Historic hospital plans return to Wonthaggi


Architectural plans for the first permanent Wonthaggi Hospital dating from 1913 have been returned home after a surprise find at a church sale in regional Victoria.

The meticulous hand-drawn plans were found at the Clunes Presbytery Open Garden Garage Sale by a connection of Wonthaggi historian Sam Gatto.

Recognising the plans’ significance, Mr Gatto worked with Bass Coast Health CEO Jan Child to buy the framed plans and transport the plans to Wonthaggi Hospital.

The plans were revealed to the public at a morning tea at the hospital on Thursday 22 June and are displayed proudly within the hospital, at Café 1910, near an original part of the building.

“The original drawings have come back home more than 100 years after they were drawn,” Mr Gatto said.

Ms Child was impressed by the craftmanship and history attached to the plans.

“To see the plans is so special. It really is an exciting piece,” she said.

“The Wonthaggi Hospital has always been embedded in this community and to have this piece of history on display for all to appreciate will only strength that bond.”

A friend of Sam’s son Matteo, Lauren Reece, discovered the plans during the garage sale, held as part of the Clunes Booktown Festival in March this year. Lauren was aware that Sam had written the history of the Wonthaggi hospital, “Accepting the Challenge”. She phoned Matteo to ask him if Sam was interested in the framed plans. It was Sunday, and she was only there for the day, so time was of the essence.

Matteo rang Sam who was in his car on his way to a concert in Melbourne. Sam in turn rang Ms Child, who immediately agreed to pay the $350 asking price.

Sam then rang Matteo and he in turn informed Lauren to buy the plans and then looked after them until she met Matteo. The painstaking process of safely returning the plans to Wonthaggi was almost complete.

The garage sale was held by Dr Kevin Lee, a specialist Physician and Endocrinologist, as well as a Medical Researcher at Monash University.

The plans were drawn in 1913-14 and indicate a proposed price for the hospital of £5866, equivalent of around $4.5 million in today’s money. Since governments were not in the business of building and financing hospitals at the time, the community had to bear the costs of equipping, furnishing and running the hospital.

The plans – at a scale of eight feet to an inch - include elevation drawings showing the mortuary, administrative block, wards and kitchen block. Of the first permanent hospital built in 1914, only a few sections remain, now contained within the Café and Pathology areas.

The government had promised to build the hospital in brick, but to the disappointment of many in the community back then, it decided on a wooden building. This, according to Mr Gatto’s historical account of the hospital, “Accepting the Challenge”, was because “…a brick hospital would be roughly £2000 over the £8000 that the government had estimated”. Early in 1914, work on the new, permanent hospital in Wonthaggi began and patients moved into the new building on Saturday 8 August that year.

The first temporary hospital in Wonthaggi ran from a tent in Graham Street, near the Miners’ Dispensary. In 1911, the temporary hospital moved to the site of the present hospital, and was a mix of timber and canvas.