Interview with Frank Reilly held at Toowoomba Hospital premises, 43 Joyce Street on 14th February 1994 at 8.30 a.m.
My name is Francis John Reilly. I was born in Toowoomba on 1st January, 1929. I attended North State School before attending Toowoomba Technical College, which was the only High School in Toowoomba at the time. North School are holding anniversary celebrations in September this year. Mr Allen was a teacher there and Mr Dewar took us for woodwork. North Boys’ & Girls’ Schools were separated by a high fence. - No fraternisation at that time!
I was living in Anzac Avenue then. That was the reason they planted all the trees there. In memory of the Anzacs. The trees are camphor laurels.
I left Toowoomba Tech. when 15 years old. There was a position, at the time, advertised for a junior at the hospital to become a dresser. Unfortunately in those days you had to have first aid and home nursing certificates. However, Mr Mclnnes offered me a position in the laundry until I got these certificates. The laundry had heating under the floor. It had two big tumblers and washers in those days as well as a mangle. Lots of ironing was done by the girls.
I was in the laundry for eighteen months then went into the wards as well as doing outside work. I delivered linen and did truck work. I also went down town to collect groceries. We've got a couple of photos of cars we'll look at. There's one of the early utilities they used to have here. It was a Morris utility built in the early 1940's. With the ute, at 7a.m., you had to go to outpatients fronting West Street. We collected dirty linen there as well as 'E' ward and the isolation ward. In my time 'E' ward was a ward for old ladies. Its still up there. Gardeners use it as a rest room. Both 'D' ward and 'E' ward had rollup blinds in the early stages. We brought back linen to the laundry, cleaned up, then took breakfast to the mothers’ hospital and nurses quarters. The food was delivered in containers on steel trays. Had to be quick as no heating. After that job we collected the dirty linen around the main block, 'D' ward, 'C' ward, 'B' ward and 'A' ward and took it back to the laundry. In the photo, the chap on the left was Ron Murray and the other myself, the tall, slim one. The apron worn was part of our uniform, which had to be worn in the wards.
The other photo includes a Holden ute. It was purchased as an additional vehicle because of an increase in workload. We needed a large ute to take goods to Oakey Hospital, which had been obtained from the army, & Mt Lofty. The nurse in the photo is Norma Rust.
I was part of the ward staff. At 8.30 a.m. we were allocated ward duties. By that I mean catheritisation, enemas, assisting physiotherapists and other jobs. As well as that, just after the war we were allocated Tuesday & Thursday nights to assist in the V.D. clinic at outpatients. Surprisingly, I did not know what went on in those days. I asked the clinic sister what I should do. She said 'Give injections'. The only problem was that I had not done them before. I thought I had better read all about V.D.and its dangers and from then on I started the job. Long needles were injected into the behind in the days when penicillin was first introduced.
As years went past, Dr Tuffley, the first orthopaedic surgeon arrived. He was interested in doing some practice work on bones & used to do this in the mortuary. He was looking for a young man to learn theatre work and do a theatre technician’s course which took 4 years in those days. It was Friday and he asked me to start work in the theatre on Monday!. I said I was quite happy where I was but he said, “I expect to see you Monday morning in theatre”. I wondered whether I should toss the job as he was regarded as a fairly hard man. However I started in the theatre and from that day on I haven’t looked back. I finished the course as Anaesthetic and Operating Theatre Technician in 1965. I was one of the first to do the course in Queensland. The course originated in Birmingham. It eventuated probably when Dr Tuffley went to Britain to do his F.R.C.S. The purpose of the anaesthetics course was to assist with the anaesthetics in theatre as well as doing all autoclaving and lecturing nurses on autoclaving procedures. Part of the course information was obtained from the Royal Melbourne Technical College and on account of this I had to make sure that all the osteotomes, scalpels and needles were all sharpened because this was before the disposable age. I also applied plasters to patients. Jobs were many and varied, I also worked in the morgue and assisted government medical officers and hospital doctors at post mortems.
The first head wardsman at the hospital was named Ted Young. He lived in West Street close to the hospital. This night it was a bad night. Had 3 deaths and they couldn’t open the morgue door. They contacted Ted and he came down and in a few moments had the door open. Suddenly a dog raced out between Ted’s legs!. I believe this frightened everyone and caused a bit of chaos at the time. The mortuary was of wood construction. There was no refrigeration in those days .In my time they had a good band of people at the hospital. They were a close knit family & worked as a team. The kitchen was one of the most interesting jobs. They cooked on fuel stoves and it was the gardener's job to make sure there was plenty of wood provided in the fuel box near the kitchen.
Another interesting thing is that the hospital has a large area of land and this morning, as I'm speaking here, (43 Ioyce Street) this land used to be owned for sheep grazing by Plant, the butcher, and I said some time ago that some day the hospital should buy some of this land & they have! It’s strange it’s turned out this way - the hospital buying two houses in Joyce Street.
The first matron I remember was Matron Cossart and the other was Matron Fountain who is in the photo I have here. The deputies I knew included Sister Williams who lived on the corner of Helen and Vacy Streets and Sister Connole who was with Matron Fountain. In those days the war was just finishing and there were a lot of men employed in the hospital with experience in medical matters in the army. We approached Matron Fountain one day to see whether she would consider allowing males to train as nurses. However in those days it was unheard of.
The doctor who stands out in my mind is Dr James Bell. He was medical superintendent here. He lived on the premises just west of Cossart House where the nurses quarters were. He was a brilliant man & his expertise was in radiology but he was an all-rounder. He was interested in the vegetable garden here and had his own fowls and pony, which his daughters rode. Whilst on holidays he got me to sleep here to look after his fowls, etc. I can recall he came to the hospital those days in a vehicle with a gas producer on it. He was a man, who, on his day off, used to wear a singlet and old shorts. He used to go through the wards of an afternoon and night. Visitors would say 'Who's that man?' and the comment would come 'He's Dr Bell, the Medical Superintendent'. He's a man I had a lot of respect for.
We have a photo of a float here. Two of us decided to put a float in the first Carnival of Flowers procession. My brother did the sign-writing. We used paper flowers but a couple of days before the Carnival we ran out of flowers!. We had to go on our motorbikes to Warwick & Ipswich to get more paper as Toowoomba had run out. I am in the front of the float in the photo. We had no support- it was more or less left to us. We did it because we wanted more enthusiasm in years to come. We have another photo taken of 2 doctors who used to live in the old gatekeepers cottage, which fronted the West Street entrance to the Hospital. The 2 doctors were Drs O.Riley & Todd (1950.s) Another photo was of another Carnival Float with the title: ‘Nurses through the Ages’.. They did the floats for a few years.
Another photo (in colour) is of the Mothers’ Hospital. It certainly looks out on its own. It was one of the newest additons to the hospital after World War II. In those days the hospital had a large area of vacant land. There was a very big vegetable garden in my time run by Mr Bill Nichol. He had the sign: ‘Dew Drop Inn’. on his shed.
We have a Baby Brownie photo of Cossart House. As you can see from the back of the old Mothers’ Hospital to the front of the Nurses Quarters was a fence. The fence was for aesthetic purposes only and was painted yellow. There were palms in front of Cossart House. We also have another larger photo of Cossart House with palm trees still in front. The front of the building was covered in.
I saw 2 polio epidemics, in 1946 and 1951/2. I can recall at one stage we had 3 iron lungs going. I can recall one Friday afternoon there was an urgent call from Townsville Hospital that they didn.t have enough iron lungs up there. So we put one on the train that afternoon. On
one occasion the electrical workers went out on strike and that night the electricity went off. A wardsman and myself had to pump that iron lung. It was a big job. We had to watch the rubber bellows on the lung. They used to get holes in them. We had to quickly replace them if that occurred. We pumped for 20 minutes to 1/2 an hour at a time. The polio ward was up in the old isolation ward to the south of where the mortuary was. The iron lungs were positioned on the western side of the building. The patients recuperated in ‘D’ ward after getting over the infectious stage. In this ward they used to have a large old bath for exercise purposes. From a patients point of view it would be frightening to be in an iron lung. Only 2 openings -one for the body and one for toilet purposes. I can remember clearly Jean McGrath who was a polio patient. She lives in the Miles district. 1952 was the big polio outbreak. The polio ward has been knocked down. It was fibro on the outside.
Around the old buildings in those days were large drains and it was the gardeners’ duty to keep the drains clean. Every month the drains had to be whitewashed & they stood out as clear as a bell. The large area of land at the hospital had grass which had to be cut. Scythes were used. It was a big job.
Occasionally over the years there were tetanus cases admitted to the isolation ward. With the railway line near by, the noise could disturb the patients so the railways people were asked not to blow the train whistle near the hospital.
My wife was on the staff of the Hospital. Both of us worked in the theatre in those days. We met at the Hospital and got married in 1964 at Wesley Church in Neil Street. After a short recuperation after nurse training Ros came back to the Casualty Department and ended up as sister- in-charge. She then moved over to nurse education and was at the hospital for many years. Now because of changes in nurse education she moved to the University of Southern Queensland about 1988.
I left the hospital service about 30 years ago, not long after we were married. I had been on the hospital staff for about 20 years. I had seen enough of sickness and accidents from a hospital viewpoint and wished to see it from another angle so joined the ambulance.
Dr Freshney founded the ambulance in 1902, as he was disturbed at the way patients were arriving at the hospital in drays and bullock teams. He conferred with Mr Aland and together with fine spirited Toowoomba citizens they decided to obtain an Asford litter to carry patients. It was positioned in Mr Alands grocery store where the Commonwealth Bank now stands (cnr Ruthven & Russell Streets). Later it was on the platform of the Toowoomba Railway Station. As roads were no good in those days the way to travel was by rail & they used to take the litter out by rail to country patients. The Ashford litter is now in the Cobb & Co. Museum.
I can recall the day Sister Kenny came to the hospital after coming from America about the early 1950’s. She instructed the staff in the use of her blanket treatment. She went through the polio wards and introduced this treatment. She got members of the medical & nursing profession together and basically had a seminar with them. (There was a written history of the ambulance produced. I retired as Deputy Superintendent of the Ambulance in 1993).
There were a couple of plaques in the operating theatre area. One at the entrance to the theatre and another at the main entrance to the hospital- near the switch. Their inscription was in Greek or Latin. It was a portion of the Bible & it meant, “God is in the midst of her, he shall take care of her.” The plaque should be in Cossart House and the other could be in the operating theatre block of today.
Interview by John Clements of the Toowoomba Base Hospital
Further information supplied by Frank at a later date
1. James Taylor (Snr) paid for the covered way between the old medical block and "D' ward
2. Tape was criss-crossed on all the hospital windows during the war. This was done in case of Japanese bombings.
3. Patients were lowered by stretchers from top floors in practice runs during the War.