Old Bega Hospital - History

This outline is based on several sources, including a document from about 1990, Notes on the History of the Old Bega Hospital. A more extensive history of the Bega District Hospital was written by Charles Day with research by Bob Westmacott and John Rheinberger and published in three parts as part of the annual reports of the Bega District Hospital:

They also produced a table of office bearers (pdf, 0.4 MB), including the matron and medical staff, for the period 1887 - 1989.

Claire Lupton is researching and writing a history of the Old Bega Hospital: it is a work in progress as at March 2021:

Plans OBH 1933 - changes and additions

Plans OBH 1963 - high school boys boarding house

Gordon Beattie is collecting memories of the 2004 fire: Memories Project. (PDF version (0.1MB); PNG versions (~2MB files):  page 1;    page 2

The site was initially selected as site for a hospital in 1886, following the survey of Bega in 1854 and subsequent settlement of the town. An outbreak of smallpox in 1876 initiated discussion of the need for a public hospital in the district.  Some extracts from the Bega Gazette and the Bega Standard give more insight into early planning.

Click on photos for larger versions. If you can identify anyone in these photos please let us know. More photos.

Photo of mostly weatherboard buildings, one brick building, with tall windows and several chimnies and a group of four nursesView of the main building showing extensive, well cared for gardensThe first hospital buildings were constructed on the site, formerly part of the town Common, in 1888-89, using a mix of government and community funds. Over the years gardens were established and the buildings were extended and renovated. In 1909 the remaining wooden wing (the female ward) on the eastern end of the building was replaced and additions made to provide private wards, and suitable accommodation for the growing staff.

In the mid 1940s the government and community determined to build a new hospital closer to the centre of Bega.

Six nurses in white uniforms posing for photo on the front steps. Date not known   A pair of proud women nurses in belted and buttoned uniforms posing in the hospital grounds. Date unknown   ?Betty Cochrane, Katie MacNamara, two other women, ?Handscome or ?Marshall, with Mr Turner in his early model car at the front steps, date unknown   A horse and buggy outside the hospital picket fence with young pine trees and telegraph poles, date unknown

The old hospital ceased to be the major health facility for Bega in 1957, when a new hospital was opened. The Old Hospital then became an Agricultural College and experimental farm administered by the NSW Departments of Agriculture and Education. In the 1960s the buildings were used as a hostel for boys attending Bega High School (Prospectus: 2.3MB pdf file).

Wide view of the Old Bega Hospital before its 1988 restorationAgricultural equipment stored in the men's ward in 1987In the 1980s it became clear that the Hospital's Agricultural College days were over. The Hospital was in a state of disrepair.

In March 1985 a proposal (3MB pdf file) was put forward by the Bega Community Contact and Resource Group to renovate the Old Hospital for cultural, interest group, educational, craft and produce market uses.

A major community effort, supported by funding for the Australian Bicentenary, repaired the Hospital for its centenary in 1988. An Old Bega Hospital Committee Inc was established.

Restoration work: two men having a cup of tea, circa 1988   Jackie Miles, Max Campbell and 3 others prepare to plant tree seedlings, 1988   Brian Harrison working on the walls of the women's ward August 1988   Ray Barrett, Brendan Dwyer, Bill Davis and young Davis cleaning walls in the east wing   Ditch digging and brick wall repairs during restoration, 1988   One of the main wards cleaned out, perhaps 1987

Sunshine in one of the enclosed verandahs during clean up work, circa 1988One of the Georgian bay windows at the front of the building letting the sun shine onto carpetThe Old Bega Hospital Reserve of 1.603 ha was reserved from sale 'for preservation of historical sites and buildings and community purposes' as Crown Reserve number R.180050 by notice in the NSW Government Gazette dated 30 March 1990, and The Old Bega Hospital Committee Inc was appointed trustee until 2 June 1994, from when individual trustees have been appointed to a Reserve Trust (now Reserve Land Manager).

The Hospital and grounds were used for a variety of community purposes including the arts, childcare, a cafe and a community radio station.

Photo by Ross Thompson of the Old Bega Hospital after the 2004 fire, missing most of its roof and no glass in the windowsOn the night of 2 May 2004 the main building of the Hospital caught fire (report in the Bega District News), severely damaging the roof, floors and windows, but leaving most of the brickwork, including the chimneys, and most of the outbuildings, intact. The cause of the fire is not clear, but it seems likely that it was a fault with either the electrical system or a heater. The building was not insured, but the Government said (Parliamentary Question, 6 May 2004) it would be there to help. On 10 November 2005 the Member for Bega, the Hon Andrew Constance, made a private members statement in the Legislative Assembly, calling on the government to provide funding to get repairs underway. In 2008, in reply to another Parliamentary Question, the Government said regular funds were not available to rebuild the Hospital, it was looking at 'alternative strategies' and it didn't intend to demolish the building.

A big crane rises high above the back of the building during the clean up after the fireAt the time of the fire, the Hospital and grounds were being used by 42 users. A major focus of the trustees then became to clear up the damage caused by the fire, make the buildings and grounds safe, continue to manage the usable buildings for community uses, and to seek funding to replace the roof, at an estimated cost in the vicinity of $500,000. Restoration efforts continue.

The Old Bega Hospital is listed on the Australian Institute of Architects Register of significant architecture in NSW (as a model dairy farm and former district hospital, register number 4702252) and as an item of local heritage significance in Schedule 5 in the Bega Valley Local Environment Plan (item I009). More information about the history and heritage significance of the Old Bega Hospital is contained in Kaylie Beasley's proposal for a conservation management plan.

Sketch of the Old Bega Hospital copyright Jenny G Chapman, October 2016The Friends of the Old Bega Hospital support the Trust.

The road into the Old Bega Hospital is named after nurse Sister Pearl Corkhill. Read more about her at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_Corkhill. The Bega District News has articles at https://www.begadistrictnews.com.au/story/4173113/nurse-puts-life-on-the-line-for-war-wounded/ and https://www.begadistrictnews.com.au/story/4188021/nurse-puzzled-after-winning-wwi-medal/.

More photos: Pre-1900   1900-1956   1956-1987   1988 Restoration   1988-2004   Since 2004 fire  2017