Leo O'Dwyer's 'Kiama Now & Then'

leo-dwyerLeo O'Dwyer, a Dunmore farmer was at one time the publisher of a free local newspaper, the 'Kiama Sentinel'. It was printed in 1932 but ceased after 18 months in 1933. Leo was a local history enthusiast and one of the Kiama Independent's most popular contributors to Kiama's history, covering in some detail personalities in the years 1920 till 1970. Leo had a great memory of people, events and humorous occasions. His perceptive and folksy columns titled 'Kiama - Now and Then' were very much looked forward to by readers when published 1969-1970.

One of Leo's stories highlighted the rumblings that started in 1970 about the future of Kiama Hospital and he was recommending that 'all sit down over a cup of tea'. His suggestion came from the process adopted in April, 1886 when a committee was formed at a meeting in the home of George Bullen 'with a view to securing a hospital for Kiama'. George Bullen also conducted a newspaper called the Kiama Reporter.

The chief workers to establish a hospital were Joseph Weston, George Bullen and a Mr. Inglis. However many other well known names in Kiama at that time joined and the committee swelled to include the names of Pike, Swindell, Somerville, Dunster, Grey, Honey, Hindmarsh, Tarrant and Ryan. Most of these prominent citizens were mentioned in the recently published 'Chronology of Kiama’. Their meetings were successful and construction commenced that year with an official opening of the Cottage Hospital in May, 1887. An operating theatre donated by George Fuller, member for Kiama, was added in 1910.

The first patient at the Cottage Hospital on the hill at the top of Barney Street was a gentleman named Jackson who died from typhoid after a short stay. The records showed that he died without a will. In July, 1930 the district hospital was moved to a purpose-built facility in Bonaira Street, remaining as a community based service accepting all streams of medical treatment.

Kiama_Hospital_Construction_1930In 1951 a major addition in the form of Birrahlee, a 10 bed maternity wing was incorporated and the first baby born was to international footballer Mick Cronin. A new operating theatre was added in 1971 and a full time physiotherapist was appointed.

However, 100 years after this first committee meeting on 22nd April, 1986 the title to the newer Bonaira Street, Kiama Hospital was transferred to the Illawarra Health Service. The body corporate of Kiama District Hospital, which had been originally set up by Community benefactors, was dissolved on that date. Despite anger expressed at several public meetings and efforts to establish a Community Co-operative, the IAHS resolved in 1988 to downgrade the hospital and move services to Shellharbour.

It also closed the Birrahlee Maternity Unit, the operating theatre and 39 beds. The hospital was closed and reopened but today operates as Kiama Hospital and Community Health Services, providing slow stream medical care, rehabilitation, aged care, six nursing home respite beds and community health services but without doctors. Perhaps as Leo reported in the 70's all involved should have sat down to discuss the Hospital 'over a good cup of tea’ and the inconvenient drive to Shellharbour might have been avoided.

By Graham Mackie