Saturday, 14 March 2015

Townsville's First Maternity Ward

Townsville’s first dedicated Maternity Ward was opened by then Premier, the Hon. William McCormack, on 4th November 1928.  Part of the Townsville General Hospital, the building was constructed by the State Government at a cost of £30,000 and was part of an ambitious building program that saw 57 hospitals built within three years.
The Maternity Ward, Townsville General Hospital, 1930
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection

Queensland’s 1922 Maternity Act provided for the establishment and maintenance of maternity hospitals that were built and fully equipped at government expense and would ultimately cater for both public and private patients.  Once operational, the local Hospital Board assumed responsibility for the ongoing running costs and staffing expenses. Women who were unable to pay were to be provided with free maternity services.

Before dedicated maternity wards, attending a public hospital was the least attractive option for women giving birth. Most women preferred to use the services of a private midwife or booked into a lying-in hospital for their confinement.

The options for women who gave birth in rural or remote areas were more limited. Some rural women chose to travel to the nearest town to attend a lying-in hospital for their confinement, but many would have relied on family or a “handywoman” to help with their delivery.

The building program for the maternity hospitals occurred in three phases, with rural women the first beneficiaries of the scheme. Remote Queensland towns such as Boulia, Emerald and Winton received five-bed hospitals attached to their existing hospital facilities, and at Millaa Millaa and Mount Mulligan maternity cottages were built that could accommodate two patients each.

In the second phase, five-bed or nine-bed hospitals were built at Innisfail, Cloncurry and Ayr, while the final phase provided for much larger hospitals in Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay.

The official opening of a new maternity hospital was always an elaborate affair, with many dignitaries present and often several hundred residents in attendance. It was meant to be an advertisement for the “humanitarian legislation of the Queensland government” and in an attempt to symbolise a significant achievement, a special presentation was always made to celebrate the first baby born at each new hospital.

At the opening of Townsville’s Maternity Hospital, the Member for Townsville, Mr M.P. Hynes - who was acting on behalf of the Home Secretary, James Stopford -presented a silver porridge bowl, cup and spoon to the hospital, to be given to the first baby born at the new facility.

“Within the walls of this institution, will be born citizens who will take a prominent part in the advancement of the State of Queensland and the building up of this great Australian nation beneath the Southern Cross,” Mr Hynes said.

A few weeks later, when the first baby (a boy) was born there, the local press were denied another exciting ceremonial presentation, because the baby’s mother was from out of town and did not wish to have her, or the child’s name published.

The building of these hospitals and maternity wards dramatically changed the birthing experiences of Queensland women. In 1928, only 16 per cent of all births had been in government-funded beds, and by 1930 this figure had risen to 28 per cent.  By 1947, a staggering 67 per cent of Queensland women were choosing to give birth in a public maternity hospital.

1 comment: