Rushworth's long hospital history
Published at: 19 Jul 2019
Hospital care was first established in Rushworth during the 1930s.
While the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, Rushworth community members had worked hard for almost two decades to bring the Waranga Bush Nursing Hospital to life.
The Waranga Bush Nursing Hospital was officially opened in 1933, and in a detailed history book compiled by Sian Viney in 2011, it was explained the facility was made possible due to the growth of bush nursing hospitals across the state.
Ms Viney detailed how the Victorian Bush Nursing Association was able to establish and maintain more than 40 hospitals.
“It did so by charging an annual membership subscription fee, which was promoted by the association as a logical way to provide care that most people would require at some point in their lives,” she wrote.
With World War II beginning in 1939, the effects of this were soon felt across the country and Rushworth was no exception.
While the hospital was in good financial shape, staff numbers across the whole health sector had declined as workers enlisted to serve.
Following the war, the need for accessible health care options, particularly in rural communities, became apparent, as ex-servicemen were relocated to country areas.
Given the bush nursing model included membership fees, plans were set in motion to develop the Waranga Memorial Hospital after a proposal from the Charities Board to establish a ‘general’ hospital that would be more affordable for patients.
It was years, however, before the Waranga Memorial Hospital was officially opened with a quote from the Rushworth Chronicle on Thursday, May 25, 1961, describing the affair.
“Dr J. Lindell was privileged to declare the hospital officially opened, cutting the ribbon with a pair of specially inscribed scissors which were gifted to him as a memento of the event to express the gratitude of the community,” the story read.
It was clear the hospital’s history aptly reflected social culture of the time and Ms Viney went on to describe the impact the ever-changing local doctors had on the community.
Dr Gerry Gibney was the first surgeon to move to town in the 1960s and it was clear he and his family became entrenched in the Rushworth make-up.
“Their farewell on August 19, 1967, held at the Shire Hall, comprised ‘items, speeches, supper and dancing’,” Ms Viney’s history book reads.
Dr Gibney was followed by several others including Dr Cosgrove, Dr Shaw, Dr Jamieson, Dr Abdul Omarjee, Dr Ted Venables and Dr Rodney Payne.
It was in the late 1980s when concerns were raised about the viability of small rural hospitals into the future.
The arrival of surgeon Dr Roger Steer also saw rights given to visiting medical officers from neighbouring towns.
The surgeons were obviously more than just doctors, Ms Viney wrote.
“The unique personalities of each of the doctors, combined with their work ethic, their professionalism and dedication to the community stand out in the memories of staff from the period,” the history book said.
“The small community setting meant the doctors were well-known and often visited at home by patients after hours. One nurse recalls meeting a local resident on the porch of the doctor’s home, with a towel around a partially severed limb.”
Nurses, on the other hand, were often made up of local employees who were trained in Bendigo or Shepparton, with others married to residents and some also the partners of school teachers.
“On rare occasions if it was a quiet shift, a nurse might get some knitting done or read a book, but more frequently there were mothers in labour, newborns to look after and sometimes other non-medical ‘commotions’ demanding attention,” Ms Viney wrote.
According to Ms Viney, from early in the Waranga Memorial Hospital’s history, Mooroopna Base Hospital and then Goulburn Valley Base Hospital were paid to carry out its administration.
It was partially due to this relationship that the decision was eventually made to amalgamate with the now-Goulburn Valley Health during the mid-1990s.
“Despite the community feelings at the time, many can now reflect on the amalgamation as a change for the better,” Ms Viney wrote.
“Being part of a large organisation has allowed the hospital to remain viable and provided necessary funding for equipment.”
In 2011 the Waranga Memorial Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary, which prompted Ms Viney to compile the facility’s history.
Five year’s later, in 2016, Goulburn Valley Health was successful in receiving state grant funding to redevelop its aged care hostel into a one-stop shop, merging the hostel and hospital services together.
The new facility was began operation this year, in 2019, marking a new day at Waranga Health.