The Hospital was built in 1888 of locally produced unfired Mud Brick. The bricks were made from black soil on the banks of the Bulloo River just south of the town, at the site of what was the Chinese Market Gardens. After the bricks were moulded (in the machine now situated at the front door of the Meathouse), they were laid out to dry and covered with Yapunyah leaves. During this process, roaming animals often left their imprints. In the hospital itself, there are footprints of dogs, cats and emus preserved on the walls. Once the leaves were sufficiently dry, they were ignited and the bricks were “FIRED”, changing colour from mud grey to red. Many of the town’s buildings were built from this local brick, however only four (4) of these buildings remain.
The Old Thargomindah Hospital building contained:
• an Eight (8) Bed Ward,
• two (2) rooms for the Matron and her family,
• a Surgery, and a Dispensary.
A separate building, also made of Mud Brick housed:
• the Laundry,
• Patient Toilets, and Showers, and
• the Kitchen, where all meals were produced.
The Hospital had its own Dairy Cows, Chooks and Goats, which roamed freely around the town. Thargomindah Hospital remained in operation until 1976, when a new facility was erected in Dowling Street. This facility now serves as an Outpatient Centre. Today, patients who are in need of emergency specialist medical treatment require medical evacuation, and are transported by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to the nearest Hospital facility that can provide the necessary care.
The old Hospital had a Doctor’s residence, which stood to the side of the Maternity Ward and a Morgue, which stood to the front and side of the Hospital. However, the Doctor’s residence was almost totally destroyed by fire in May 1948, and it is thought that the residence was never rebuilt. Unfortunately no documents can be found to verify this, as many documents were destroyed in two fires, which occurred in the Bulloo Shire Council offices during the 1950’s and 1970’s.
Extensions were added to the Old Hospital in the mid 1920’s. The new section of the Hospital became the Maternity Wing, which is still located next to the Old Hospital building, but is now a private residence. The old Mortuary Building stands in the grounds adjacent to this building and is used as a shed for the residence next door to the old Hospital. Around 1930, it is thought that the Aboriginal Ward was added to the Hospital. It was in a building that was set back behind all the Hospital buildings and was located near the Goat Yard.
Physical and emotional demands on the Matron of the time were extreme. It was difficult to attract and keep Doctors of any calibre in town; therefore the Matron often had to rely on her own medical ingenuity to deal with the epidemics, emergencies, and frequent deaths. This was made more arduous because of the isolation and heat. Her relief must have been enormous with the advent of the Pedal Radio, access to the Flying Doctor Service in the 1940’s. The Very Reverend John Flynn created the Flying Doctor Service in 1928; however it was not until 1942 that a Flying Doctor Base was established in Charleville.
In its early years, the Hospital relied solely on community donations and patient fees (often unpaid), for its survival, and was administered by a locally elected Hospital Board. In later years, the Government paid 300 Pounds towards the Hospitals costs. Regular Picnic Races were held to raise funds, and donations from Institutions such as the Bulloo Shire Council, kept the Hospital debt free.
Today, the Old Hospital serves as the Thargomindah Visitor Information Centre. A concerted effort has been made to restore some of the Hospital’s history, however much has been lost or taken by former staff. The Old Hospital is also reputed to have a resident ghost, who is thought to be a former Matron, who unfortunately died in mysterious circumstances. Matron Tite died in the Hospital Dispensary supposedly after ‘ingesting a substance’. The exact details of her death are unknown, but local speculation ranges from suicide to a heart problem that she was treating with arsenic. Matron Freda Tite is buried in the Thargomindah Cemetery, a significant distance from the rest of the graves, thus fuelling the suicide rumour.
Many of the locals have stories to tell about their encounters with the “Hospital Ghost”. She is a friendly Ghost, and regularly walks the Ward, making her presence know to those who are aware. An old gentleman named Bert Grey, who lived in the Hospital building when it had been converted to Flats, after the Thargomindah Outpatients Centre had been built, and who still lives in town today, tells stories of the friendly Ghost. He says that it is the Ghost of a young woman wearing a red skirt and white blouse. He has also said that he had woken up a number of times to find the young woman sitting on his bed; however he was not afraid of her.
Bert is not the only person to have seen the Ghost. Bert tells a story of an old bloke, who is dead now, who used to come up to visit him of an evening because he was lonely. He and Bert used to watch TV, and have a yarn, and a bit of tea now and then. One evening, his mate went out to the toilet and when he came back, he said: “I thought the girls were in bed.” Bert said, “They are in bed – they’ve been asleep for a couple of hours now.” The old bloke said, “Oh! One of them just walked down the passage there.” Bert said, “No, they’re sound asleep. If they’d been up they would have stuck their head in the door” (into the room where they had the TV set up in the Flats). Bert got up and walked in to check on the girls, and they were all in bed sound asleep. Bert went back to his friend and said, “It wasn’t any of the girls.” His friend said, “Well, who’d I see then?” Bert told him, “That’d be our Ghost”, and Bert said his mate just flipped. He was a very superstitious man, and he was scared stiff of things like that. Bert said that his mate nearly had a heart attack.
Footsteps can often be heard today in the old Hospital, and many people say that they are aware of a presence when they visit the building. Sometimes a room will be freezing cold for no evident reason, which also adds to speculation.
Standing proudly on the outskirts of the town is a large brick building known to the locals as the Old Thargomindah Hospital. Built in 1888 out of locally made, unfired mud-bricks, the building is a tribute to the tenacity of Thargomindah’s pioneers and has always played an important, often sentimental, role in the community.
There have been three distinct phases in the life of this building since 1888. The first stage includes the first 55 years of Hospital’s history, during which the building provided a vital service to the community for two important reasons. Firstly, because it was a Hospital, it supplied essential medical assistance to Australia’s pioneers. Secondly, it gave people in the town and the wider Bulloo Shire a sense of security, which is important for a remote community in what can be a harsh and dangerous landscape. The Hospital helped to encourage people to move west and live the Australian pioneering dream.
The second stage in the Hospital’s history began in 1942 when a Flying Doctor Base was established in Charleville. This increased the community’s sense of security and meant that a resident doctor was no longer a necessity in Thargomindah. During this period there was also a significant change to the Hospital’s management when the reins were passed from the Thargomindah District Hospital Committee to the Cunnamulla Hospitals Board in 1946.
The third stage for the building began in 1976, when a new Thargomindah Outpatients Center was opened in Dowling Street. For a time the old brick building was privately owned by the Howard family, who eventually sold it to the local Council that rented it out as residential flats. These flats were not well maintained during this time and it is only thanks to Terry and Vonda Smith, who purchased the building from the Council in October 1995 and began renovations, that the building has survived and remains in such a well-kept condition today. Terry and Vonda not only restored the old Hospital, but they reestablished its central position in Thargomindah as an Outback icon. In 2006, the building became the Bulloo Shire Council’s Tourism Office, and is visited daily by tourist from all walks of life. Regardless of whether they are city-dwellers ‘on the wallaby’, or visitors from overseas, they are all welcomed with a friendly smile, a cup of tea, and a tour through Thargomindah’s historic old Hospital.
The building is an essential part of the town’s history and its heritage and everyone has a story about it. The old Hospital is a lasting reminder of the medical miracles and unavoidable disasters that Thargomindah has seen, as well as the achievements of a united community, and the hardships endured in the harsh environment. Ultimately, it is testament to the determination of the Australian pioneers, and the people who have dared to call the Outback home. It enriches the lives of the locals and tourists with its presence. As Nicola Pitt, author of Thargomindah: The Town by the Bulloo says “The Thargomindah Hospital played an important part in the history of the Bulloo Shire and that of Western Queensland. … it stands as a monument to the tenacity of the ‘people who opened up the west’”.
(Excerpts taken from Mudbricks, Medicine & Memories: A History of the Thargomindah Hospital 1888-1976 by Elizabeth Pyke)