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Cloistered veils at Camden Hospital Nurses’ Quarters

 Official opening

Over 700 locals and visitors were present for the official opening of the Camden District Hospital nurses quarters or better known as the ‘nurses home’ by the NSW Minister of Health WF Sheehan in June 1962. Official proceedings at the opening were led hospital-chairman FJ Sedgewick who said that the board had been working towards the addition of the new building for many years. (Camden News 27 June 1962)

Camden Hospital Nurses Home 2018 IWillis
Camden Hospital Nurses Quarters opened in 1962 by the NSW Health Minister WF Sheehan. The building is influenced by 20th-century modernism International Functionalism and designed by architects Hobson and Boddington. The building is located in Menangle Road opposite the hospital complex. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Construction on the building had begun in mid-1961, cost £92,000 and was located on farmland purchased by the hospital-board in 1949 opposite the hospital in Menangle Road on Windmill Hill. The three-story brick building had suspended concrete floors and was designed by architects Hobson and Boddington influenced by mid-20th century modernism and International Functionalism. Nurses accommodation was an improvement on wartime military barracks with 40 single rooms with separate bathrooms.

Camden Hospital Nurses Home Bathroom 2008 CHS
The Camden Hospital Nurses Quarters bathroom with striking colours and design typical of 20th-century modernism from 1962. It appears that the bathroom were renovated at a later date with more recent fittings. This image was taken in 2008 illustrating the basic nature of the nurses accommodation within the building. (Camden Museum Archive)

 

Lack of accommodation

Finally the hospital-board thought that a solution had been found to the lack of nurses accommodation at the hospital.  Adequate accommodation for nurses had been an issue for hospital administrators from the hospital opening in 1902. Originally Camden nurses were provided with two bedrooms within the hospital building which had soon proved to be inadequate. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p. 17) Nurses were quartered within a hospital complex based on the presumption that this was necessary because of their 7-day 24-hour-shift roster that meant that they worked all hours. Added to this was the Nightingale philosophy that the respectability and morality of the nurses had to be protected at all costs.  The all-male Camden hospital-board took their responsibility seriously and considered there was a moral imperative to protect the respectability of their young single female nurses.

Camden Hospital & Nurse Qtrs after 1928 CIPP
Camden District Hospital around 1930 in Menangle Road Camden. The nurses quarters built in 1928 are on the right hand side of image. The original hospital building has an additional floor constructed in 1916. The first matron of the Camden District Hospital was Josephine Hubbard assisted by Nurse Nelson with Senior Probationary Nurse Mary McNee. The medical officers were Dr West and Dr B Foulds. The hospital was administered by an all-male board of directors (Camden Images).

 

Moral integrity and respectability

In Beverley Kingston’s My Wife, My Daughter and Poor Mary Ann she writes:

The Nightingale system hinged on the employment of women of unblemished characters as nurses…In the forty years since nursing has been made a respectable profession for women in Australia it had also acquired most of the dedicated overtones (and a great many of the rules, regulations, restrictions and inhibitions) of a religious order.

 

The blog Nurses For Nurses has a post with memories from one nurse about live-in-quarters at Lidcombe Hospital in 1971.

 the large number of nurses who had to ‘live-in’ in the Nurses’ Quarters buildings (guarded by the bull-dog determination of the Home Sister, constantly on the look-out for those evil ‘boyfriends’ and male doctors!). These nurses were predominantly vulnerable, aged from 16 upwards, far, far from home in many cases. They needed friends, security, safety, comfort, respect, and a sense of ‘school pride’.

Camden Hospital Nurses FrancesWarner RHS outside Nurses Home 1965 SRoberts
A group of second year trainee nurses in uniform standing outside the Camden Hospital Nurses Quarters in 1965. (S Roberts)

 

The cloisters of Camden District Hospital

The nurses at Camden District Hospital lived in a cloistered environment within the hospital grounds in 1902 , as they had done at Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurable from 1890s, like a pseudo-religious order in their veils and capes. According to the NSW Health Minister Mr Sheehan,

The [new] building for the nurses I hope will be a home and comfort for them. It is consistent with the dignity of the service of the nurses in your community’. (Camden News 27 June 1962)

Duty and service were part of the ethos of nursing from the time of Florence Nightingale and   Camden’s ministering angels met their workplace obligation.

Camden Hospital (Centre) and Nurses Qtrs RHS 1920 CIPP
The Camden District Hospital and the 1928 Nurses Quarters on the right of photograph. The 1962 nurses quarters were built in the paddock on the right of the image. Menangle Road is the address of the hospital on Windmill Hill. (Camden Images)

 

There was comfort for the Camden community in the knowledge that the nurses’ quarters was on the road between the sacred heart of Camden at the St Johns Anglican Church and the Macarthur family’s pastoral empire at Camden Park Estate. The Macarthur family patriarchs had always been pre-occupied with the moral wellbeing of the town and the respectability of the nurses fitted this agenda. Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow was always mindful of the status of women and the moral dangers single nurses potentially faced in the town area. Mrs Onslow, her daughter Sibella and daughter-in-law Enid passed the hospital and the nurses quarters on their way to church and cast an observant eye over the complex to ensure all was well.

 

Lack of accommodation a constant problem from the beginning

Camden District Hospital was the major medical facility between Liverpool and Bowral and the Yerranderie silver field mines put pressure on the hospital. More patients meant a need for more staff.  In 1907 a government grant allowed the hospital board to purchase a four-room cottage next to the hospital for £340 and converted it to nurses’ accommodation. (Camden News, 30 May 1907, 13 June 1907, 6 February 1908, 26 March 1908)  Completed renovations in  1908 allowed the board to appoint a new probationary nurse, Miss Hattersley of Chatswood. (Camden News, 18 June 1908) The hospital’s status increased in 1915 when the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) approved the hospital as a registered training school. (Camden News, 28 January 1915) Continuing pressure on the nurses accommodation stopped the hospital-board from appointing a new probationary nurse in 1916. (Camden News, 6 July 1916) While things were looking up in 1924 when electricity was connected to the hospital. (Camden Crier, 6 April 1983)

 

The hospital continued to grow as the new mines in the Burragorang coalfields opened up and adequate on-site nurses’ accommodation remained a constant headache for the hospital administration.  In 1928 the hospital board approved the construction of a handsome two-storey brick nurses’ quarters at a cost of £2950 on the site of the existing timber cottage. (Camden News, 12 July 1928; SMH, 20 July 1928) The building design was influenced by the Interwar functionalist style and was a proud addition to the town’s growing stock of Interwar architecture with its outdoor verandahs, tiled roof and formal hedged garden.

Camden Hosptial Nurses Qtrs 1928-1962 CIPP
This handsome Interwar building is the Camden Hospital Nurse Quarters built in 1928 on the site of the 1907 nurses cottage adjacent to the hospital in Menangle Road. The brick two-storey building has external verandahs and a formal hedged garden. The nurses home is one of number of handsome Interwar buildings that are found throughout Camden town area. It was demolished for the construction of Hodge hospital building in 1971. (Camden Images)

 

Temporary accommodation

Temporary nurses accommodation was added in December 1947 as each nurse was now entitled to a separate bedroom under the new Nurses Award. The hospital-board purchased a surplus hut from Camden Airfield as war-related activities wound down and facilities were sold off by the defence authorities. The hut was formerly a British RAF workshop hut, measured 71 by 18 feet, cost £175 and was relocated next to the hospital free of charge by Cleary Bros. RAF transport squadrons had been located at Camden Airfield from 1944 and local girls swooned over the presence of these ‘blue uniformed flyers’ and even married some of them. Hut renovations were carried out to create eight bedrooms, two store cupboards and bathroom accommodation at a cost of £370. Furnishings cost £375 with expenses met by the NSW Hospital Commission and the new building was opened by local politician Jeff Bate MHR.  (Picton Post, 22 December 1947. Camden News, 1 January 1948)

Camden Airfield Hut No 72
Camden Airfield Hut No 72 similar to the RAF airman’s hut that relocated to Camden Hospital and used as temporary nurses accommodation in 1947. (I Willis)

 

As the Burragorang coalfields ramped up so did the demands on the hospital and the nurses’ accommodation crisis persisted. The issue restricted the ability of hospital authorities to employ additional nursing staff (Camden News, 21 September 1950) and the opening of the hospital’s new maternity wing in 1951 did not help. (Camden News, 4 March 1954)

 

Continuing accommodation crisis

The new 1962 nurses quarters did not solve the accommodation issue as the hospital grew from 74 beds in 1963 to 156 in 1983 (Macarthur Advertiser, 1 March 1983) and patient facilities improved with the opening of the 4-storey Hodge wing in 1971 on the site of the 1928 nurses’ quarters. (Camden News, 3 March 1971)

Camden Hospital Hodge Wing JKooyman 1995 CIPP
The Camden Hospital PB Hodge Block which was opened in 1971 by NSW Health Minister AH Jago. This photo was taken by J Kooyman in 1995. (Camden Images)

 

The finish of hospital-based trained nurses

The last intake of hospital-based training for nurses took place at Camden Hospital in July 1984 and nurse education was transferred from hospitals to the colleges of advanced education in 1985. (A Social History of Camden District Hospital, by Doreen Lyon and Liz Vincent, 1998, p.58)

Camden Hospital Nurses Graduation CamdenNews 1974Jun26
Camden Hospital Nurses Graduation from the Camden News 1974 June 26 (Camden Museum Archive)

 

Empty citadel

By this time nursing staff were living off-site and the moral imperative of protecting the respectability and dignity of local nurses in a cloistered environment was challenged by feminism and the increased professionalism of the nursing profession.

In recent years the ghostly corridors of 1962 nurses’ quarters have remained eerily empty reflecting a lot of good intentions that were never quite fulfilled. The buildings stands as a silent citadel to the past and acts as a metaphor to the changing nature of the nursing profession, the downgrading of  Camden Hospital, the imminent expansion of Campbelltown Hospital and the appearance of new medical facilities at Gregory Hills.

Camden Hospital Nurses Home Lower Entry & Foundation Stone 2018 IWillis
The Camden Hospital Nurses Quarters Lower Entry with the foundation stone set by the NSW Health Minister WF Sheahan. (I Willis, 2018)