Monday, 25 August 2014

Bush Nursing Hospitals

The Bush Nursing Hospital Movement began in 1910 with the establishment of the Victorian Bush Nursing Association. At the time, the current medical system consisted of big hospitals such as the Royal Melbourne and St Vincents, which were run along charitable lines and whose role was to treat poor people, who could not afford to pay a Doctors fee.  There were also private hospitals which only the wealthy could afford. To help offset medical costs Friendly Societies or Lodges were established which people could join for a yearly fee. This gave them access to the Friendly Society doctor and access to medicine dispensed from the Friendly Society Dispensary. The problem arose when members of Friendly societies needed to be treated in Hospitals and thus most ended up in public hospitals, which were overcrowded, as most people could not afford private hospitals. There was also a growing move to nurse people in their own homes through what is now the Royal District Nursing Service.  People in the city and the suburbs could have a nurse visit them to help recover from confinements and general illness. This type of service took pressure off the public Hospitals. Lady Dudley, the wife of the Governor General, was aware of these visiting nurses and had also seen first hand the need for skilled nurses in the bush, so from these experiences came the idea of Bush Nursing Hospitals.

Lady Dudley spoke publicly of the need for nurses in the bush and a concert, with Dame Nellie Melba as the guest star, was organised to raise initial funds for the Bush Nursing Hospital Movement. This concert was held in November 1909 and Lady Casey’s mother, Mrs Charles Ryan (nee Alice Sumner), was one of the organisers.  An inaugural meeting was held in the December and the Draft Constitution for the Australian Order for District Nursing was drawn up. In the end, a nationwide system did not eventuate; however local areas took the idea on and began raising funds for their own Bush Nurse. The local community had to raise the money to fund the cost of the nurse’s salary, board, uniform and a ‘means of locomotion’. The salary was set by the Bush Nursing Association at the rate of around £80.00 per annum, the rate of pay for a hospital nurse with five or six years experience.

The first Victorian nurse was appointed to Beech Forest in March 1911 and other early appointments were Gunbower, Buchan and Panmure. Eventually some towns provided cottages for the nurses to provide accommodation for both the nurse and the patient. Koo-Wee-Rup was an early example of this where the original nurse, Nurse Homewood, started work in the bush nursing centre in July 1918; this was later replaced by a Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.


Koo-Wee-Rup Hospital, 1923
Photograph: Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society

Both Pakenham and Berwick had Bush Nursing Hospitals which are still remembered by many locals. Pakenham was established in 1926 in a house in Rogers Street with Sister Kerville in charge.  In the first year the hospital treated 110 medical and surgical cases and 45 midwifery cases.  In 1928, a new hospital was built on the Princes Highway and in 1929 a nurse’s quarters was opened.  The Hospital was funded by the Community, by subscriptions and patient fees. There were with 190 subscribers in the first year. The Pakenham Race Club was a large supporter of the Hospital holding annual Charity Days to support both the Pakenham and Koo-Wee-Rup Hospitals. The Hospital provided medical services to Pakenham and the surrounding areas until the early 1990s.


The official opening of the Pakenham and District Bush Nursing Hospital on Saturday, February 11, 1928. The Hospital was opened by the State Governor, Lord Somers. The local scouts formed a guard of honour. 
Photograph: North of the Line: a pictorial record compiled by the Berwick-Pakenham Historical Society.

The Berwick Bush Nursing Hospital was opened on March 9, 1940 in a building on the corner of Gloucester Avenue and Gibbs Street. This building had been used as a private hospital for the previous thirty years and, for the twenty years before that, as a Private School. Membership fees were set at £1.10 per annum for a married man, his wife and any children under 18; membership for a single person was 15 shillings and this allowed the subscriber to hospital admittance for half the regular fee. A new building was opened in 1953 and called the Dr Percy Langmore Block in honour of the Berwick Doctor who provided medical services to generations of Berwick folk from 1907 until he retired after World War Two. The Berwick Hospital was taken over by the St John of God Health Care group in 2003.


Berwick Bush Nursing Hospital.
Photograph: Bush Nursing in Berwick: the first fifty years by Eileen Williams (see below)

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