The Making of ‘Braidwood District Hospital 1858-2000’

Written by Ros Maddrell, Elaine Collins and Paris Silvester

The majority of us were born with a nurse in attendance and will most likely die with a nurse in attendance. In initiating their book, Braidwood District Hospital 1858-2020 History & Photographic Memories, ex-nurses, Ros Maddrell and Elaine Collins wanted to celebrate and honour the nursing fraternity’s long service to Braidwood’s community.

The catalyst was a new hospital being erected around and behind the old building, itself an amalgam of three iterations before the old was finally demolished this October. The first two-storey hospital was built in 1860, then after only 30 years the deemed unsafe first storey was removed in 1893 and ground-floor extensions were added. Further refurbishment and additions were made in 1942, all whilst the hospital continued to serve the community.

2nd Braidwood Hospital 1893-1942, Photo by P.N.B. [Braidwood & District Historical Society Image Collection]

The response to Ros and Elaine’s call in a local newspaper, and ‘through the grapevine’, for copies of photos, news articles and stories, was overwhelming, and in the process of sorting and organising the offerings from ex-nursing staff, patients, police and ambulance members, and multiple local voluntary organisations, a sense of the community working together with whatever was to hand, through hard times and good, was strongly evident and became a thread throughout the book

Also important to the book’s development were the stories that can be told from the social history of Braidwood Hospital – from the old box Brownie and Instamatic soft-focus cameras prone to slight-movement blur, and Polaroids to DSLRs: from the urgent message sent on foot overlapping with the cumbersome telephone exchange and finally desk-top all-in-one communications. From converted station-wagons and volunteer drivers to ultra-equipped ambulances and professional staff: from the basic Holden with second-hand siren to the sleek and speedy police vehicles with built-in communications: from the formation of the many Community Groups over the years who are still assisting all the major services in town and district. From the basic nursing instruments to the computerised diagnostic machines used today: and even, in these changing times, our local newspaper history. All have unexpectedly come to light through this simple exposé of Braidwood District Hospital and its staff.

Ros has been a member of the Braidwood & District Historical Society for many decades and has served as one of its family historians. Consequently, her knowledge of local history, especially through researching the many books she has published, and the interconnections between the seemingly disparate topics, helped add colour and interest to our publication. Generations of the Collins family in Araluen enabled Elaine and her 97-year-old mother, Gloria, to put names to faces so the book wasn’t peppered with question marks.

As the one with the least historical knowledge but with a very basic working knowledge of Microsoft Word, Ros decided I [Paris Silvester] was the one most capable of laying-out the book. When my husband and I came to Braidwood 25 years ago its population averaged 1,100 in town and about 2,500 in the district. The Council has been amalgamated twice since then, and the streets are much busier with tourism and through-traffic from Canberra to the coast. It has always been a friendly town as we discovered on our first visit here. We, the strangers, were greeted with a smile and ‘hello’ as we walked from the park to the popular bakery. During our regular morning walk we maintain the tradition and continue to greet and are greeted by faces in the street that gradually have become familiar, though not necessarily knowing their names.

So, in putting together the book, sorting through the old photos, typing the stories and news articles, learning of the old ways in nursing, policing, communications, I feel as though I now know many of those old greeting faces and have a warm regard and respect for them all.

In announcing the 10 recipients of this year’s Small Grants Programs in June, Ms Christine Yeats, President of RAHS said “History matters and it doesn’t have to be history on a global or national scale to be important. Focusing on history from the ‘ground up’ is the best way for communities to understand and appreciate their place in the world.” As I began putting our book of the history and community of Braidwood District Hospital together her words guided this novice in the selection and importance of the many participants’ donations to it. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Braidwood Hospital Auxiliary, thus continuing the community effort.

11 November 2020

This project was assisted by funds allocated to the Royal Australian Historical Society by the NSW Government through the Heritage Council of NSW