In 1994, Sandra May, watching the news on TV, saw the hospital where she had begun her nursing career fall into a pile of rubble (1).
Formerly the Melbourne Homoeopathic Hospital and built on its St Kilda Road, South Melbourne, site in 1885, Prince Henry’s Hospital had amalgamated with the Queen Victoria Medical Centre and Moorabbin Hospital to form the Monash Medical Centre (2).
In 1991 – 30 years ago this year – Prince Henry’s Hospital ceased operating and three years later the building was demolished to make way for the apartments which exist now on the site.
Having opened as a homeopathic hospital caring for the poor in 1876, in 1934, with the reputation of homeopathy on the wane, it was renamed Prince Henry’s in honour of the royal visit of the Duke of Gloucester. The hospital was rebuilt in 1936.
ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick and Sandra May were two of the thousands of nurses who trained at Prince Henry’s Hospital. After watching its demolition on the TV news, Sandra wrote an article farewelling the hospital.
It was then more than 20 years since she had been one of the nurses rushing from the nurses’ home to the hospital, ‘gorgeous royal-purple capes bobbing like billowy deep violet petunia petals’. (3)
Another nurse who started training at Prince Henry’s in 1982 recalled:
All nurse training was hospital-based then and it was mandatory to live in the Nurses Home at the hospital. This was a bit daunting at first moving into a large multi-story building, in the centre of Melbourne City, with a whole lot of other people I had never met before!
But once everyone got to know each other, it was actually great fun! Much frivolity was had. It was not rare to see furniture going up and down in lifts, sometimes thrown off balconies into the pool below! And many a rule was broken in the Nurses Home, broken curfews and boyfriends sneaking in were some of the more common offences! (4)
The hospital’s original mission of providing compassionate care for Melbourne’s disadvantaged continued during Sandra May’s years of nursing at Prince Henry’s.
‘Homeless alcoholics were deloused in casualty and often given a bed and a few good feeds before resuming their outdoor activities
in Port Melbourne, South Melbourne or St Kilda,’ Sandra wrote.
She recalled nursing psychiatric patients in locked and padded cells in ward 2 West and a visit from a former patient: ‘…a most elegant and charming gentleman (then a well-known photographer) came to the ward and asked for me, bearing gifts and thanks – he had been the previously unrecognisable patient in cell 2 who I had helped nurse through horrific DTs.’ (5)
As well as being a centre for nursing education, Prince Henry’s was affiliated to the University of Melbourne as a doctors’ teaching hospital, later to become affiliated with Monash University.
The hospital’s Prince Henry’s Medical Research Centre, established in 1960, specialised in endocrinology, particularly reproductive medicine, and had a global reputation.
The Reproductive Medicine Clinic within the Medical Research Centre was established in 1976, conducting the ground-breaking practice of ‘artificial insemination with donor semen’, initially recruiting most donors among Prince Henry’s medical students and students from the Victorian College of the Arts. The program was established by two doctors, Doug Lording and David de Kretser, who would later become Victoria’s governor (6)(7).
A children’s wing operated at Prince Henry’s from 1910 until 1978 when it was closed following a rationalisation of paediatric services.
An anonymous donor who provided the funds to establish the children’s ward in 1910 stipulated frames were to be fixed to the walls of the children’s wards to display illustrations and drawings of children’s stories and nursery rhymes.
Four artists were commissioned to produce the works: Edith Alsop, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Jessie Traill, and the 31 watercolour paintings they produced – known as the ‘Cheer Up Children Collection’ remain in the Monash Health art collection. (8)
The ANMF (Vic Branch) digital exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of the 1986 nurses’ strike includes archival video footage of former ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Hannah Sellers and the current ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, then both ANMF Job Reps at Prince Henry’s, walking out of the hospital with other nursing staff as part of one of the biggest campaigns in Australia’s industrial relations history. (9)
‘There was a mixture of fear and anxiety, of grief. Nurses were in tears because they were extremely distressed to have to leave their patients…it was such an alien action for them,’ Hannah said in an interview in ‘The walk-outs’, a section of the digital exhibition.
‘I never anticipated something like that myself,’ Lisa said in her interview for the exhibition. ‘And then just to see the great camaraderie from my colleagues at Prince Henry’s… and then we walked out of Prince Henry’s and down those steps to see all of the other nurses and midwives who were there to cheer us on and support us. It was, I thought, quite extraordinary – and certainly something that will forever stay with me.’