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Expanding Health Care to Mothers

Nursing in 1971The end of the Second World War marked an exciting and innovative period in Mater’s history. In 1946, Archbishop Duhig announced that a maternity hospital would be built on the campus.

The ambitious maternity hospital proposal would enable Mater to provide care throughout every stage of life, from birth to death. In addition, the new facility would provide training in obstetrics for Mater’s resident medical officers. As a university hospital, Mater would be further entrenched as a necessary part of Queensland's hospital network.

Financing a new maternity hospital was to be the sole responsibility of the Sisters of Mercy and a lengthy period of fundraising commenced.

The Mater Mothers’ Appeal made Mater more widely known in the general community and consolidated esprit de corps among Mater people, particularly the various voluntary auxiliary committees.

A grand foundation stone ceremony on 16 May 1948 put the prospect of a new maternity hospital, which had been designed by Mater’s long-standing, trusted architects, Hall and Phillips, squarely before the public.

Fundraising activities, such as bottle and rag drives, Mater fetes, chocolate wheels, fashion parades and raffles attracted a wide support base and raised A£100 000 within the first three years. This figure fell short of the amount needed, however, which was expected to be over the A£1 million mark.

On 30 April 1952 a contract was signed with builders K D Morris. The financial situation dictated that it was a cost-plus contract, with the shell of the building to be completed first and each storey outfitted as funds became available.

The brick shell slowly rose in a prominent position facing Stanley Street, however, a great deal more money was needed quickly. Art unions—which had been successful in raising funds for the first hospitals—provided the answer, with the first Mater Home Art Union being run in 1954. By 1956, Art Unions and other activities had raised A£800 000. By this time, costs for the hospital had reached A£1 650 000. Arrangements were made with the hospital's bank, ANZ, giving the project a much needed injection of additional funds.

Mater Mothers’ Hospital was officially opened in December 1960 and offered 70 public and 70 private beds, accommodation for 100 resident staff and physiotherapy, pathology and X-ray departments.

The hospital’s New Life Centre opened in April 1991. The Centre has enabled the hospital, which is a specialist centre for critically ill infants, to better cope with the increasing numbers of tiny patients who are referred from all over northern New South Wales and Queensland. The extensions provided new operating theatres, labour wards and a birthing centre where patients could be attended by midwives and new intensive and special care nurseries.

Mater Mothers’ Private Hospital’s redevelopment, which provided more modern facilities for mothers and their babies, was completed in 1992.

The addition of Mater Mothers’ Hospital elevated Mater's campus into a large and complex hospital system. Today, nearly fifty years later, Mater Mothers’ continues to play a special role on Mater Hill. In fact, one in six Queenslanders have been born at the hospital which gives some indication of Mater’s special place in the Queensland community. 

Disaster Fires Up Community Support

For many years, the Sisters of Mercy had been aware that Mater Public and Mater Children’s Hospitals were in desperate need of upgrading.

The Children’s Hospital was found to be most in need of attention. It appeared that, once again, the Sisters of Mercy would be seeking support from the community. However, a completely unforeseeable event enabled Mater to attract extensive community support and gain government backing.  

On 12 May 1971, a fire erupted in the ceiling and roof structure of the university section at the rear of the Children’s Hospital. Each one of the 119 young patients was evacuated in a calm, purposeful manner and newspapers provided extensive coverage of nurses carrying children out of the hospital.

The media coverage inspired the community. Donations and offers of help flowed in. Queensland Newspapers, particularly its chairman, Reg Leonard, took a close look at the needs of Brisbane’s two children’s hospitals. His first step was to make the hospitals beneficiaries of the Good Friday Appeal conducted by 4BK, which was owned by the newspaper group.

This impetus created the perfect climate to present a major submission to the government on the urgent needs of both the Adult and Children’s Hospitals. Furthermore, the Sisters began making long-term plans for Mater’s future. In late 1971, construction on a three floor extension commenced at Mater Children’s site, which opened in 1976.

After much discussion and negotiation, Mater gained the government support for which it had lobbied over many decades. In 1975, the Queensland Health Minister, Llew Edwards, announced that it would fund the construction of a completely new Mater Adult Hospital, which opened in 1981.