Public protest about renewing funding for Bega District Hospital August 1948, Bega
The new South East Regional Hospital is going up at a cracking pace. It may surprise some to know that locals were demonstrating for a new hospital back in the 1950s as this photograph shows. Frank Zingle is on the far left with Charles Ayres (then Mayor of Bega) at the microphone.
Bega’s first hospital, situated just out of town on the south side, was built in 1889. By the 1940s it was no longer adequate for the area. Apparently, patients were moved to verandahs as makeshift wards to take the overflow.
In 1944 approval was given for the building of a new nurses’ home. Locals strenuously objected to building the home on the site of the then current hospital with the result that the nurses’ home was the first building constructed on the site of the current Bega District Hospital in 1946. A year later in 1947 plans for a new hospital in town were drawn up and tenders called.
The estimated cost was £90,000 but the lowest tender received was £120,000. The NSW Treasurer and Premier, Mr McGirr, refused additional funding. The people of Bega were mobilised!
A protest was held on 29 August 1948, shops were closed and a parade formed with the banner ‘Build our Hospital Now’ in bright red letters. The 16 district branches of the Country Women’s Association and the Red Cross supported the action with their placards visible in the photograph.
A public meeting revealed that the hospital was under increasing demand after the closure of the Cobargo, Candelo and Bemboka Private Hospitals. Complaints included newborn babies being placed in beer boxes because there were not enough cots.
Eventually the government approved a full brick hospital at a cost of £273,000.
Work commenced on the new hospital in the early 1950s. However, in August 1952 the Department of Public Works told the contractor that funds for the next year were limited to £30,000. Headlines read “Shock for Hospital” and the contractor estimated that normal progress of work at the site would require £60,000. In fact, funds were reduced by a further £5,000 and work halted in October 1952. No further work was done for about 12 months until in October 1953 the Department of Public Works instructed the contractor to proceed with work on an unrestricted basis.
So why the funding crisis? It has been suggested that the delay was political with the NSW Labor Government trying to embarrass a Federal Liberal National Party Government by restricting capital works.
Bega District Hospital: one hundred years of service by Charles Day, 1989.
‘Shock for Hospital’ Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 8 August 1952, p 2.
Photo: Bega Valley Shire Library collection 008-00208