Saint Phyllis Cilento loses her halo and everyone looks away


lady phyllis cilento

In 2018 medical staff at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital signed a petition calling for the removal of Phyllis Cilento’s name from the institution. However, when the government attempted to make the change it ran into fierce opposition. As a prolific author, Dr Cilento spent many decades promoting her legend. Such was her success that long after her death despite the public retaining only a faint memory of her, that memory was of a saint. But Saint Phyllis Cilento wore a very tarnished halo.   

After a poorly run poll, the state government did remove the name. The controversy continued — though with the benefit of very few facts to inform the debate.

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QNews Magazine published numerous proofs of Cilento’s unrelenting bigotry, but the public discussion largely avoided fact in favour of emotion.

Originally planned as the Queensland Children’s Hospital, the hospital combined 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 the Lady Cilento Hospital after a woman he described as a ‘fantastic medical pioneer’.

Phyllis was a female doctor in the days when such was a novelty, but she was far from the first. Plenty of female doctors preceded her in Queensland.

Lilian Cooper

Dr Lilian Cooper started practice in Brisbane in 1891 when she arrived from London with her lifelong companion Josephine Bedford. Her involvement with the Mater Hospital began from its inception at North Quay in 1906.

Like Phyllis she made home visits, though pioneer that she was, Lilian made her early house calls 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 Lilian and Josephine?

With women not allowed to serve in the Australian Forces, Lilian and Josephine headed for Europe. There, they volunteered for the Scottish Women’s Hospital. Lilian served as a surgeon in northern Macedonia while Josephine ran an ambulance transport

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

Lilian 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, 2019 issue of QNews Magazine.

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But back to Phyllis.

Saint Phyllis Cilento’s dented halo

Whoever decided to rename the Queensland Children’s Hospital after Phyllis failed to do their homework. It appears they simply took 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.

She was not ‘reputed to be’ or ‘accused of’ those things  — she clearly was. Her own words condemn her.

Phyllis wrote regular newspaper columns for over 50 years and 24 books. She left ample records to document her fanaticism.

QNews Magazine broke the news in 2018 of her bigotry but still, the mainstream media ignores the story. They instead focus on the poorly run government poll on the subject of naming the hospital. Coverage of Cilento remains confined to the standard hagiography.

The defenders of Lady Cilento understand a wider public awareness of Cilento’s bigotry would do immense damage to their cause.  However, they benefit from excellent PR advice, given gratis by some of the best propagandists in the country. So, they stick to parroting what a lovely old lady she was and how mean it is to say otherwise.


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