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Heather Phiddian: 'A Most Generous Lasting Legacy'

  • 04 Sep 2023

Heather Phiddian was a private, unassuming person with a curious, outwards looking nature. A stickler for proper behaviour and good manners, she was also friendly, warm and gregarious with those she loved and cared for. She spent her early years training to be a mothercraft nurse and worked with families all over Victoria and New South Wales caring for their children. 

But then, in July 1958, at the age of 27, as Heather herself put it: “disaster struck”. 

She contracted polio whilst working in a creche in Footscray. She was hospitalised at Fairfield Hospital, the institution that was the forerunner of Burnet Institute. 

These were tough and worrying times. Heather threw herself into her rehab with determination – she eventually regained 35 per cent use of her right hand and became quite proficient with her left. The polio affected her back, neck and legs, but Heather always considered herself lucky. She used to regularly visit friends she had made during her recuperation who had survived the iron lungs and were wheelchair bound. 


Above: Heather in Cohuna where she established a kindergarten

Heather went on to live a full and varied life. Her list of ‘loves’ is long and broad: she loved dogs, a party, dressing up, the Berwick Show, tennis, the outdoors, caravanning, the performing arts, writing poetry, gardening, golf, church choir, and volunteering. 

In later life Heather chose to quietly and generously support a range of selected charities, especially those focussed on medical research. After giving to Burnet every year for more than a decade, Heather also set up a charitable trust in her Will, leaving the annual income to five of her favourite charities – with Burnet being one of them.

Above: Heather with Jane, her god-daughter

“Heather was quite an amazing lady despite her trials and tribulations,” said Jane Leahy, Heather’s god-daughter. “She has left a most generous lasting legacy in more ways than one. As her god-daughter I was privileged to have her in my life and I’m now happy to see her wishes come to fruition.”

Here at Burnet, we are incredibly grateful to Heather for her support during her lifetime, and for the very generous legacy left after her death.