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'We didn't get much sleep on Thursday nights'

OPENING: Pat and Alby Benstead at the opening of the first temporary ambulance quarters in Kingscliff in 1963.
OPENING: Pat and Alby Benstead at the opening of the first temporary ambulance quarters in Kingscliff in 1963. Contributed

FOR many in the Kingscliff community, Pat Benstead is simply The Yellow Lady, an institution of the beautiful coastal town.

But few may realise the significant role she, and her family, have played in the development of the region and the many lives they have touched along the way.

Born in Murwillumbah in 1930, Pat (nee Staunton) and her late husband Alby moved to Kingscliff in December 1963 with their two young children at the time, Col and Lea, to set up the first ambulance station in the town.

The family lived and worked in temporary quarters until the first permanent station - in its current location on Marine Parade - was built and opened two years later.

The Bensteads lived in the family quarters above the station for the next 23 years, until Alby's retirement.

There they all pitched in, with Alby's role as Ambulance Station Officer - it was a real family affair.

Alby Benstead, on the job as the first Ambulance Station officer at Kingscliff, from 1963 until his retirement 23 years later.
Alby Benstead, on the job as the first Ambulance Station officer at Kingscliff, from 1963 until his retirement 23 years later. Contributed

"When Alby was appointed to Kingscliff Ambulance Station as station officer in December 13, 1963, there wasn't another officer appointed for 11.5 years,” Mrs Benstead said this week.

"So when my husband was attending accidents and transporting sick patients to Murwillumbah Hospital - there wasn't a hospital at Tweed Heads until much later - I had to attend to other people wanting help.

"I was the first aider, secretary, on the phone, radio, writing receipts for people coming in to renew their yearly subscriptions.”

Elected president of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Kingscliff Ambulance Finance Committee, the role of fundraising to support the ongoing operations of the ambulance station fell on her shoulders.

From variety concerts and fashion parades, to morning teas and many a raffle at a street stall, Mrs Benstead was a force to be reckoned with, helping to ensure the community's ambulance service was adequately funded.

"We formed a review club, it was great entertainment and the Amenities Hall was packed, such talents! Great fun!” she recalled.

"Our auxiliary furnished the casualty room, relief quarters, fridge, bed, etc.”

Mrs Benstead recalls the early days of the ambulance service, attending to the region's sick and injured with fondness.

"We didn't get much sleep on Thursday nights,” she recalled.

"There was always an accident from people driving home from the Cabarita Hotel, where they had an Hawaiian night every Thursday. There were a lot of accidents on the old roads that belonged to the sandmines, there was a sharp bend and no signs. People would go straight ahead, into the soft sand, and roll the car.

"It was a hectic time.”

Mrs Benstead said her husband had helped deliver countless babies in the area - including twins in the back of his ambulance - watching them grow up to become parents themselves.

"We saw so many children grow up, it was a good time,” she said.

"I always felt so happy to be able to help people, it was a good feeling for me.”

Mrs Benstead said she was even more pleased when the NSW Government finally granted health commission status to the Ambulance Service, meaning she and her fellow community workers no longer had to continuously raise funds to keep the service operating.

"It was such a relief!” she said. Today, at 87 years old, she is a proud mother - with both of her children working in the medical world - a grandmother of five and great-grandmother of six.

She still lives in her house on top of the hill in Kingscliff, from where she can look all the way down to Byron.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else than Kingscliff and my lovely Tweed,” she said.

As for her love of yellow...

"I can't believe I got that name (The Yellow Lady),” she said.

"People do have a special colour - mine's yellow. I love it, it's just my favourite colour. It makes me feel brighter and I get so many remarks you wouldn't believe it.”

CALLING: Brother and sister Col and Lea Benstead, grew up at the first ambulance station in Kingscliff and went on to become midwives. Pictured here at their graduation from nursing.
CALLING: Brother and sister Col and Lea Benstead, grew up at the first ambulance station in Kingscliff and went on to become midwives. Pictured here at their graduation from nursing. Contributed

Topics:  kingscliff ambulance station pat benstead tweed life



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