St George Hospital's 120th birthday stirs memories

WHEN St George Hospital opened in 1894, God Save The Queen was the Australian national anthem and women in South Australia were granted the right to vote.

The "Healing Saint" turns 120 on Sunday, and events next week will celebrate its past, present and future.

St George's Cottage Hospital officially opened on November 16, 1894.

At the opening, Margaret Lamrock, the wife of the hospital's founding medical officer James Lamrock, was the first to open the door and distributed small gifts to each patient.

Dr Lamrock was the personal physician of Kogarah lawyer and Canterbury MP Joseph Hector Carruthers, who steered the infant hospital through its early growth.

Carruthers — who became premier in 1904 — was lobbied by community figures such as Advocate newspaper editor G.L Davies to build a local hospital.

By 1891, the strain of economic recession forced many Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville residents to bury their own human waste.

Compounded with the vast number of piggeries, poultry farms, dairies and slaughteryards in the area, doctors' surgeries became crowded "with patients seeking relief from gastroenteritis", and typhoid fever was rampant, author Lindsay Ritchie wrote in The Healing Saint.

Within a few decades, the hospital needed to expand.

In 1964, it became a major teaching hospital with specialised departments, and in the late 1980s, following a $200 million state government grant, began its transformation as a world-class tertiary hospital.

The hospital is now a level 1 trauma centre for the local health district, with 627 beds, and has one of the busiest emergency departments in the state.

Don Sweetman, 51, of Riverwood, is among the residents who wish to thank the hospital's dedicated staff.

The Underbelly, All Saints and Forensic Investigators actor had spinal surgery at the hospital following a serious pedestrian accident in August last year.

Mr Sweetman said he could have been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life had the hospital not diagnosed and treated his injuries in such a timely manner.

St George residents Margaret Binder, 68, Joan Wagstaff, 78, and Kay Eccleston, 75, did their live-in nursing training at the hospital and worked there for many years.

"In those days, we had to have late passes after 10 o'clock and you were only allowed two late passes a week," Mrs Wagstaff said.

Mrs Binder said: "We used to get extra keys cut and they would be passed around."

Mrs Wagstaff said: "The main thing when we were training was the bonding."

The women are members of the St George Hospital Graduate Nurses Association, which supports current and former nurses.

They were also close friends with retired St George Hospital nurse and historian Judith Anne Cornell, who wrote Without Nurses a Hospital is Just Bricks & Mortar.

The book tells the history of St George Hospital nurses from 1894, and was launched on October 25 at the association's annual reunion.

Mrs Cornell, of Bexley, died in April this year.

The book costs $30 plus postage and is available from Mrs Wagstaff on 9771 2508.

St George Hospital 120th birthday celebrations begin on Monday with a historical photographic display in the Gray Street foyer, a staff barbecue, birthday cake, and doctors and nurses dressed in traditional uniforms.

A community appreciation day will be held at 7pm on Wednesday, November 19, at Georges River Sailing Club, Sandringham. Tickets: 9113 2901.

Leave your support message for the hospital's 3400 dedicated staff below.