Our history amongst the vines
The genesis of McLaren Vale & Districts War Memorial Hospital is generally accepted to date from 11th September 1945 although the need for a hospital in the area had been recognised for many years prior to that. Attempts to establish a hospital in the area had actually commenced well before the second world war however the outbreak of war in 1939 brought a halt to these efforts.
With the cessation of war, a public meeting was convened on 11th September 1945. This meeting was held in the McLaren Vale “Old Hall” under the chairmanship of Mr S Fisher, the then local manager of the Bank of Adelaide. It was well attended and it is reported that some spirited debate took place. There was some opposition to establishing a hospital in the area even though the sick and injured at that time had to travel to either Adelaide, Victor Harbor, Mount Barker or even further a field as a result of a shortage of hospital beds. Early discussion appeared to revolve around establishing a small hospital in each of several of the small local townships. This was regarded by many as being inefficient and uneconomical and it was ultimately resolved that one central hospital servicing the district was what was required.
The outcome of this first public meeting was the election of a Provisional Committee to investigate the matter and to report back to a further public meeting. The committee pursued its enquiries for 3 months during which time the whole area was canvassed. Public meetings were held in Willunga, Kangarilla and Port Noarlunga with information also being sought from other districts as well as the Hospitals Department, Federal and State parliament representatives and many others from elsewhere.
One opponent to establishing the hospital commented that ” The Southern Districts were so healthy, no hospital was needed.” History records that this individual died suddenly at the wheel of his tractor during a long working day in his paddocks. He was then well over 80 years old and in his case, may have had a valid point. Another opponent, perhaps one of the most vociferous, came forward some years after the hospital had been opened and handsomely acknowledged that he had been wrong.
The Provisional Committee reported at a further public meeting held in the same hall on 11th December 1945 that a Government subsidised hospital could be financed and established and should be located at McLaren Vale. This report was adopted by the meeting. The role of the Provisional Committee was now complete and the meeting elected a new committee to be known as The Hospital Committee.
Over the ensuing years much hard work was undertaken by the members of this committee. This entailed dealing with the then various Councils of the area as well as many government departments. Once government approval had been received and support of district councils assured the Committee pushed on with the preparation of sketch plans for the proposed new hospital, negotiating for a site and the raising of the necessary funds.
Matters were moving ahead quite well and on 31st July 1947 a combined meeting of representatives of the 3 District Councils and the Hospital Committee was held in the McLaren Flat Hall. It was unanimously resolved that “it be a recommendation to each of the 3 District Councils concerned that the first Hospital Board consist of 2 council representatives from the Willunga and Noarlunga District Councils and 1 from Meadows District Council, to be elected by those Councils respectively and 8 other members to be elected by the ratepayers of each District Council as follows:- 3 by Willunga, 3 by Noarlunga and 2 by Meadows Council ratepayers.” This Board had its first meeting on 28th October 1947.
The original name of the hospital was “The Southern Districts War Memorial Hospital.” “Southern Districts” was included in the name of the proposed new hospital to recognise that it was to be established to serve the whole of the district, not just McLaren Vale and “War Memorial” was included to recognise the memory and ultimate contribution made by men and women from all the armed services.
Many enquiries were made in the search for a suitable site for the proposed new hospital. In 1947 the Hospital Committee was offered the current site by Mrs Katherine Hall. She then occupied “Tsong Gyiaou” which is a fine old two story house built in 1862 by a Miss Mary Ann Aldersey who had been a missionary in China. Mrs Hall’s offer included some 5 acres of land at valuation provided she retained a life tenancy of the house. Sadly Mrs Hall died before her offer could be finalised however the trustees of her estate, her 3 brothers, undertook to carry out her strong desire to have the property transferred to the hospital.
Over the years various designs were considered and costed. Many were rejected simply on a cost basis as they attempted to cater for a 30 to 40 bed hospital. In October 1949 a contract was signed with Pool Brothers of McLaren Vale to build a 14 bed hospital on a “cost plus” basis. This worked out at around $36,000. The final total cost of the Hospital when opened, including land, buildings furniture and equipment was some $60,000.
The foundation stone cut from Macclesfield marble was laid on 29th April 1950 by the then Chief Secretary, Sir Lyell McEwin, in his capacity of Minister of Health. A sealed canister containing current newspapers was built in below this stone. The day was marked by a procession of decorated floats through the town and a fair prior to the ceremony which was followed in the evening by a ball held in the McLaren Vale Hall. The hospital was actually opened “for business” just 1 year later on 28th April 1951 by the Governor Sir Willoughby Norrie.
In March 1951 Miss Phyllis Taylor, who had been appointed as the first Matron, was now able to appoint nursing and domestic staff with a view to admitting the first patients on 7th May 1951. On 22nd May 1951 the Board Chairman, Mr C Robertson presented to Milton James McLaren Dowling of Range Road, Willunga, the first baby to be born in the hospital, an engraved silver christening mug donated by Lady Hudd.
(Of necessity this history has been kept very brief. The information contained herein has been extracted from what is known as The Hospitals Blue Book, a history of the hospital from 1945 through to 1991)