Sale’s Ann Synan has the perfect qualifications to write a history book on the Sale Hospital … she’s a former nurse and a local historian.
Ann co-wrote ‘Two Turrets and a Dome: a history of the Gippsland Base Hospital, 1860s and 1980s’ with friend Ann Andrews under her former name of Ann Edwards.
Now, she is actively involved in helping celebrate the 150th anniversary of the hospital on Saturday, 19 August.
Ann recalls her nursing career at Sale with fondness. Nursing was a natural choice for Ann who actually started her training at the old Traralgon Hospital before returning to the then Gippsland Base Hospital (GBH) in Sale.
“It (nursing) had always interested me, especially biology and how the body worked, and there weren’t a lot of choices then for girls,” she said.
Nursing was much different then. You lived on campus and trained on the wards, unlike today where nursing is studied at university.
Ann did general nursing, was a clinical teacher, nursed in the Surgical Unit and then moved to Intensive Care in the 1980s. It was meant to be for a short time but she would spend the rest of her career in this specialised field.
“We set up our own training course for staff in the 1980s, as we couldn’t get staff from Melbourne,” she said.
“When I started, coronary care work was a major part of your workload. But with better treatments, better diets and better education, this has changed.”
Ann clearly remembers when the hospital established its own Dialysis Unit 21 years ago.
“It made such a huge difference as people didn’t have to travel long distances for dialysis treatment. We initially had one machine and did a training course at St Vincent’s.
“We would be taught how to do things and then encouraged to act independently which is a great way to learn.”
Today, the Dialysis Unit has nine chairs and operates six days a week.
Life was busy inside the hospital and out. “Living in [the nurses’ home] was a great way to make friends,” Ann said. “You always had someone to talk to. And there was lots of socialising, balls and dances. The RAAF Base was active again after the war, and from the late 1960s there was a large influx of people involved in the Bass Strait oil and gas industry.”
The hospital grew busier and became the regional referral centre in the early 1990s.
It was back in those early days that Ann’s interest in the hospital’s history was sparked.
“Being termed a ‘Base Hospital’ was significant, and conferred a regional status,” she said. “The Sale hospital was recognised as the Base hospital for Gippsland in 1932.”
During WW2, RAAF No 4 hospital was established adjacent to the GBH but on the hospital’s land. This was to support the East and West Sale RAAF bases, some 3000 service personnel, and was staffed entirely by the military, though it shared some services with the GBH. It was disbanded in 1945, the buildings then used for many years to extend the GBH’s capacity.
“They became our maternity ward as there was a real baby boom after the war. Other buildings became the TB (Tuberculosis) Chalet for Gippsland.”
One of these old buildings was also used for stores. It was in here that Ann came across lots of redundant equipment such as splints and discarded iron lungs. She also found old books but was astounded to discover they were patient records.
The books covered admissions from opening through to the 1960s. Before the hospital moved to its present site in 1864, it was in temporary accommodation in a York Street house. The records show there were 20 patients treated there over a six month period, predominantly men and no children.
“There were lots of trauma cases from throughout Gippsland in earlier times, especially from the Walhalla mines and the Dargo goldfields,” Ann said. “There were agricultural accidents too. Most were brought in by horseback, wagon and later, by train. There was an ambulance stretcher kept at the railway station for transport to the hospital, more than 2kms away.
“There were frequent epidemics of infectious diseases such as diphtheria and typhoid fever, and particularly in the 1930s and early 1950s, devastating outbreaks of poliomyelitis, affecting both adults and children.”
“In earlier times, there were no public hospitals at Bairnsdale (1880s) or Traralgon (1950s) so Sale was the major hospital. It was twice as big as it is today.”
Ann describes the records as “irreplaceable”. Fortunately, not long after they were re-discovered, a then hospital surgeon, David Fitzpatrick, was a member of the local historical society and was also doing a book binding course, so he carried out some preservation work.
However Ann said they need to be digitised so the originals could be safely stored for posterity. “They need to be accessible without handling as they are too big, too heavy and too fragile.”
So Ann has volunteered to undertake the task of scanning them. Each of the huge books has 500 pages so it will take some time.
She is using a software application that allows her to scan the pages with a special camera and turn them into a PDF format.
Ann acknowledges is a very time-consuming task but she is working at her own pace…and learning lots about our history along the way.