The Blue Mountains District Anzac Memorial Hospital is a rare war memorial in the Blue Mountains designed as a functional building. The style is typical of the interwar style used for war memorials throughout the country.
One of the earliest mentions of a hospital for the Blue Mountains was in 1895, at the laying of the memorial stone at the Katoomba Court House. Sir Frederick Darley, Lieutenant Governor and owner of ‘Lilianfels’ at Echo Point, who performed the ceremony, commented that “the next building he would like to see erected in Katoomba would be a cottage hospital, and it would give him even greater pleasure to lay the memorial stone of one”. (The Mountaineer, 10 May 1895)
A report following the public meeting on 6th May 1919, outlined the need for a hospital in the area. It was reported that the large proportion of wage-earners on less than £4 per week who, unless they required surgery, were normally treated at home. The inefficient nursing provided there by wives or mothers, prolonged their illness ‘beyond the necessary period’, with needless expense to the community. More urgent were the surgical cases that were forced to travel to a metropolitan hospital and too often ‘arrived just too late’. The report concluded, ‘expert medical attention in sickness is much more economical for the community’. This it was thought was only available in a hospital. Dr John Allan was appointed chairman of a committee charged with investigating the necessity and viability of establishing a district hospital. The committee reported favourably for a district hospital, and planning went ahead.
The land for the hospital was a gift from the Lands Department of six and a half acres. An additional 4 acres 3 roods and 17 perches was transferred on 21st June 1927 from a donation from the Thomas Fox estate. Local architect Percy Tabrett estimated the cost at £5,000-£6,000 for the 24 bed hospital. The hospital committee was to raise one quarter of the funds and the government agreed to provide 500 pounds per year for upkeep. The Dept. of Public Works, Government Architects Branch prepared drawings for the cottage hospital in 1925. The Memorial Hall (entrance vestibule) in the Inter War Stripped Classical style, is an early example of the work of Cobden Parkes. Parkes (1892-1978), the youngest of five children of Sir Henry Parkes and his second wife Eleanor, née Dixon; was the NSW Government architect (1935-1958) and a key practitioner in the Inter-War Academic Classical style.
The foundation stone for the Blue Mountains District Anzac Memorial Hospital was laid on 6 October 1925 by the NSW Governor, Sir Dudley de Chair. The building was completed at the beginning of 1927. To emphasise the memorial nature of the Hospital the vestibule was lined with memorial tablets recording the names of 139 local soldiers who were killed in WWI.
The Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) unveiled the memorial tablets in the “Memorial Hall” and signed the visitor’s book on 31 March, 1927. Due to a lack of confirmation that this event would actually occur, the guest list was restricted to Board Members. As there was strong royalist support in the area, this act caused much dissension in the local community and ongoing problems with fundraising. The Blue Mountains District Anzac Memorial Hospital was the last hospital to be registered under the Hospitals Partial Incorporations Act (1847) in May 1928. The first patient was admitted on 23 June 1927, however the hospital was not gazetted as a Public Hospital until 5 August that year, and it was not until 3 October 1928 that the Blue Mountain District Anzac Memorial Hospital was officially opened. This belated ceremony was performed by the Lieut.-Governor of NSW, Sir William P. Cullen.
When the hospital opened there were 22 beds. These were divided between gendered public wards, some private accommodation, and an isolation ward. The staff consisted of Matron Richards, two sisters, six nurses and local medical officers. Substantial extensions have been built over the years to maintain a modern facility.
The addition of a private ward in 1934 changed the hospital to a “community” category, in order to meet the needs of all socio-economic groups. Continual development on the site and adaptation of the existing buildings has allowed the hospital to grow and to meet the ever-changing local demands and medical requirements.
By 1936 the average number of patients had doubled to 809 with a daily average of 44. There were 29 beds and additional patients accommodated on open verandahs.
The first intake of nurses completed their training in the Training School in 1941.
The new onsite Maternity Unit ‘Koorana’ was opened in 1945 and all patients were transferred from the maternity home ‘Kanowna’, the former 1920s guest house in Leura. This had been opened as an obstetrics ward in 1939, at the insistence of the Hospitals Commission that local maternity accommodation be provided.
In 1944 a new nurse’s home was built and extended in 1959. In 1946, a new Boiler House, Laundry, X-ray, Admin. Block, Pathology and Mortuary were officially opened by HRH Duke of Gloucester. The site increased in size when Council donated the adjoining block on the north in 1953 and in 1963 the ‘rest park’ on the Western Road.
There were substantial renovations in the 1960s, with the Children’s Ward redecorated and named the LC Taylor Ward in honour of Matron Taylor (1961), a blood bank attached to the hospital (1962), the Medical and Surgical Ward established and named Freelander Ward (1963), extensions to the Outpatients Dept. completed (1968) and Kitchen and dining Room renovations completed (1969).
In the 1970s the Rehabilitation Unit was opened (1974) and East wing with 48 new beds and space for administration was opened (1976).
Stage 2 boiler house was completed (1980), Children’s Ward was moved to Spellacy Ward, and the Area Health Board was established (1984).
In the 1990s Maternity Ward was refurbished (1990), High Dependency Unit was officially opened by the Hon. Nick Greiner (1991), Palliative Care Unit opened (1992), new children’s Ward officially opened (1994), and other substantial new buildings, including in 1998 a new operating theatre, emergency outpatients and pathology.
The 2000s saw a $12.5 million redevelopment commenced with the Hydrotherapy Pool (2003), Helipad, new Kitchen, Dental rooms, Women and Children’s Health Unit (2005), 15 bed Mental Health Unit, and 11 bed Swing Ward (2006).
In May 2019 the Indigenous Healing Garden was opened in the hospital grounds. Built with sandstone and surrounded by native plants, the garden includes a fire pit to be used for smoking ceremonies, reflecting the elements of fire and water, earth and air. Its design was influenced by the community, including advice from Aunty Sue Tate and Aunty Sharryn Halls.
The year 2020 will mark the 95th anniversary of the laying of Blue Mountains District ANZAC Memorial Hospital foundation stone. The hospital has a proud history of servicing the local community’s health and well-being needs and is the State’s only remaining Anzac Memorial hospital.
Prior to colonial settlement, the landscape consisted of stands of white Eucalyptus with an abundance of lower storey native flora. Until 1925 the land was designated as a council quarry reserve and a small sandstone quarry operated near the comer of Woodlands Road and the Great Western Highway. The council tip was located along the Great Western Highway boundary. The contents of the tip were supposedly “excavated” prior to the erection of the hospital. However, the gardeners continue to find remnants under the soil such as stone bottles.
By 1927 the land had been filled and levelled by Viv Collis, a local contractor, using horse drawn scoops. Reportedly the only vegetation on the site were several mature Eucalypts along the Great Western Highway boundary, some of which are extant.
In 1928 landscaping was the main priority, the grounds being described as ‘a scene of desolation that must be extremely depressing to patients and entirely out of harmony with the hospital buildings’. It was recommended hospital practice at the time to landscape the grounds between the buildings to create soothing views to assist patients’ recovery. The Hospital Committee prepared a plan and was fortunate in receiving donations of plants. These included 540 roses donated by Messrs. Hazelwood Bros of Epping; a large number of shrubs and trees from the Botanical Gardens and various plants and bulbs donated by local residents. A permanent gardener and temporary assistant were employed at a cost £227 for the year.
The main entrance was located in Woodlands Road and a sweeping carriageway passed in front of the Memorial Hall and exited the site on the Great Western Highway. At this time, the extant avenue of mature plane trees, near the Memorial Hall, were planted along this original carriageway.’ In 1930 the entrance gates were relocated to the Great Western Highway. The section of the carriageway in front of the Memorial Hospital entrance was named “The Thomas James Cole Memorial Drive” in 1950. Brick piers for the exit gates were erected in 1951.
In 1966 the gardens were redesigned and rejuvenated under the supervision of Hon. Adviser, Dr A. L. North, a Macquarie Street ophthalmologist, who had a weekender at Sublime Point and later retired to the Mountains. As a Hospital Board Member with a great passion for gardening, he was also responsible for initiating the Leura Garden Competition, which continues as the Leura Gardens Festival. At the request of the Katoomba R.S.L., Dr North designed the Memorial Garden for World War 2 servicemen, located near the Education Centre. Ex-servicemen provided the volunteer labour. The gardens were highly commended in the 1968 Sydney Morning Herald Garden Competition.
Roy Timmings was the head gardener at the hospital c.1948- c.1972. He came from a family of gardeners, his father being the head gardener at the Carrington Hotel for many years. Billy Campbell (b.1927 -) was raised near the hospital and can remember the site from the early 1930’s. He became head gardener in 1969 and managed the gardens, with the help of one assistant, for 31 years.
After the erection of the Main Ward (1981) most of the garden on southern section of the site was destroyed. Billy redesigned this area and constructed all the dry stone walls on the site. Several varieties of conifers were planted for the contrasting colours and for low maintenance. However, Billy encouraged rapid growth by hard pruning. He reports the conifers would double in size each year if trimmed correctly.
The dry stone walls were erected with stone from a quarry at Wentworth Falls, carefully selected and delivered by Stan Johnson. Although self-taught, the craftsmanship in the stonework is of extremely high quality. Unfortunately many of the walls have since been removed, particularly to the north of the Main Ward and under the new Emergency Ward.
Several members of the local community, including Dr North, Mr Spellacy and Mr Bill Jensen, were also members of the Leura Garden Festival Committee. This forged a close link between the hospital and The Leura Gardens Festival, which persists to the present day. The Festival Committee has consistently supported the hospital by donating large sums for hospital equipment, the relocation of the Children’s ward, the Palliative Care ward and the High Dependency ward.
Blue Mountains District Anzac Memorial Hospital has long been held in high regard by many members of the local community, who do not hesitate to spring to its defence whenever changes to funding, governance or staffing appear to threaten its proud tradition of service.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
All images from the Local Studies collection
Conservation management plan for The Blue Mountains District Memorial Hospital – Conybeare Morrison & Partners 1999. NSW Dept. of Public Works.
References and Links:
Hospital website – https://www.nbmlhd.health.nsw.gov.au/blue-mountains-hospital/about
“KANOWNA,” LEURA.” (1921, April 14). The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), p. 40. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106266487
KATOOMBA HOSPITAL. (1939, April 3). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 13. Retrieved December 5, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17571022
Duchess At Wedding Of Duke’s A.D.C. YOUTHFUL BRIDE IN PEARL SATIN GOWN (1946, November 27). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved December 17, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18003788
Opening of the Healing Garden – https://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/story/6130414/sowing-the-seeds-for-healing-at-blue-mountains-hospital/