Interview with Wally Freyling at his home in Toowoomba at 9 a.m. on Thurs. 2nd December 1993
My name is Wally Freyling. I was born in Toowoomba on 18 August 1934. My great grandparents settled in the Middle Ridge area on the corner of Ruthven and Nelson Streets. People were self sufficient in those days. They grew grapes to make wine for their own consumption. Under the old home there is still a cellar but may be damaged. I can recall going down into the cellar and my grandmother giving me a little glass of wine diluted with water and sugar. I often wondered why I didn't get more than one drink!
I attended Middle Ridge State School for my State School education. My wife collected a lot of material for the Centenary booklet put out by the school. I later studied at Toowoomba State High School which was then on the corner of Margaret and Hume Streets. After primary and secondary schooling I obtained steam and refrigeration certificates and became an engineer.
I started work for a meatworks in the area. They were the only mechanical works in the district. I had the option of going to the Toowoomba Abbatoirs later or taking a temporary position at the Toowoomba Hospital as engineer for 3 months in 1954. I chose the Hospital. I completed my 3 months work and had been home a fortnight when they asked me if I'd come back. I accepted. The engineer before me had been Pat Lawn (4-5 years) and prior to him Charlie Emmersson for 29 years who also taught at the Tech. College.
When I first joined I had a staff of 3 or 4 operators only (engine drivers). When Pat Lawn died I had held his position in a temporary capacity for twelve months. In the event the Board decided to advertise the position but I did not apply til the Assistant Secretary / manager, Miss Eleanor Cox, on behalf of the Board, asked me to present an application. Someone from Brisbane who had qualifications in the railway was recommended for the job but pulled out. I was then offered the job verbally from the Deputy Chairman Mr Watson and I accepted. The pay was only worth about 10/- more than those underneath me. My pay was about 10 pounds per week I should imagine.
My duties were to carry out all maintenance around the hospital. The polio bath was in ‘D’ Ward which is still there. After the initial infectious stage patients convalesced in this ward. The bath was a great big metal tub. Patients had to be lifted up into the tub and placed on a canvas stretcher in the water so that the arms could move and legs could kick. The water had to be changed after every patient. It took a lot of heating to warm up the tub by steam from the boilers.
The infection ward, where polio patients were initially held, was a corrugated iron building which housed the iron lungs. In the event of an electrical breakdown, the iron lungs had to be manually pumped. This was heavy work and most people could only do it for 20 minutes at a time. There was big trauma with the lungs when patients were regaining normal breathing again. The iron lungs only operated at 2 breathing speeds and these speeds were often different from the patient’s normal breathing. This created problems. Very little maintenance was required on the lungs as they only consisted of bellows driven off a crank that had an electric motor. I came to the job at the end of the polio era. There should be an iron lung machine around somewhere as I kept it. As well there should be one for infants, which I kept to convert into a power hacksaw. In one corner of the isolation ward the TB patients were placed. It was like being in jail for them.
Cossart House, which was the original nurses’ quarters was terribly cold and all the nurses complained. The only heating in the building was in the matron’s/deputy matron's quarters and the main dining room. The nurses’ bedroom cubicles only had room partitions and these did not reach to the high ceilings and you only have to imagine with all the doors and windows on this building (still existent) how cold it was in Toowoomba's winter. We installed power points in each room for heaters but the load on the circuits was too much. The eastern end of the building contained the staff kitchen and dining room. It was and still is a beautiful building. I was told that the contractor went broke on this project. The old medical block and Victoria wing is gone but the theatre is still here.
At the eastern side of the old theatre is the sucker and air machine. It was built from an old Dodge engine, from the first Dodge car that came from Toowoomba. Both suction and air were needed in the operating theatre. Another feature of the operating theatre was a tiny hatch on the western side of the building. One of the jobs was to get up via a ladder to adjust the theatre room clock. Of course whoever did the job had a birds eye view of whatever operation was going on. All theatre cases had to wait for their operations on a fairly open verandah outside C1 Ward. Safety was not a feature for engineers and their assistants when carrying out repairs outside theatre. Belts from the drive motor often came off in wet conditions and it was a hazardous job to replace them with the motor stopping and starting facility INSIDE the theatre.
The nurses dining tables were all starched linen & tablecloths. Every day at 12.30 p. m. exactly the Manager would get up from his desk, pick up Matron and housekeeper and head of the sewing room. They would march down to Cossart House for lunch. When they entered the room all trainees would have to stand. Those were the days of decorum.
Lettie Adams was in charge of Victoria wing, C1 and C2. Top floor was in charge of Sister Fowler, [Actually ‘Fuller’ –ed.], nick-named, ‘Chookie’. Assistant Matron Connoly is related to the present Toowoomba City Councillor Phil Connoly, whose family had a big grocery store in Margaret Street, next to Duncan Thompson's store. Bill Nichol told me about the time capsule buried under a pillar in West Street. He told me it was placed there but no one knew about it- would have been back in Duncan Mclnnes day.
Bill Nichol has a history of the gatekeepers lodge. Both he and his father were head gardeners at the Hospital. People had to report to the Lodge to be allowed in at night. Bill gained his job at the hospital after a service club had given funds for a person to do up the gardens at the hospital. This was a position of only a very temporary nature but Bill ended up staying in the job for 40 years! It was said about him that 'the hospital won Bill by a raffle!" Bill lives in Toowoomba. He is nearly 90 and getting very feeble. Max, (Hospital Secretary). asked me to help him form a committee to research the hospital history.
Matron Fountain ran a very tight ship. She was tough but underneath had a heart of gold. She regularly had a parade for nurses who had committed misdemeanours. Once per week If you went past nurses in that line and even if they knew you well, they were too frightened to speak to you. The hospital was actually a substitute parent in a way so had to be strict. Matron Fountain was awarded the OBE or MBE and Dr Charles Morton received a similar award. He was deputy chairman of the Hospital Board for about 20 years. Amy Birrell, Pharmacy Assistant, was given an OBE. I received the Order of Australia for hospital services about 4 years ago. The governor, Sir Waiter Campbell, presented the awards to me, and others, at government House. The R.A.N. band was there -it was a very moving experience. The ceremony was followed by drinks on the lawns.
In 1954 the Queen came to Toowoomba. I was on duty with the Army Reserve in a guard of honour, outside Myers, when she came. Because of shortage of men, we were rushed to another location where the Queen was due and stood on parade again!
Estelle Thompson’s nickname was “Tommy”.
The laundry steam engine had to be started every morning at 7 am. This was Ken Garrett’s job to signal the engine driver to start this engine for over 20 years and he never missed a day or even a minute.
Des O’Rourke wanted a working iron lung in the early 1980’s after many years of disuse. 1'm proud to say it took me only two and a half hours to get it going. I had it up in old 'D' ward. I also kept an infant lung but its whereabouts is unknown. We pumped our own water in those days and still do.
A big problem in my life was the chimney. I came to work one day and saw the chimney lying over at a precarious angle. The milk truck came in every morning at 5 am. to deliver the canned milk to the kitchen. The boiler operator always went down to give the girls, Winnie Jack, Anne Miller and Maisie McGregor a hand to unload the cans. Winnie worked there from aged 15 to 65. The boiler-man was always given a billy of porridge in the morning or a billy of soup in the evening for his help. Anyway, the milkman on this morning backed in to the guy wire and damaged the chimney.
We could work comfortably in those days without electricity but not steam, which was the lifeblood of the hospital. All cooking was done by steam. All sterilising was done by steam; and all hot water was done by steam. When I saw the angle of the chimney I pulled up horrified. If I tried to straighten the guy rope I would have loosened the clamp and the chimney would have fallen over. However if I kept the weight on the guy rope taut it would hold. I had to get steeplejacks from Brisbane to fit a new clamp to the chimney. This took a week and I was praying for no heavy wind-storms in the meantime!
With the advent of the new boiler house in the early 60’s we fought tooth and nail for a certain type of chain grate for the boiler but were not given it by the ‘so called’ experts from the Health department. They put in an incorrect boiler grate, which would not cope with extremes of steam need experienced in hospitals. With the volatile Acland coal the result was a continual smoke problem, which was the subject of continuous complaints in the press. We were finally given a grate of the type we originally requested which overcame the problem. When the medical block was built we obtained another boiler to run that building.
The old morgue was made redundant about 1954. The little one beside it became the new morgue. It was a concrete structure, which was built by the Public Works Department. The wooden morgue was close to being demolished for a long time. I had a lot of machinery in it at all times so I am proud to say this is why it is still preserved today in its original condition.
Sid Geitz relates a story about the old morgue. As wards-man, he once took a body over to the morgue and laid it out. A few hours later he returned to help prepare the body for a post mortem, to find the body had gone. The dead man had not turned out to be dead after all but was found near the council steps in West Street, quite well, but no doubt suffering from shock! The windmill was located near the old morgue but has been taken down.
The isolation building was corrugated on the outside. The three TB patients I saw there were totally isolated - like being in jail. (It was then that the authorities decided to build the new thoracic unit.) For company we used to stand on the steps to talk to them. Mentally they would have been devastated. The hospital milkman produced a scare. All of a sudden he was popped into the isolation ward with typhoid fever. It gave many people who were milk drinkers a fright.
Dr Bell, medical superintendent, had his residence in the grounds. His nickname was ‘Ding Dong’. All the grass in the grounds in those days had to be cut by scythe week by week. There were also stables in the grounds, which housed a horse and cart. Deliveries were made round the Hospital with them. The horse died but the harness was still there when I demolished the stable. There used to be a large metal painting of the ‘Centaur’ hospital ship in the stables. I moved it to ’E’ ward. The war museum in Canberra wanted the painting. The yardman used to use the cart, himself, to carry coke to the kitchen. He would put himself in the shafts and pull away.
In front of M6 were large palms. They were moved to Wilmot Street but one broke on the way. Once per week the gardeners went down to the railway to get manure from cattle wagons for their market garden at the hospital, which was almost self supporting at the time. There used to be a lot of trees between ‘D’ ward and old maternity. We had a manager at that time who didn’t like trees because of their problems with sewerage, etc. so the surgical block was built where these beautiful trees had grown. Perhaps the surgical ward could have gone where ‘D’ ward is located
Interview by John Clements.
A Story not recorded on tape.
There once was a wards-man who loved post mortems. He used to sing as he did his work. His main hobby was fishing and he often used to give me a share of his catch. One day I was walking near the back of the morgue when I noticed quite a few mounds of dirt. I mentioned these mounds to the wards-man and at first he denied knowledge of them but finally admitted he grew worms in the mounds as they were excellent for catching fish. He further admitted to using some left over parts from the post mortems in the the mounds to encourage worm growth!. I told him to stop the practice, immediately; and, needless to say, offers of fish were declined from then on!