Community Centre

Old Bega Hospital

The Story


3 Corkhill Road, Bega.


Anyone may drive in and view the building but the fire damaged main building is fenced off as it is dangerous to go inside. The outlying buildings are hired out.


The move to provide a public hospital in Bega started in 1876 but it wasn't until 1886 that the Government set aside five acres of the Bega Permanent Common for the purposes of the hospital. Two months later a public meeting was held in Bega where the Acting Police Magistrate, Leslie McArthur laid out the research he had done on the formation, construction and operation of the proposed hospital. It was at that meeting that it was decided to build it at a cost not to exceed £1,200.

A committee was formed for fundraising, the design of the hospital and government grants. Plans by Messrs Bolster and Justilius were adopted and trustees appointed. H. Wren, T. Rawlinson, J. D'Arcy, P. H. Wood, G. P. Kerrison and W. Scott were elected, the latter as treasurer. A committee of management to oversight plans, call for tenders etc was also formed.

The raising of the necessary funds was a slow task but by June, 1887, the Government grant was being actively pursued and subsequently the Principal Under Secretary for Health advised that a grant of £1,000 be available on a pound to pound basis.

On this advice, tenders were called for the construction of the building on the basis of the approved plans. Steps were taken to receive promised funds from around the district as well as seeking additional funds. The committee appointed a collector to call on those who had promised funds.

Mr Malcolm's tender was accepted on November 2, 1887. It was for £1,675. By early February 1888 work was progressing well and the total funds to hand amounted to £668.8.01, which of course the government funded on the dollar to dollar promise, down to the last penny.

In July the committee was advised that the government had passed a special vote for £500 for the hospital.

By January 1889 Mr Malcolm advised that the building would be completed that week and requested a representative to attend and assume responsibility for taking over the structure. On January 19 he advised the work was completed and claimed £238.8.0 in extras.

This claim was referred to the building sub-committee and reduced to £77.13.04 which was accepted by Mr Malcolm.

The structure was in three parts, the main section of brick and two wooden wings. There were two out buildings, the infection ward and the mortuary.

It was described in the press of the day as “a neat comfortable looking edifice, and has the appearance of a villa, except for the square boxes at each of the four corners”.

The Mr McCaffery was appointed as temporary caretaker but, after a short time was fired, and replaced by Mr and Mrs Clarke.

Fundraising was still in full swing and as Mr R L Tooth of Kameruka had donated £100, by far the largest donation, he was asked to open the structure on Thursday April 18, 1889.

This official opening took place during Bega Show Week and was recognised by a community picnic. Mr Tooth gave a further donation of £50.

The final cost of the complex, including extras and furnishings, was £1,775. Through grants, subscriptions and donations then committee raised £2,041.17.08. After deducting the cost of the building, plans etc (£81.11.00), incidentals (£87.11.02), they were left with £97.15.06 in the kitty. There was an urgent need to raise £150 for necessities.

The community rallied to the hospital's support by way of donations of cash, linen, vegetables, flowers, preserves and milking cows.

One major and very successful fundraising function was a garden party held on November 9, 1889, in the gardens of Mr Gowing's home in Jellat Jellat.

The first patient at the hospital was Janet Clarke, and the first death was in July 1889, being Jane Whelan.

Mrs Ellen Clarke was the first matron, She had assisted Bega's only medical men, Dr Shiels and Dr Evershed, as a midwife and nurse when patients were nursed at home.

She had no formal training but stayed in the position for 10 years, a “trained” nurse, Nurse Rutter from Sydney, was appointed to the hospital in August 1899. After a month at the hospital she was questioned by the Board sub-committee behind the back of the Matron, as reported in the Bega Gazette:

‘Whatever the nurse said, right or wrong, no chances were given to the rest of the staff to confirm or contradict. The nurse was engaged to 'act under the Matron', and we find that doctor's orders are to go direct to the nurse.’

The paper criticised the committee and the Hospital Board for bad management in allowing the institution to have two heads, two bosses, a condition of management that can only provoke disorder. ‘The Bega public will never allow Mrs Clarke, who has given magnificent service for the last 11 years, to be sat upon ...the Matron shall have under her charge all linen, bedding, kitchen utensils etc, and that she shall report to the House Committee when the stock needs replenishing. If anyone is allowed to interfere, how can the Matron be responsible?’

On October 20, 1899, the following comment was made in the Pambula Voice:

‘Serious trouble has arisen at Bega Hospital owing to friction between the trained nurse and the Matron. After a number of special meetings and several inquiries into alleged complaints the committee have given the Matron a month's notice and the nurse three months' notice that their services will be dispensed with; and a trained nurse to act as Matron is being advertised for at a salary of £65 per annum.

Meanwhile the two lady officials at the Hospital cannot avoid clashing occasionally and in consequence some lively scenes are reported. A Special General Meeting of hospital subscribers is called for Friday 27th instant, to consider the action of the committee, and deal with the appointment of the new Matron.’

The 3rd November edition of the Pambula Voice gave a report on the Special General Meeting:

‘At the meeting subscribers to the Bega Hospital, held on Friday, after a lengthy discussion the action of the committee (re nurse and matron etc) was endorsed and it was decided to grant the retiring Matron Mrs Clarke, a bonus of three months' salary. Dr Marshall stated he had been informed by the Matron that the nurse's weaknesses for brandy was the cause of all the trouble.

Ellen's gruff, bulky, bearded and cheerful husband Bob had been appointed hospital wardsman, whether by his wife or the hospital board is not known. However, he lost his job when his wife was given 27 days’ notice in October 1899. The Hospital Committee moved that Matron and Wardsman be given 25 pounds bonus, equal to three months' salary. Mr and Mrs Clarke left on November 7 after ten and a half years good service.’

The medical officers for the hospital from 1896 to 1900 were J. Marshall, W. Meeke, M. F. Evershed, A. Meeke and R. B. Stoney

Mr Stiles donated milking cows to supply the hospital with milk in 1900. The cows grazed on the common free of charge.

A shocking accident in Carp Street in 1902 highlighted the need for an ambulance. A coachman was unloading the mail at the Post Office when the horses bolted. As they turned into Gipps Street the coach overturned killing Mr Roger Heffernan and seriously injuring Miss Allen, a hospital nurse.

It was noted that “the injured had to be lifted up bodily and carried away and the torture Miss Allen endured while she was being carried away was something frightful”.

At a public meeting in 1906 a wagonette ambulance, locally built by Whyman and Brooks at the cost of £67, was handed over to subscribers.

In 1904 the men's section was built in brick, followed by the women's section, also in brick, five years later.

From its opening the hospital received considerable community support – dances, sports days, concerts and even a circus provided funds for the hospitals' charity work.

Sir Robert Tooth provided monetary gifts. Local residents provided gifts of linen, vegetables, fruit, cakes, cordials, wines and literature.

A new fever ward was built in 1912 to replace the old one that was destroyed by white ants. Big improvements occurred in 1914 with the installation of a new fuel kitchen store boiler to provide hot water. A rotary pump was also installed to bring water from the two 80 feet deep wells to the kitchen.

In 1917 there was a 40 percent increase in patients due to an outbreak of diphtheria and scarlet fever.

The municipal gas service was extended to the hospital in 1918 for lighting to replace the existing carbide lighting system.

The hospital, having reached the requisite number of patients, was gazetted as a training school in 1918. This was a considerable advantage to the hospital, but especially to the nurses working there, and gave an employment boost to the area.

In October 1920 an X-ray unit and electric lighting plant were installed. Consideration was also given to installing a septic system but this was deferred pending the difficulty of obtaining a permanent and sufficient supply of water.

The Bega Valley community was still faithfully supporting the hospital and Mrs Stiles (now a widow) was providing milking cows.

The Town Band gave a number of recitals for patients and these were enjoyed by patients and staff.

Progress had been made on the septic system by January 1923 with the solution to the water supply problem. This was to pump spring water to the overhead tank at the hospital to provide flushing water.

In 1923 the district experienced a diphtheria epidemic and the hospital came to the fore with patients’ treatment. The staff cheerfully gave handled the extra work despite being overtaxed by the sudden influx of patients, and the nurses even gave up their accommodation to live in a tent during the outbreak.

A new sterilising plant was installed in 1924 and a Ford car purchased to replace the horse and buggy. One of the hospital's horses had been called Day and Night because it worked for the hospital during the day and was used by the nurses to visit their boyfriends at night!

One unique way of saving costs was the annual wood day when residents brought along loads of firewood, and the same was done with eggs.

Despite this help the hospital committee had to increase fees from 30 shillings to two pounds, two shillings, but patients would be treated for whatever they could afford.

The system of voluntary contributions financing the bulk of the hospital's running costs continued to 1927 with district collectors calling on contributors, although the committee felt that there should be a more equitable system of forcing all to accept a fair share of the costs.

Despite promises from the NSW Government nothing was done.

Because of trying district conditions in 1928 the year ended with a deficit of £233.

The new nurses' quarters were completed in 1928 after a liberal response for funds, freeing the isolation ward for its proper function and a suitable children's ward was then available. It was also in 1928 that difficulty in obtaining nursing staff became acute.

In 1929 the Hospital Board adopted the Community Hospital and Community Scheme. This meant sixpence single, and a shilling for a family, paid quarterly, half-yearly or yearly.

Because of grave doubts as to the Government subsidy the hospital board reduced staff salaries by 10 per cent in 1930.

The lighting plant broke down and the board decided to connect to the mains of the Electric Supply Company.

In 1931-32 the board was happy with the second year of the Systematic Contributions Scheme, having by then 1,486 contributors. The hospital was painted inside and out.

Major permanent improvements were undertaken in 1934-35, consisting of new buildings and additions costing £5,034 pounds and an X-ray costing £973. The work comprised new wards, verandah assembly, annexes in isolation block, two new bedrooms, sitting room alterations in domestic quarters, old operating theatre converted to two-bed intermediate ward, new theatre, new store and bathroom, new laundry, boiler room and wardsman quarters, nurses' quarters, two new bedrooms and bathroom plus hot water and steam services to most buildings.

Mrs Stiles was still providing milking cows, as was J B D'Arcy.

A further diphtheria epidemic occurred in 1936 placing a strain on the hospital with a 25 per cent increase in patients. The new X-ray unit, which had earlier been installed, saved many patients the long trip to Sydney, 259 being treated in the first full year of operation.

By 1937 the hospital was treating three times the number of patients it did in 1927.

The main front verandahs of the hospital were glassed in during 1937 providing extra permanent accommodation. The advent of a new nurses' ward necessitated further enlargement of the main nurses' home and separate night nurse quarters.

1938 saw the recommended up-grading of the X-ray equipment.

An iron ling, used in the treatment of polio victims, was given by Lord Nuffield in 1940. The board was also impressing on Mr Primrose, the Minister for Health, the need for new nurses' quarters and increased accommodation for patients.

The town water supply was finally connected during 1940, and being softer than the well water, was expected to save money in water softening treatment costs.

1941 saw the acceptance of a tender of £2,035 pounds for the new full wave X-ray plant.

In 1944 approval was given for tenders being called for the erection of the new nurses' home on the site of the existing hospital. The board objected to this, seeing the need of a hospital nearer to town. As a result, the Minister for Health directed enquiries to be made, and these resulted in the recommendation of a new site for the erection of the nurses' home and subsequently a new hospital.

The construction of the nurses' home began in 1945 and was completed and occupied in 1946. However, the shortage of staff necessitated their frequent conveyance by taxi to and from the hospital many times each day and at considerable expense. This was seen as justified because the staff could not be allowed to live a moment longer than was absolutely necessary under the deplorable conditions at the old home with three nurses using one bedroom and staying on verandahs.

The board also sought advice from the Health Commission in 1945 as the best and cheapest way to convert some public wards into intermediate wards to assist hospital finances.

As moves had been made for the erection of a new hospital, the only major development to take place in the 40s was the conversion in 1949 of the old nurses' home to a maternity unit.

The hospital closed on July 2, 1956.

Post hospital

The nurses' quarters at the hospital was used as the Bega High boys' hostel.

When that closed the site became a dairy demonstration farm, but later was rarely used.

In March 1985 the Bega Community Contact and Resource Group put in a submission for funding for the renovation and use of the Old Bega Hospital.

The proposal was that the building be leased out, renovated and put to appropriate use, under the supervision of a live-in caretaker/manager.

It had identified the Old Bega Hospital as an underutilised group of buildings, of local historical interest, and which was in need of renovation and repair, with potential direct use with a minimum of alteration.

The uses proposed for the renovated buildings were: a} Cultural: small-scale music, drama and related, practice workshops and performance. b} Interest groups: clubs and societies meeting-rooms; c} Educational: regular or periodic seminars, study groups and classes; d} Craft and produce: Market and distribution centre.

Funding was sourced from the Bicentennial Authority, the NSW Heritage Council and local fundraising.

Letters of support were received from Professor Robin Gollin, The National Trust of Australia, Department of Youth and Community Services, the Bega Valley Shire Bicentennial committee and The Bega Rudolf Steiner Educational Group. The funding for the restoration came from the NSW Bicentennial Committee and, once granted, a community effort was put into place under the direction of architect Richard Jermyn.

Although various tradesmen were used, such as electricians and plumbers, there was enormous community input into restoring the building.

Once restored it rapidly became used by many groups, so that in 2003 there were 20 fulltime regular users such as the Bega Weavers, Bega Valley Potters, the Artisan Garden Cafe, Bega Family Day Care and Bega woodcrafters and there were also 22 casual and intermittent users. It was a vibrant cultural and community asset.

On May 2nd 2004, a fire broke out gutting the main building. The worst damage was to the entrance, the cafe behind it, the room most people used for exhibitions, music and dance performances and the former matron's room. 

The Government worked quickly to provide a new facility for the Old Bega Hospital Trust with the delivery of a portable building on May 24th. The Trust held its meetings in the new building and managed the hire of the out-buildings not affected by the fire.

The community radio station 2EC, the weavers, and the potters were the main tenants. In the years since the fire, the Trust held fetes and other fundraising activities to raise funds for the restoration of the building. Friends of the Old Bega Hospital was formed to take over the lobbying and fundraising and a Men's Shed was built on the site.

In 2014 the Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, announced a grant of $500,000 to the Trust for restoration of the roof, but when reading the contract the Trust found that it included a condition that it had to raise enough money to complete the building before the money for the roof would be released.

The Trust tried to obtain grants for the building without success until in 2017 it gained a Heritage grant for design and employed a firm of architects who worked with the Trust to produce a plan for a restored community cultural centre.

Working with this plan a further grant submission was put forward which was not successful. In the run up to the 2019 State election, Andrew Constance announced another grant, this time of three million dollars.

A grateful Trust is presently working out how far this money will go towards the restoration.


Charles Day: History of the Bega Hospital in the centenary Bega District Hospital's annual report.

Sandra Florance and Diane Pryor: They Made This Valley Home.

Richard Jermyn: Submission for a Bicentennial Grant.

Bega District News

Compiled by Claire Lupton.

Images courtesy of the Old Bega Hospital Trust Incorporated and Claire Lupton.

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Corkhill Place, Bega NSW 2550