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13 Jul 2017

History Image

In memory of Prince Henry’s

The 1930s saw a revolution in hospital design in Melbourne, with a series of new hospitals constructed in the inner east, such as the Freemasons, the Mercy, St Vincent’s and the Epworth.

Styling was based on a European model, with wide balconies, colourful interiors, the latest machinery and equipment used to efficiently provide meals, the most up-to-date facilities in operating theatres, and the latest materials used to minimise dirt and dust.

On the south side of the city, Prince Henry’s Hospital (PHH) began to arise on St Kilda Rd in 1936 on a site next to the Melbourne Homoeopathic Hospital.

PHH was built in sections and designed in the latest style (now known as Art Deco). The centrepiece was the highly stylised and rectangular 11-storey cream brick central block that dominated the skyline of what is now Southbank when it opened in October 1940.

The architectural firm of Leighton & Irwin was responsible for Prince Henry’s (and a number of other hospitals) and their design embraced the principles of fresh air, cleanliness and space and included facilities for out-patients, casualty, pathology and a nurses’ home.

As well as providing a full range of diagnostic, surgical (with air-conditioned operating theatres) and recuperative services for the sick, it was a fine teaching hospital. It supported about 330 beds and an extensive medical research division.

As usually happened in the development of hospitals, large sums of money were raised from the local community by auxiliary committees at events such as balls, fetes, community singing nights, massed-band performances on the MCG, card nights, sporting events (monster sports galas). Grants were also provided by South Melbourne Council.

Like most hospitals in this era, expectations of patient care were dramatically different to those of today. Patients were generally in eight-bed wards, each screened with a curtain.

The former staff have many happy memories of working at PHH, particularly the nurses who trained there and had to live on the premises, and recall the frivolity and the breaking of curfews and sneaking in boyfriends. Hard work and long hours, together with dealing with pain and suffering, brought the student nurses together.

Former patients fondly remember the views of the city, the Domain and the bay through large windows and being wheeled onto the balconies and the roof to assist in their recovery.

PHH was closed in 1991 and demolished in 1994 to make way for a high-rise block of apartments, and its services transferred to Monash Hospital. But many still regret the loss of a fine hospital, in a location well-served by public transport.

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