The Sunshine Ward Story

The decade from 1929-1939 was one of great hardship for many Australians. It was in this challenging environment in 1930 that the decision was made to raise funds for a much-needed new children’s ward at the Ipswich Hospital – by children.  In the days before social media, Queensland Times journalist Fred Ware, known to his many young readers as Uncle William, played a pivotal role in unifying and motivating the community behind this cause. The fundraising achievements of the whole community, but especially the children, in these tough depression years, were nothing short of astonishing.

As far back as 1919 Uncle William had extolled the virtues of hard work in his Children’s Corner column to approximately 100 “nieces and nephews”.  His young readers became members of the Sunshine League which raised funds over the years for much needed items for the Ipswich Hospital.  A decade later when the need arose for a new children’s ward, Uncle William encouraged League members to take on this herculean task:

… we have only to think of how it will help a sick child to get better in a fine new building erected by the loving labour of other children, his pals, to know something of the significance and influence that our new Sunshine Ward will shed on our little friends who go there to regain their health.”

From the beginning, community support for the new children’s ward was very strong.  Those unable to donate in cash did so in kind (for example “a quarter of a mile of eggs” was donated in 1933).  In 1931 and 1932 the Sunshine League presented cheques for £456/10 as promised. In 1933 Mr Meacham, on behalf of Uncle William, presented to Mr Gledson for the Ipswich Hospital another cheque for £456/10. With donations from other fundraising events and government contributions, the total raised by 1933 was £3890, and in the interests of expediting the project, the government was asked to make a grant of, or lend, the balance.  They duly contributed £5000 and the almost unimaginable goal was in sight.

The fundraising efforts of the children of the Sunshine League were commended by many during the course of the project.  At times it appeared targets might not be met, but the community simply dug deeper.  Through all this, Uncle William was “the leader and fount of inspiration to that happy family which strove for the good of the cause.”

Members of the Board of Management of the Ipswich Hospital together with two representatives of the Sunshine League inspected the new Mater Children’s Hospital in Brisbane to gather ideas for the new Sunshine Ward, and were very impressed by what they saw.

By December 1933 the Hospital Committee was awaiting plans and specifications from the Works Department for the double storey brick building.  Discussions subsequently took place regarding demolition of the old building, and contingency plans for caring for the young patients in other wards while the new children’s ward was being erected.

Tenders were called for the demolition and removal of the old building. It was anticipated that closing of tenders for the erection of the new ward would coincide with completion of removal of the old building. Fundraising continued with community events and individual donations all helping to fill the coffers.

Early in 1934 the decision was made to invite Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, to lay the foundation stone for the Sunshine Ward during his visit for Queen Victoria’s centenary celebrations, an invitation that was duly accepted much to the excitement of all.

In October 1934 the tender of a Brisbane firm was accepted for the construction of the Sunshine Ward, with a clause stipulating that as much local labour as possible be used, this labour to be sourced through the Ipswich Labour Bureau. 250,000 bricks from Brittain’s Darra Brickworks would be used in the construction, and the new ward would “embrace all modern developments in design and layout, and will be one of the most up to date of its kind in the state.”

Excavations commenced, and the industry of the relatively few men employed on the site and the impressive progress they made, was noticed and appreciated by many.

Royal fever had reached epidemic proportions since the announcement of the Prince’s visit.  As the day drew closer, shops were decorated, bunting appeared everywhere, a holiday was announced for school children, shops were told they would have to close at 11.30, the Railway Workshops would close at 11am and workers not have to return until the following day.  Fundraising by League members on street corners would cease for the duration of the visit.

On Tuesday 4 December 1934, the train carrying the Prince travelled down the range  from Toowoomba making brief stops at Gatton, Laidley and Rosewood.  A swaggie stood and saluted as the train passed, and a ploughman showed his loyalty by attaching the Union Jack  to his horses’ harnesses. Large crowds awaited the train at every stop.

The Prince arrived in Ipswich at 12.20pm on a typically very hot and sticky December day.  From the station, the procession travelled via Union Street, Nicholas Street, Brisbane Street, Queen Victoria Parade, Chermside Road and Queen’s Park Avenue, arriving at the park for a civic welcome where “a spontaneous outburst of loyalty and affection sprang from the throats of several thousand children and adults” when the royal guest appeared. After the official welcome, the Prince was presented with a rug made by the Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Co. Ltd. After expressing his appreciation, the Prince commented that he would probably not use it that day, but felt sure he would use it when crossing the Atlantic on his way home.

The procession then made its way to the hospital, where again the Prince was greeted with “vociferous cheers”.  Passing through a double row of flag-waving nurses, he made his way to the foundation stone, where the president of the Hospital Board Mr J.G. Bishop welcomed him, stressing during his speech that a great deal of the money for the new building had been raised by the children.

The Prince took the trowel, tapped the foundation stone, and declared it “well and truly laid”. He then walked by the children in the cots which had been brought out into the sun, engaging with some of them.  He left the hospital to return to the station and proceed to Brisbane.

So the much anticipated royal visit to Ipswich came to an end, but work continued on the new building. With hospital space at a premium, 14 children were accommodated in the cramped sewing room while the new building was completed.

By early February 1935 the steel girders were being lifted into place to support the second floor, and the contractor, Mr Sanham, expressed his hopes that the roof would be on by the end of the month. The building would comprise “four spacious wards, all the necessary offices including operating theatre, and accommodation for nursing mothers.”

Finally, on July 28 1935, the dreams, hard work and dedication of Uncle William, the Sunshine League members and the citizens of Ipswich and surrounding areas, came to fruition with the opening by the Home Secretary Mr Hanlon.