Hos­pi­tal’s hid­den cave of won­ders

Cockburn Gazette - - NEWS -

A VIAL of un­used war-era horse hair su­tures.

A ta­ble scat­tered with hun­dreds of fright­en­ing metal in­stru­ments.

A large, dusty ledger con­tain­ing hand-writ­ten de­tails of more than 200 surg­eries.

Un­usual and rare items that are among thou­sands of trea­sures tucked away in Fre­man­tle Hos­pi­tal's old hy­per­baric cham­ber, draw­ing all who step over the thresh­old into a dif­fer­ent time.

Beau­ti­ful, tech­ni­cal and ex­tra­or­di­nary pieces of the hos­pi­tal's history have been brought into one of its old­est build­ings, rem­i­nis­cent of the life of a pub­lic hos­pi­tal that has played a ma­jor part in Fre­man­tle's history since it first opened in 1897.

Items such as old ad­min­is­tra­tive doc­u­ments are ex­pected, but there’s also a touch of the un­ex­pected, such as a brick from Florence Nightin­gale’s house, a 1940s-era ma­tron’s tea-set com­plete with an ash­tray, an ar­ray of his­tor­i­cal mi­cro­scopes and a col­lec­tion of nurses’ uni­forms chron­i­cling the chang­ing hos­pi­tal fash­ion through the times.

The doc­u­ments are also far from bor­ing. The col­lec­tion in­cludes de­tails of wage in­creases for nurs­ing staff and old ledgers that out­lined surg­eries per­formed at the hos­pi­tal. One of them shows the

par­tic­u­lars of more than 200 surg­eries per­formed in 1902 and the pro­ce­dures that were done. The vast ma­jor­ity used chlo­ro­form as an anaes­thetic. The out­come of the surg­eries were also recorded.

Although not an orig­i­nal project, the col­lec­tion is a labour of love for for­mer di­rec­tor of nurs­ing and now vol­un­teer Ruth Letts, who has been pho­tograph­ing, sort­ing and doc­u­ment­ing the items with the help of other vol­un­teers in the hopes of open­ing up an ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to Fre­man­tle Hos­pi­tal’s history. Ms Letts said the items came to her through a range of dif­fer­ent meth­ods, both from within Fre­man­tle Hos­pi­tal and from oth­ers like Wood­side and Kaleeya. “A lot of the ter­tiary hospi­tals all try to keep their history in­tact and a lot of it was kept, like the hand-writ­ten orig­i­nal board min­utes,” she said. “Peo­ple have do­nated as well. I’ve got a box in there from a Dr Bar­ring­ton Knight Pic­tures: Matt Jelonek who do­nated a lot of stuff, in­clud­ing a war­time metal med­i­cal kit.

“A din­ner bell in one show cabi­net is ac­tu­ally the Mos­man Park an­nex bell and I’ve had that in my of­fice for 15 years, just know­ing that one day it would find a place.”

While still a while away from be­ing ready for pub­lic view­ing, Ms Letts said it was some­thing they were con­sid­er­ing to con­tinue the strong links the hos­pi­tal has had with the lo­cal com­mu­nity for more than 100 years.

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Fre­man­tle Hos­pi­tal Ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor and vol­un­teer Ruth Letts with Les­ley Gibbs.

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