OPINION: Saint Phyllis Cilento Loses Her Halo

lady phyllis cilento

In 2018 about 900 medical staff at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital signed a petition for Phyllis Cilento’s name to be removed from the institution.

After a poorly run poll, the state government did remove her name, but controversy continues around the decision – though with the benefit of very few facts to inform the debate.


QNews Magazine has published numerous facts worthy of attention, but the public discussion has largely avoided fact.

The hospital was originally planned as the Queensland Children’s Hospital, combining the Mater Children’s Hospital with the Royal Children’s Hospital on a site next to the Mater Hospital.

When Campbell Newman gained control of the project on his election as premier, he decided to rename it after a woman he described as a ‘fantastic medical pioneer’.

Phyllis was a female doctor in the days when such was a novelty, but there were plenty of female doctors came before her.

Dr Lillian Cooper started practice in Brisbane in 1891 when she arrived from London with her lifelong companion Josephine Bedford. Lillian was involved with the Mater Hospital from its beginning at North Quay in 1906.

Like Phyllis she made home visits, but as a true pioneer, Lillian’s early house calls were made in a horse and cart.

Senator James McGrath praised Dr Cilento in November this year, saying, “In France, Lady Cilento trekked through the still untouched battlefields of the Great War, an experience that must have been incredibly, profoundly sobering and heart-wrenchingly sombre for her, but one that must have played an indelible role in shaping Lady Cilento’s future endeavours.”

Gee – what are we to say then about Lillian and Josephine?

With women not allowed to serve in the Australian Forces, Lillian and Josephine headed for Europe and volunteered for the Scottish Women’s Hospital, with Lillian serving as surgeon in northern Macedonia and Josephine running the ambulance transport

They didn’t take a holiday in Europe after the war – they were there saving lives during the fighting.

Lillian Cooper and Josephine Bedford were true pioneers and great Queenslanders.

We’ll celebrate them in a special two-page spread on them in the January 18 issue of QNews Magazine.


But back to Phyllis.

Whoever decided to rename the Queensland Children’s Hospital after Phyllis failed to do their homework. It appears they’ve just taken a Wikipedia entry as gospel.

The tiniest bit of research would have brought to light the fact Phyllis was a white supremacist, a racist, a homophobe and a quack.

Not was ‘reputed to be’ or ‘was accused of’ – she was all those things.

Phyllis wrote regular newspaper columns for over 50 years and 24 books. Her own words condemn her.

QNews Magazine broke the news in 2018 of her bigotry but still the mainstream media ignores the story – making much ado about the poorly run government poll on the subject of naming the hospital but studiously ignoring the subject of Phyllis herself beyond the standard hagiography.

The defenders of Lady Cilento are well aware they cannot argue the facts of her bigotry if her writings become public knowledge, so having the benefit of excellent PR advice, they stick to parroting what a lovely old lady she was and how mean it is to say otherwise.

Expect to read much more about Phyllis Cilento in 2019.