off per year, but often returned to see patients. 

Outside of work, Dr. Archer frequently assisted the homeless and was instrumental in setting up the first homeless men's shelter in Launceston. She was heavily involved with St John Ambulance, and she served on multiple committees. For this, she was promoted through the grades of the Order of St John to the grade of Dame (Dine, 2020) — the first in Australia (Ball, 1998).

Dr. Archer fought for justice and wrote letters to council when she felt compelled to action. She loved music and attended all concerts —as well as purchasing a dozen annual tickets to give to those who would otherwise be unable to attend (Ball, 1998). She was a familiar face at auctions, often purchasing items for those in need. Aida Ball recalled that "Henry Armitage loved to see her at auctions", noting that historical buildings such as Franklin House also benefited from her generosity. She also took an interest in international matters, paying for and arranging for the transport of first aid materials, medical supplies and blankets to Kampuchea (Cambodia) in 1979 (Dine, 2020). 

Dr. Archer took great interest in preserving local heritage and gifted two hectares of land in Rocherlea for the community to enjoy. When the use of the land was threatened by development, she enlisted the help of prominent Tasmanian politician Sir Reginald Wright to stop the development — and succeeded. She also loved the natural environment, and with Aida Ball and Mary Cameron, she established the Winifred Curtis Scamander Reserve - in honour of a life-long friend and distinguished botanist (Tasmanian Government, 2024).  

A painted portrait of Geraldine Archer by Audrey Wilson.

Image: Audrey Wilson, Geraldine Archer portrait, (unknown date).

In 1987, Dr. Archer received the Australia Day Citizen of the Year from the Launceston City Council, recognising those who have made a 'significant contribution to the Launceston municipal area through volunteer work, or have gone above and beyond without recompense in their paid work' (City of Launceston, 2023).  

She continued to give until the very end. She saw a patient on the morning of the day of her death in 1992, who "found her undimmed" (Tasmanian Government, 2024). She was 87 years old. 

Dr. Archer was posthumously entered on the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women in 2005 for 'service to Medicine, service to the Community, and service to the Environment'. As we consider the 2024 International Women's Day theme of 'Inspire Inclusion', there is little doubt that Dr. Archer encouraged and advocated inclusivity for all - across the many lives that she helped through her profession, the community that she served, and those that she will inspire in the future. 



1937 'Basketball Contests In Hobart', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 4 August, p. 10. (Woman's Realm), viewed 20 Feb 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25417924 

Ball, A. 1998, Morning coffee talk by Miss Aida Ball, 28 October, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. QVM:1998:OH:0024 

City of Launceston, 2023, Community Recognition Awards, viewed 20 February 2024. Available at https://www.launceston.tas.gov.au/Community/Awards-Recognition/Community-Recognition-Awards 

Dine, N., 2020, 'Dr Geraldine Archer MB BS SStJ (1905-1992). Doctor, philanthropist and a wonderful woman', St John History: The Journal of the St John Ambulance Historical Society of Australia Volume 20, viewed 20 February 2024. Available at https://stjohn.org.au/assets/uploads/history%20journal/SJH%2020%20online.pdf 

Tasmanian Government, (2024). Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women: Dr Geraldine Archer, viewed 20 February 2024. Available at https://www.women.tas.gov.au/tasmanian_honour_roll_of_women/inductees/2005/geraldine_archer 

Wilson, Audrey (date unknown). Geraldine Archer. Thanks to Geraldine Occupational Therapy, Launceston, viewed 20 February 2024. Available at https://www.ttgot.com.au/about