Aerial image of Westmead under construction, c. 1977 (Source: City of Parramatta Archives, ACC002/61/01)

In 2018, Westmead Hospital marks 40 years of service as a specialised tertiary referral hospital for the western Sydney area. Initially known as the Westmead Centre, the hospital was opened on 10 November 1978.[1]

Embedded within one of the most diverse and rapidly transforming regions of Sydney, Westmead Hospital is the principal referral hospital for the West, renowned for its comprehensive, highly specialised and complex services.[2]

The suburb of Westmead

For tens of thousands of years, the area now known as Westmead has been the home of the Darug people. The 2016 Australian Census reported approximately 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people resident in Westmead.[3]

Parramatta was settled by British colonists in November 1788, resulting in the displacement of many of the Darug people from the area. Much of the area now known as Westmead was declared part of the Government Domain by Governor Phillip in 1790. The name given to northern area of the Domain, Westmead, was derived from the term “West Meadow”:

The Governor’s finest “mead” (meadow) had been set out on the western end of his vice-regal residence, which was the first development of what is now known as the Old Government House in Parramatta. In 1790, when Toongabbie became an extension of the farmlands of Rose Hill, the region became known as “the acres west of the mead”, later shortened to Westmead.[4]

Early view of Westmead, from Mills & Pile Auctioneers, Westmead Land Sale catalogue, c. mid-1800s (Source: City of Parramatta Reference Library Vertical File VF1221 – Westmead)

A Bill was passed in 1857 to provide for the disposal of the Government Domain.[5] Sections of the land were sold off as large residential estates, though the Bill required that a significant area of land around the Parramatta River be retained as a public park. Much of the Westmead area was retained as paddocks for the nearby “Lunatic Asylum”.[6]

Map showing the area where Westmead Hospital now stands marked as “Hospital Paddock”, 1908. (Source: City of Parramatta Reference Library, Vertical Files – Westmead)

In 1883, Westmead Train Station opened.[7]

Westmead Train Station, c. late-1800s (Source: Australian Railway Historical Society)

At the turn of the 20th Century, the large Westmead estates began to be carved up into smaller residential subdivisions. The first was Hinton’s Subdivision in 1903.

Following the end of World War 1, there was another wave of subdivisions across Westmead, including the Whitworth Estate in 1924 and the Toohey Palm Estate in 1925. In 1928 Westmead Public School, which had opened in 1917, was substantially upgraded to educate the many children living in the expanding suburb.

At this time, there were few shops or services in the area – only a handful of grocers and a real estate agent. There was, however, a thriving community life – Westmead Progress Hall opened in 1926, and during the 1920s Westmead fielded a cricket team in the Parramatta District Competition.[8]

In the 1940s, a large number of public housing properties were constructed in the area. The Westmead Housing Estate included 300 houses, a block of 18 flats and a retail strip, featuring a shopping centre designed by the well-known architect Emil Sodersten.[9]

Westmead Housing Estate, c.1940s (Source: State Library of NSW)

The Westmead Hospital Site

In 1877, the Parramatta Horticultural Society was formed, and in 1885 the Central Cumberland Agricultural and Horticultural Society came into existence. It is known the societies held agricultural shows in the Westmead area and it is possible these shows were held on the current site of Westmead Hospital, although this is contested.[10]

What is known is that in March 1930, the Parramatta District Agricultural and Horticultural Society obtained use of the current site of Westmead Hospital by a grant from the Department of Lands. The site became known as the Parramatta Showground.[11]

From 1955 until 1968, the showground was used for the well-known and popular Westmead Speedway. After the Speedway closed, the circuit was briefly used for harness racing. The ‘Parramatta Trots’ ceased around 1973 to make way for the construction of Westmead Hospital.[12]

Film footage of Westmead Speedway race day, held on the current site of Westmead Hospital, c.1950s (Source: City of Parramatta Archives, PRS77/096)

Health Services in Sydney’s West

The history of health services in Western Sydney began with a tent hospital established in Parramatta to meet the medical needs of convicts, military personnel, and early settlers in 1789. By 1818, the site had developed into the Colonial Hospital and later, in 1897, the hospital was expanded and became known as the Parramatta District Hospital.[13]

As the population of Sydney’s west expanded, the services provided at Parramatta District Hospital became inadequate to meet demand. In order to provide the services required Westmead Hospital, initially known as the Westmead Centre, was constructed, and opened in 1978. Acute services were relocated to Westmead Hospital with the Parramatta building continuing to function as the rehabilitation arm of the hospital. By 1991, all services had been transferred to the Westmead Hospital site.[14]

Westmead Hospital, c. late-1990s (Souce: City of Parramatta Archives, PCC Photographs Collection)

Westmead Hospital is the principal referral hospital for Western Sydney, renowned for its comprehensive, highly specialised and complex services.[15] Currently undergoing a multimillion dollar rebuilding program, Westmead Hospital will become one of the largest health, education, research and training precincts in Australia.[16]

Artist’s impression of the upgraded Westmead Hospital, 2018 (Source: Westmead Hospital Redevelopment Project website)

Michelle Goodman, Archivist, City of Parramatta, 2018

References:

[1] http://www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/Westmead-Hospital/About-Westmead/Our-History, Retrieved 10 July 2018

[2] http://www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/Westmead-Hospital/About-Westmead/Our-History, Retrieved 10 July 2018

[3] http://quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/SSC14261 , Retrieved 10 July 2018

[4] City of Parramatta Research Library Vertical File, VF1228 – Westmead Hospital

[5] Jervis, J. The cradle city of Australia: A history of Parramatta, 1788-1961, Parramatta City Council, 1961. p.51

[6] City of Parramatta Research Library Vertical File, VF1228 – Westmead Hospital

 [7] McClymont, J. A Brief History of Parramatta Suburbs. Unpublished manuscript, 2004

[8] Coppins, S and Elias, J. Pictorial History of Holroyd. Kingsclear Books, 2013. pp.52-95

[9] Coppins, S and Elias, J. Pictorial History of Holroyd. Kingsclear Books, 2013. p.100

[10] Jervis, J. The cradle city of Australia: A history of Parramatta, 1788-1961, Parramatta City Council, 1961. p.125

[11] Jervis, J. The cradle city of Australia: A history of Parramatta, 1788-1961, Parramatta City Council, 1961 p.125

[12] City of Parramatta Reference Library Vertical File VF1228 – Westmead Hospital

[13] Parramatta Community Health Services Hospitals and Health Services. Sydney West Area Health Service, NSW Health. Retrieved 10 July 2018

[14] Parramatta Community Health Centre – WSLHD wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 10 July 2018

[15] http://www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/Westmead-Hospital/About-Westmead/Our-History, Retrieved 10 July 2018

[16] http://www.wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/Westmead-Hospital/About-Westmead/Our-History, Retrieved 10 July 2018