Notes on the History of the Old Bega Hospital

The Governor by proclamation set aside five acres of the Bega Permanent Common for the purposes of a hospital in April 1886. A public meeting was held on 12th June 1886 (called by Mr McArthur, Acting Police Magistrate). A Committee was formed to commence fundraising for the construction of the hospital.

By 4th June 1887 approved plans were to hand and a Government grant of £1,000 on a £ for £ basis was sought and granted.

Tenders were called for and Mr Malcolm's tender of £1,675 was selected.

The need for a hospital was crucial with many cases of illness, some terminating in death, which it was believed could have been avoided by proper hospital care. During the 1870s there had been a smallpox epidemic, which had alerted the community to the dire need for a hospital.

The Hospital was completed on 19th January 1889 and the Hospital was opened on Thursday 18th April 1889 by Mr R L Tooth of Kameruka.

The community was always very involved in the Hospital by way of donations, both monetary and by way of linen, vegetables, preserves, flowers and furnishings. Milking cows were provided on a permanent basis by Mr C T Stiles of Kanoona, which continued for many years to come.

In 1904 extensions and outdoor toilets were provided by replacing the wooden western wing with new brick extensions at a cost of £1,094.7.6.

In 1908 a new wing was commenced to replace the existing white ant ridden wooden eastern wing with a larger brick extension, at a cost of £1500.

Opening of the new wing of the Hospital.

A new fever ward was built in 1912 to replace the structure destroyed by white ants. This building comprised two wards, nurses' room, bathroom and verandah.

In 1914 a new fuel kitchen store boiler was installed to provide hot water. In 1918 the municipal gas service was extended to the Hospital for lighting to replace the existing carbide lighting system. During this year the Hospital was gazetted a training school, giving an employment boost to the area.

In October 1920 an x-ray unit was installed, and also an electric lighting plant was installed during this year.

During 1923 the septic system was installed. Also in this year the district experienced a diphtheria epidemic. The nurses at the Hospital gave up their accommodation to provide extra room during this epidemic. The nurses lived in tents and still handled the extra patients with good will.

In 1924 a new sterilizing unit was installed and a Ford car purchased to replace the horse and buggy. One of the horses had been named 'Day and Night' because it worked for the Hospital during the day and was used by the nurses to visit their boyfriends at night!

In 1928 the new nurses' quarters were completed, following a liberal response to fundraising.

In 1929 the Hospital adopted the Community Hospital and Systematic Contribution Scheme. Previously fees had been charged, but the Hospital relied heavily on fundraising to continue to function. The new scheme meant that for 6d (single) and 1/‑ (family) per week contributors were entitled to free hospital treatment. This scheme proved very successful and by 1931-32 saw the Hospital financially sound with 1,486 contributors.

In 1930 the Hospital was connected to the mains electricity, as the lighting plant had broken down.

During 1934-35 major permanent improvements were made. This included new wards, verandah, annexes in the isolation block, two new bedrooms, sitting room alterations in the domestic quarters, old operating theatre converted to two-bed ward, new theatre, new store and bathroom, new laundry, boiler room and wardsman quarters, in the nurses' quarters two new bedrooms and bathroom, also hot water and steam services to most buildings.

In 1936 a diphtheria epidemic broke out, straining the Hospital with a 25% increase in patients. In 1937 the verandahs were glassed in to provide extra permanent accommodation. The nurses' home was enlarged and separate night nurse quarters provided. The Hospital was now treating three times the number of patients it did in 1927.

In 1938 the x-ray equipment was upgraded and in 1942 new full wave x-ray plant was installed.

In 1940 an iron lung for treatment of polio victims was given by Lord Nuffield. The town water supply was also connected during this year.

In 1945 the new nurses' quarters were erected on the site of the new Hospital. This was as a result of strong objection from the Board to the new quarters being on the present site, as it would determine the location of the hospital for the next 50 years. It was felt this site was too far from town.

In 1946 the hospital fund, so successfully operated, was closed by an Act of Parliament.

During 1949 the old nurses' quarters were converted to a maternity unit.

With plans afoot for a new hospital to be built closer to the town ideas were discussed for the use of the old Hospital building. Suggestions were made that the Hospital could be used as an old persons' home, a boys' home or used as an agricultural farm.

On 2nd July 1957 with the assistance of the Bega Voluntary Ambulance Service, all existing patients in the old Hospital were transferred to the new Hospital.

On 11th May 1957 the new Hospital was officially opened.

Following the transfer of hospital services to the newly built hospital the building became a Boys' Hostel. The Girls' Hostel was at Littleton House.

At a later stage the Agricultural Department took over the Old Hospital premises. During that time the Hospital building fell into disrepair with broken windows, birds nesting in the ceilings, hay and animal droppings on the floor.

At one stage, the Technical College held agricultural classes in the Old Hospital. These classes were held in the room that was previously the Men's Ward and is now used by the Artists Cooperative. The room was in very poor condition and the roller door had been installed to allow a tractor to be housed in there.

In 1987 the Old Bega Hospital Committee, formed several years previously to restore the Old Hospital and return it to community use, took over the lease of the Old Hospital.

The restoration job was enormous, with the community once again giving generously, both in terms of monetary donations and skills and work donations. Literally hundreds of people from the district have been involved in the renovations.

The first group to be formed and work out of the Old Hospital was the Tai Chi Group. Each group that has established the Old Hospital as its base has contributed towards renovations and fundraising activities.

The Old Bega Hospital is currently used by many user groups who have based their activities here. Potters, weavers, spinners, craftspeople, artists, sculptors and woodcrafters are the many artisan groups using the Old Hospital facilities. The Tai Chi Group, Yoga Group and Homebirth Group are representative of other interest groups using the Old Hospital facilities.

Bega Family Daycare have a permanent rental of part of the building and many community groups, including schools, drama groups and Skillshare, hire the main hall. The main hall is also available for hire for private functions. Dances and parties have been held at the Hospital.

The latest group to join the Old Hospital is called "Valley Originals" and is made up of 30 craftspeople who will be retailing from the Old Hospital. This will benefit both the group and the Old Hospital, as it will mean that the Old Hospital is open to the public throughout the week, and provides an attractive and affordable retail outlet for the Group.

Source not known.  From a copy of typewritten notes found in a folder of notes formerly held by the Bega Craft Gallery.  Original notes were probably from about 1990 and probably included photos.  Transcribed with minor editing in October 2009.