A century ago, amid much pomp and ceremony, Australia’s then Governor General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson officially opened St Vincent’s Druids’ Wing, on Victoria Parade. Melbourne’s major metropolitan newspaper of the time, The Argus, noted the Lord Mayor of Melbourne among the many dignitaries gathered to observe the Archbishop of Melbourne laying the foundation stone.
The Druids’ Wing was St Vincent’s first purpose-built outpatients department seeing 19,000 patients in its first year.
It was also home for nurses-in-training on the upper floors and housed more than 4,000 nurses over the years. This live-in apprenticeship system was an advanced and successful scheme for nursing education at the time.
Some of the nurses who lived and trained in the Druids Wing are still working at St Vincent’s today. Nurse Unit Manager Patricia Noonan and Urology Nurse Consultant Genevieve Duggan have fond memories of their time in the Druids’ Wing in the 1970s, just before the tertiary system took over in the 1980s, and when the model of on-site nursing accommodation drew to a close.
“We would gather in the tea room for fruit toast and a debrief. Some of us were as young as 18, so it was really beneficial for us to share our experiences from the ward like that. Fellow students became like sisters, and of course many of us have remained lifelong friends,” says Patricia, glancing at Genevieve with a smile.
Genevieve recalls a slightly less public destination within the Druids’ – the roof! It was a popular spot for nurses to sneak off to for fresh air and a sunbake.
“I’m really not sure if we were allowed to go up there, but we did because the rooms were very basic and most did not have much of a view from their window.”
But the busy clinics have long since moved on, and the sometimes rowdy upstairs nurses’ home has fallen silent.
The building was increasingly used as office space and was vacated for good around the time that St Vincent’s Main Hospital Building opened in 1995.
At the centenary of its opening, St Vincent’s is farewelling the old Wing, which currently is being removed piece by piece.
“Heritage pieces, like the foundation stone, will be kept to mark its place in St Vincent’s Hospital history”, says St Vincent’s Archives and Heritage Manager, Barbara Cytowicz.
The building will be replaced in the short term with a landscaped park to offer staff, patients and visitors access to an open space with trees and timber seating.
In the longer term, the site will form part of the proposed Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery development which will be Australia’s first biomedical engineering research and education centre.