Rankin Park Hospital

The peaceful lawns that surround Rankin Park hospital now are a stark contrast to the tumultuous time of war in which it was built.

In 1923 the Newcastle Hospital Board purchased “Lambton Lodge”, the former residence of Thomas Croudace, to use as a convalescent home. At the official opening in 1926, Archie Rankin, chair of the board, announced that a further 60 acres of land had been purchased with a view to expansion. The plans remained but a dream until the nightmare of a second war came to the world. The government intended to build a hospital on the site to cater for evacuees in the event of an emergency. On 5 December 1941 during a visit to Newcastle, the Minister for National Emergency Services said that the hospital was “still in the planning stage.”

Two days later Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and entered the war. There was now an urgent need for an inland emergency hospital, out of range of Japanese battleship guns. The government quickly allocated £20,000 to erect a temporary structure. However, with an eye to a post-war future, Rankin pressed for a permanent brick structure, promising that he could have a 100 bed hospital ready in just ten weeks.

“The government agreed. The Newcastle hospital authorities wasted no time. They gave the architects 36 hours to complete plans, and told them a start would be made on the foundations without plans if they were not ready.”

Newcastle Morning Herald, 14 Jun 1943

The brickwork commenced on 6 February 1942 less than two months after the Pearl Harbour attack, and true to the ambitious promise the building was erected in just ten weeks. Patients were being tended at the hospital by May 1942 although conditions were initially very primitive.

In 1943 it was announced that the facility would be used as a chest hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis. Now part of Hunter New England Health, the Rankin Park Centre provides rehabilitation services for patients recovering from injuries and stroke.

Rankin Park Unit of the Royal Newcastle Hospital, c1950. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Rankin Park Centre of Hunter New England Health, 2018.


The article above was first published in the July 2018 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Some of the details for this article were obtained from “The Anataomy of an Artwork” (2002) by Cath Chegwidden, which is subtitled as “A fascinating history of the Rankin Park Aged Care and Rehabilitation Unit uncovered by the creation of artworks for its refurbishment.”

In particular, the information that patients were being tended in the hospital by May 1942 comes from page 8 of this book where the author states that

“my father Walter Chegwidden (now 85) told me that he had been a patient in Rankin Park when the miniature submarines entered Newcastle Harbour in May 1942.”

The Japanese submarine attack on Newcastle actually occurred on 8 June 1942, so either Walter Chegwidden was in the Rankin Park hospital in the month leading up to the submarine attack, or possibly it was June 1942 he was in the hospital and not May 1942. In any case the newspaper article from 1 May 1942 makes it clear that the hospital “could now, if an emergency arose, take between 100 and 150 cases.”

A picture of the new nurses’s home and a side view of the hospital was published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on 17 November 1945.  Comparing the photo of the hospital in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections, in particular the car parked out the front, raises the intriguing possibility that the two photos were taken at the same time.

A side view of the Rankin Park hospital, November 1945.

Rankin Park Nurses’ Home, November 1945.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
19 Oct 1922"The [Newcastle Hospital] board decided to complete the purchase of 'The Lodge' at New Lambton Heights for the purposes of a convalescent home from the Scottish-Australian Mining Company.
21 Dec 1922Renovations of the former home of Thomas Croudace are being considered by the Scottish Australian Mining Company, and it is noted that 'The Lodge' will not pass into the possession of the hospital for an other two years."
26 Apr 1926
24 Apr 1926
Official opening of the convalescent home, in the former residence of Thomas Croudace. "In addition to the original 24 acres, the board had secured sixty acres with a view to providing room for further institutions which at present were in dreamland. The convalescent home was the realisation of the first of their dreams."
16 Oct 1941"The Government Architect (Mr. Cobden Parkes) announced to-day that a new hospital would probably be built at New Lambton Heights near the Convalescent Home. This hospital is intended to be an emergency hospital to serve the needs of Newcastle district should the hospitals in the target area have to be evacuated during an emergency."
5 Dec 1941"The proposed Newcastle district emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights is 'still in the planning stage,' said the Minister for N.E.S. (Mr Heffron) today."
7 Jan 1942"Newcastle Hospital Board has laid a definite proposal before the Government for an emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights." The hospital would "deal with casualties which might occur in a raid." "A hospital of brick construction— which would cost only about 10 per cent, more than a wooden structure — is advocated by some. Such a hospital could be turned to good use after the war. Conversion of it to a T.B. clinic has been suggested."
23 Jan 1942"Claims for the establishment of an emergency hospital at Newcastle will be placed before the Minister for Health (Mr. Kelly) in Sydney to-day."
This article contains details of how the various hospitals would be used in the event of an emergency … "In anticipation of a state of emergency being declared, hospitals in the district have been instructed to admit only acute cases."
"It is considered that civil casualties could first be treated at [Newcastle] hospital and then transferred to the emergency hospital. Newcastle Hospital would be essentially a clearing station."
7 Feb 1942£20,000 allocation for start on New Lambton Hospital. "Workmen have already started on the job. They have prepared foundations and yesterday began placing bricks. The hospital will accommodate 200 patients. Mr. Rankin has given an assurance that 100 beds will be available within 10 weeks and 200 beds in another four weeks."
18 Feb 1942"The emergency hospital which is being built at New Lambton Heights has been designed for use as a T.B. hospital after the war."
12 Mar 1942"Bricks for the emergency hospital at New Lambton cannot be supplied before March 16 … available bricks had had to be diverted to protection work at Newcastle."
1 May 1942"The emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights, it was stated, was progressing particularly well and could now, if an emergency arose, take between 100 and 150 cases."
1 Mar 1943The emergency hospital nearing completion will be used as a chest hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis.
14 Jun 1943Chest hospital not expected to be open for several months - delay in the delivery of material and equipment has held up the completion of the hospital. This article contains details about Archie Rankin's involvement in the very tight construction timeframe.
17 Nov 1945Photos of the new nurses' quarters at the New Lambton Chest Hospital, and a side view of the hospital.
24 Mar 1947"Representatives of the Newcastle Hospital Board, the Red Cross Society and the Hospitals Commission met in Sydney today to discuss the opening of the New Lambton Chest Hospital. The Red Cross Society has offered to provide sufficient staff to run the hospital."

Glebe Hill Reservoir

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site has a Ralph Snowball photo with the caption “Construction of the water reservoir, New Lambton, NSW 1917”. In tracking down the location of this photo, thanks to Robert Watson I somewhat surprisingly ended up in a different suburb and a different year.

Construction of Glebe Hill Reservoir, 1886. Located at 65 Macquarie St, Merewether. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Part 1: Ridgeway Road?

Given that the photo is taken from an elevated position overlooking a flat plain I had always assumed that the location was where the reservoir now is at the top of Ridgeway Road, New Lambton Heights.

Water Reservoir site, corner of Ridgeway Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

A search of Trove appeared to confirm my assumption, with a 9th January 1917 newspaper article reporting that

“The construction of the New Lambton reservoir was completed on the 3rd instant, and after satisfactory tests were made the reservoir was brought into use.”
Further investigation however cast serious doubt on this being the site of the Snowball photo, for none of the other details matched up.
  • the topography of the land wasn’t right – there is a deep gully below Ridgeway Rd, but in the photo the land slopes down more gently.
  • the reservoir in the photo was of brick construction, but the New Lambton reservoir was of reinforced concrete.
  • the reservoir in the photo was large (from estimates of the dimensions in the photo I calculated the capacity to be 350,000 imperial gallons) whereas the New Lambton reservoir was only 50,000 gallons.

Visiting the site of the Ridgeway Rd reservoir revealed that the 50,000 gallon 1917 reservoir is still there, covered in ivy, beside the new 1954 steel reservoir. It is clearly not the reservoir in the Snowball photo.

The 1917 ivy covered concrete reservoir, Ridgeway Rd, New Lambton Heights.

On the horizon of the Snowball photo there is a very faint outline that appeared to me to be the outline of Shepherd’s Hill on the coast. What other reservoirs on the hills around the Newcastle would provide a view eastwards over the flatlands towards the coast?

A 1940 map of Newcastle shows reservoir locations as small blue circles. Having ruled out the Ridgeway Rd site [1], I then considered Lambton Reservoir [2], St James Rd Reservoir [3], and Lookout Reservoir [4].

1940 map of Newcastle, showing reservoir locations.

Part 2: Lambton?

Lambton Reservoir was built in 1885 and sits in the middle of Newcastle Road at the top of the hill.

Lambton Reservoir, Newcastle Road.

Interestingly, a drawing of the Lambton Reservoir shows that it is the same design as the reservoir in the Snowball photo, with a central dome and two concentric rings of arches to form the roof.

Design of Lambton Reservoir, 1885.

But despite the similarity of design, the topography of the land in the photo doesn’t match. If the photo was of Lambton Reservoir we would expect to see the township of Lambton (including the very prominent Post and Telegraph Office building) before us.

Part 3: St James Road?

The reservoir (marked 3 in the map above) in New Lambton, between St James Rd and Queens Rd was built soon after August 1926. It didn’t seem to match up too well with the shape of the land in the Snowball photo – the St James Rd reservoir appears to have a slight ridge to its right, which is absent in the old photo. Also in 1926 we would expect to see the growing suburb of New Lambton below the reservoir, instead of the large expanse of scrub land that we do see.

Reservoir, between St James Rd and Queens Rd, New Lambton.

Part 4: Lookout?

The reservoir marked 4 on the map above was known as the Lookout Reservoir. It also was constructed on 1926, and its location can still be seen in the empty circular space between the two newer above ground steel reservoirs.

Location of the “Lookout Reservoir”, corner of Grandview Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

The “Lookout Reservoir” seemed to be a better candidate for the Snowball photo in terms of the shape of the land and size of the reservoir, but it led me to an impossible conclusion … the “Lookout Reservoir” was constructed in 1926, but Ralph Snowball had died in August 1925, before construction had begun!

Part 5: Merewether?

At this point, Robert Watson came to my aid, and with some inspired thinking rescued me from my impossible conclusion. He deduced that the reservoir in the Snowball photo is actually situated in Macquarie St, Merewether.

Location of Glebe Hill reservoir on the 1940 map.

I had led myself astray in too quickly assuming that the Snowball photo was looking east towards the coast. It is in fact looking north-west, across the Broadmeadow flatlands towards Waratah.

Glebe Hill Reservoir, Merewether.

Panorama from the site of the Glebe Hill reservoir.

Glebe Hill Reservoir in Macquarie St Merewether is now part of a private residence. Google Street View.

A newspaper article from May 1886 states that the construction of the reservoir began in November 1885, only three months after the Lambton reservoir was completed in August 1885. The article contains a detailed description of the design that matches the photo very closely.

The roof is formed of two concentric arched rings and a dome carried by cast-iron girders, supported by iron columns resting on stone foundations some two feet square.
A March 1887 article describing the Hunter River District Water Supply shows that the Glebe Hill reservoir was almost identical to the size to the Lambton reservoir.
The reservoir at Lambton is built on the hill above the Public school, a distance of twelve and a half miles from. Buttai. It will hold 402,600 gallons. At fifteen and a third miles from Buttai a 15-inch branch pipe, a mile and a quarter in length, is connected with a reservoir having a capacity of 403,000 gallons, to supply Hamilton, Adamstown, the Glebe, and other towns along the line.
Note that although the reservoir is located within the modern day suburb boundaries of Merewether, it is sometimes called the “Hamilton Reservoir”, as that was the principal township it served.
Some other hints that confirm that the Snowball photo is of the Glebe Hill reservoir are the faint outline of smoke stacks in the distance. At the right are two stacks of different size, close together.

Broadmeadow copper smelter stacks.

These are the stacks of the English and Australia Copper Company smelter at Broadmeadow.

To the right is a single stack of one of the A.A. Company pits in Hamilton, and the very faint outline of the roof of St Peters Church in Denison St, Hamilton.

The Glebe Hill reservoir photo is taken from a spot only about 400 metres away from another Ralph Snowball photo taken in 1897, which shows the same landmarks in the distance.

The Newcastle lowlands. 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

1886 Glebe Hill Reservoir photo (top) and 1897 Glebe Rd photo (bottom)

The Glebe Hill reservoir is marked on Corporal Barrett’s 1910 map of Newcastle, situated on Lake Macquarie Rd. Quite possibly the two buildings marked at the end of Henry St are the two buildings we see in the Snowball photograph.

Glebe Hill reservoir, on 1910 map. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.


Acknowledgements

My thanks to Robert Watson who had a substantial input into the content of this article. Thanks also to Brendan Berghout of Hunter Water, who pointed me towards some useful information on early water supply infrastructure, and who helpfully reminded me that imperial gallons (220 gallons/m3) are not the same as U.S. gallons (264 gallons/m3). It was a casual conversation with Brendan on a bicycle commute to work one morning that was the genesis of this journey of discovery.

Bicycle parking at John Hunter Hospital

I recently had cause to ride my bicycle to John Hunter Hospital, and beforehand tried to find out on the web where, if anywhere, there was bicycle parking at the hospital. I failed to find any information on the web, but on arriving at the hospital did eventually locate a bike parking area. So for the benefit of other cyclists …

A bicycle parking area is located outside the ticket booth at the exit of the main carpark. It is undercover and has the added security benefit that for most of the day there’s someone in the ticket booth, which makes theft of the bike less likely.

JHHbicyclemapJHHbicycle