On a brisk and windy May day in Canowindra last week, a small group gathered to remember the laying of the foundation stone for what would become the Canowindra Soldiers Memorial Hospital 100 years ago. Representatives from the Health Council, the United Hospital Auxiliary, the RSL Sub-Branch, the Historical Society and health service staff, took part in two ceremonies, the first recognising the donation of three chairs.
Dr Jennifer Wythes with brother Phillip Wythes, presented the bedside chairs in the patient lounge on behalf of their family, in honour of their mother Jean, who died in 2019 at a staggering 104 years of age.
“The family has had a long association with the Hospital,” said Jennifer. “Mum’s father was part of the wiring and supplying of electricity. He served as a board member and chairman for a number of years and other than that, the family has been either patients or visitors. Phillip and I were born here. Mum, Dad and two grandparents all died here.”
Jennifer praised the seats, noting they were the “Rolls Royce” of chairs and finished by saying, “Keep the Hospital going — we need it. And here is a chair to sit on!”
The group then moved outside, where the cold snap lead to some discomfort, though the day was bright and clear.
The formal proceedings were led by Health Service manager, Janice Rumph, who opened the ceremony with an acknowledgement of country.
“Today is also National Sorry Day,” said Janice. “Our chief executive officer Scott McLachlan said, ‘Our health services should be places of safety, comfort and care for all people. It is a constant focus for us all to ensure our services and facilities provide those features to Aboriginal people, their families and their communities.’”
After thanking those assembled for their efforts to commemorate the day, Janice called on Jennifer to speak on behalf of the Canowindra Historical Society and share the early history of the Hospital.
“It was cold and windy 100 years ago, so we have done well in that sense,” said Jennifer with a laugh.
She noted the strain of the Spanish Flu pandemic on Canowindra in 1919, which lead to the closure of the school to create an emergency hospital.
“In addition to that,” Jennifer continued. “You had soldiers returning from the Great War and the need for the Hospital was being discussed. 100 years represents the building of the Hospital to treat the Flu and to create a memorial to the 248 men who served from the district and the 56 men who paid the supreme price.”
Jennifer was keen to note the trouble the community went to get this vital service up and running. “The generosity of the general Canowindra district, from Toogong, Cudal and Cargo to Gooloogong and even Eugowra is what got the Hospital built. The cooperation and leadership from the churches was vital. It was a widespread community effort.”
“It is the same as now, when there is a need, Australians put their hands in their pockets. The donations did not just come from one section of the community, they came from everywhere.”
After Jennifer’s address, she called on Jill McDonald, member of the Canowindra Historical Society and Geoffrey Beath OAM, chairman of the Canowindra Health Service Health Council to read Governor Sir Walter Davidson’s original address giv-en 100 years ago to a hopeful crowd.
Janice finished the ceremony with further words on the effort made by our forefathers and the enduring value of the Hospital.
“The community reacted to the needs of the day and began what is a continuing story for today and the future. The point of today has been to remember and value our local heritage and the sacrifices made in the past, which allow us to live a wonderful life in this well-established, rural Australian community and for that we are very thankful.”
Though it is hard to say what the future has in store for the Hospital, excitement is building for next year’s roaring 20s themed ball in honour of the centenary of the Hospital. Meanwhile, Janice is certain that care will remain a top focus for the Health Ser-vice.
“I am not sure about the next 100 years, but we have started planning for the next 10 years with a Clinical Services Plan to set the direction of service delivery to the community. There will be opportunities for community and staff consultation with drop-in sessions and workshops all advertised shortly,” finished Janice.