Star maps and stethoscopes: Science and medicine in Parramatta

Parramatta has a unique identity in the fields of science and medicine.

European science in Parramatta was evident from the earliest years of the colony, with an observatory established in 1822. The area’s traditional custodians, the Darug people, held a deep understanding of the southern skies for tens of thousands of years prior.

Parramatta was the site of one of the earliest hospitals in the Colony of New South Wales. Established in 1789, initially in a tent, by 1818 the Colonial Hospital was housed in a permanent building designed by Lieutenant John Watts. In 1848, the Colonial Hospital became a District hospital. 1897, the Parratta Hospital site was significantly expanded. At this time, mental health patients were resident at ‘asylums’ in the Parramatta area. In 1978 an expanding population, with increasingly complex healthcare needs, saw the opening of a major referral hospital in Westmead. By this time, mental health treatments had shifted from the large, inpatient psychiatric hospitals to community-based provisions. The Parramatta area continues to see the development of an increasingly complex network of health care services to support the growing and diverse community.

The Darug approach to medicine encompasses the physical, personal and spiritual dimensions of life. Treatments for a variety of conditions are drawn from a wide range of medical skills and resources including herbal medicines, dietary advice, massages, amulets, smoke and heat.

Parramatta has seen the unfolding of many fascinating stories of science and medicine including a family medical practice operating from historic ‘Brislington’ for nearly a century, the pioneering adoption of occupational and animal assisted therapies and the recording of an early European star map of the Southern skies. The arc continues with major redevelopments currently being undertaken at Westmead Hospital, the Museum of Applied Arts and Scientists scheduled to move to Parramatta over coming years, and Aboriginal Astrology subjects being introduced at the Western Sydney University.

Parramatta Lunatic Asylum:1848-1878

Parramatta Lunatic Asylum Dormitory, June 1861 Since the first transfer of patients in 1846, the site has remained home to psychiatric and mental health for Western Sydney, although it has undergone several name changes.  These name changes also reflect changing...

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Westmead Hospital

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

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Avis Alma Stretton – Parramatta Psychiatric Centre

Former psychiatric nurse Mrs Avis Stretton, 1987. Image: Parramatta Advertiser Avis Alma (nee Byron) Stretton was born in 1921 and grew up in rural NSW in Bakara, Menindee. After her schooling, she attended Our Lady of Mercy Commercial College in Parramatta. In June...

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Ellen Curling – Ladies’ doctor in Parramatta

Advertisement for Curling's Sanadentium (Source: Miners' Advocate and Northumberland Recorder)[1] In 1874, Ellen Curling arrived in Parramatta, NSW. By October 1878, she began her ladies’ medical practice in the heart of the Parramatta district to provide much needed...

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Ruby Buchanan – Parramatta Hospital for the Insane

Sister Ruby Buchanan, nursing sister at the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane, c.1907. Source: Heritage Centre – Local Studies Photographic Collection, LSP00072 The Parramatta Lunatic Asylum became the Parramatta Hospital for the Insane in 1878, and in 1916 was...

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Margaret Mary Davies Bannister – Cumberland Hospital

Margaret Bannister. Image: The Pulse Margaret Bannister was a Mental Health Service nurse unit manager in the Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) mental health service at Cumberland Hospital, located in Westmead. Margaret commenced working with WSLHD in...

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John Alexander McDonald – Parramatta District Hospital

Parramatta District Hospital Nursing Staff, 1948. Image: A History of Nursing in Parramatta This photograph shows the Parramatta District Hospital staff in 1948. Seated on chairs from left to right are Nurses Walsh, Ashmeade, Faulkner, Graham, McMurtrie, McDonald,...

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