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Who We Were

In 1882, during a period of rapid growth in the Western District of Victoria, The Colac District Hospital was opened.

During the 1870’s, south western Victoria had been occupied by Europeans for less than forty years and Colac was one of the main centres for pastoral settlement stretching to the west from Geelong – there was evidence of the growth of community feeling, as people showed they were prepared to act together for the common good: Colac settlers had established schools and churches and initiated local government; there were sporting clubs, an Oddfellows’ Hall, a free library and plans for public gardens … but there was no hospital …. in 1871, after a tragic fatal accident, the Colac Herald took up the cause and urged the community to take action in support of a local hospital.

The Colac District Hospital sprang from the local community and created a common bond between people, which further enhanced the spirit of the community in the developing district.  The hospital soon attracted support from a wide range of people – some ran extravagant local balls, some more humble bazaars, all raising funds for their new hospital.

In January 1882, the first hospital committee of management was elected by the hospital’s subscribers. ‘Subscribers’ were benefactors who collected over 10 pounds towards the hospital.  Those who donated 1 pound where known as ‘Contributors’.   Any person who donated 25 pounds became a ‘life governor’.

Financial concerns were constant for the hospital management in the early years. In 1886, the government of the day refused to make a grant to the hospital – subscriptions from the public formed an important part of the hospital’s income … from large property owners to their shearers and other labourers.

Generally, it seems part of the story of hospitals that building, expansion and development are never finished.   In the 1890’s the hospitals need for more ward space and improved facilities meant that public money-raising efforts continued.  Not only funds were raised – 48 tons of fire wood was chopped & delivered to the hospital by a group of young men at Forrest & Barramunga.  Easter Fetes, Hospital Sunday’s, Colac Brass Band Concerts, wood chopping contests, dramatic society productions and dances were among many small functions that benefited the hospital.  By the late 1890’s the hospital ball had become a feature of the Colac Calendar with one ball being reported as being ‘one of the most brilliant gatherings of its kind held in Colac’.

Between 1881 and 1901 (the first two decades of the hospital’s existence) the population of Colac more than doubled.  The sense of community which had led to the establishment of the hospital had sustained its development.

In 1902 an extension to the hospital was built to increase the number of beds available – this was financed locally with no government assistance.  In 1904 furniture was renewed and repairs to the 24 year old building and surrounding fence were carried out.  A proper operating table, new surgical instruments, water heaters and a sterilizer were bought for the operating theatre – all this with funds raised for the hospital by the community.

In the early 1900’s although the Colac District Hospital received both municipal and government grants which varied greatly from year to year, neither of these grants met even half of the hospital’s expenses.  The financial worries of the early 20th century were not confined to the Colac District Hospital – lack of government funding was a common grievance of rural hospitals throughout Victoria.  The committee’s main response to financial pressures during the 1920s was to strengthen its direct appeals to the public.

A ‘Wattle Day’, when a direct street appeal was held, became a part of the Colac calendar.  Sprigs of wattle were given in acknowledgement of donations. The main wattle day appeal day, when nurses helped to sell raffle tickets in the street, was the only time they were allowed outside the hospital in their uniforms.

Many groups not directly associated with the hospital ran functions with profits going to the institution, for instance: the Colac Dramatic Company, Beeac Dramatic Club, Colac Community Singing Club, Colac Turf Club.  Functions held around the district all added to the hospital funds – balls at Forrest, Carlisle River and Birregurra, a garden party at Irrewarra, all typical of local efforts.

Other areas of significant voluntary support that grew considerably during the 1920s included donations from schools.  Larger organisations in the township such as Peters Stores and the Colac Dairying Company organized a regular voluntary donation scheme from their employees.

In 1933 a Grand Jubilee Appeal with a target of 3,000 pound was arranged – its motto:  ‘Give a Guinea’ .  In 1934 Colac wrote itself into the Australian hospital history when it opened as the first Community Hospital in the country.

1972 – 1995 saw sweeping changes in health services.  The Federal Government was now involved in hospital funding. Innovative ideas where emerging in the wider field of health-care philosophy.  In 1987 a Hospital Philosophy was agreed to: ‘To provide optimum patient care within a pleasant and secure environment’ – this Philosophy was replaced in 1993 by a Mission Statement with aims & corporate values ‘Quality Community Care’ which was increasingly seen as stretching beyond the walls of the hospital and embracing the services which the committees of 1970s would never have anticipated.

The theme of community remained central to all the activities of Colac Community Health Services

The culmination of these changes came in 1995 when the Colac District Hospital’s 114th Annual Report was the last one tabled.  On 1st July 1995 the hospital voluntarily amalgamated with two other groups involved in Colac health & social welfare and became Colac Community Health Services.  The theme of community remained central to all the activities of Colac Community Health Services – staff members continued to be active in fundraising ventures including the Murray to Moyne bike ride.

On 1st July 2002, Colac Community Health Services became known as Colac Area Health as it is today and in February 2003, over one thousand people queued up in Connor Street Colac waiting to inspect the new Acute Medical Services building of Colac Area Health – the local community had donated in excess of $315,000 for fitxures and fittings – lt was evident that the twin themes of innovation and community involvement, long part of the history of the Colac Hospital, lived on in Colac Area Health in 2003.

The Foundation’s  Mission Statement ‘Colac Area Health Foundation … giving back to the community’ is ideally suited.  Over 130 years of community giving has enabled the hospital over those years to give back to the community and will in the future ensure that Colac Area Health continues to provide ‘Quality Community Care’.

Extracts from: ‘Quality Community Care: Colac District Hospital 1882 to Colac Area Health 2003’ by Dawn Peel ©Dawn Peel and Colac Area Health