Brisbane Open House Day 2: Mater Heritage Walk

On the agenda for this morning was the Mater Heritage Walk. My friend and I spent 20 minutes walking around trying to find where exactly the tour was meeting. It was a very stressful start to the tour as no information had been provided prior to the day. Once the tour was underway, however, we were glad that we hadn’t given up. Similar to the post from yesterday, I’m going to start with a little history of the building then show, rather than tell, my experience of the tour. I’ll finish with a few final thoughts.

I am more fascinated now than ever before about the history of hospitals. I guess it’s because I’ve never really stopped and thought about the stories of these facilities and how they once delivered healthcare. I have also never seen the heritage-listed buildings that we visited on the tour.

Mater Hospital History

There has been so much written about the history of the Mater Hospital. If you are looking for something a little more in-depth, I strongly recommend following this link. I am going to try my best and summarise the information.

The history of the Mater Hospital begins with the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic Order that originated in Ireland. When six Sisters settled in Brisbane, circa 1861, they established a congregation at All Hallows in Fortitude Valley. Considering all Brisbane had was a Convict Hospital at North Quay that was struggling to make ends meet, the Sisters decided to purchase some land in South Brisbane and build a hospital.

Flash forward to 1906 when, finally, the dream was realised and a hospital was set-up in North Quay, not South Brisbane. In its first year of operation, Sisters of Mercy treated just over 141 patients. Construction at South Brisbane began shortly after North Quay opened. There was fear at the time that doctors wouldn’t ‘cross the river’ to the south side of Brisbane to treat patients. This did not end up being the case. Plans were given to the Brisbane architectural firm Hall and Dods who had also built the Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home now the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

The Mater Hospital officially opened on 14 August 1910 and one month later, the first patient was transferred from North Quay to the new facility. Just over 8 000 individuals attended the official opening. Five months later, in 1911, the Mater Public Hospital was opened containing around 40 beds for patients. It continued to operate on Mater Hill, near the Private Hosptial, until 1981 when a new Mater Adult Hospital opened. In 1912, the Mater became a training school for nurses.

The history continues on from there and is really interesting so I encourage you to follow the link above and indulge in some good old fashioned medical history!

Story to Share

Before posting the photographs, I just wanted to share one particularly interesting story that was told on the tour. The following information has been sourced from a blog entry by Queensland State Archives titled “Tragedy at Wickham Terrace”.

For context, we were in the Mater archives when our guide, the Mater archivist, drew our attention to a frame containing four portraits of orthopaedic surgeons.


On 1 December 1955, a man by the name of Karl Kast murdered two of these doctors at their practices on Wickham Terrace. Kast had moved from Bavaria to Brisbane in 1939. He was interned during World War II and in 1944 moved to Alice Springs on his release. Kast went to Cairns where he gained Australian citizenship before moving back to Brisbane. While in Cairns, he had an accident at work, slipping and falling against a drain. Although he had been granted some compensation for this injury, Kast re-opened his claim after returning to work after one month of recovery.

According to Kast, his re-opened claim was ignored. This is what sparked his rampage. Dr Michael Gallagher wrote a witness statement of the attack stating that a man walked into his rooms and fired a gun hitting his forearm, chest and leg. Kast went on to kill Dr Arthur Vincent Meehan and Dr Andrew Russell Murray. He also planted a bomb in the reception area of Ballow House that detonated and caused him great injury. Kast would later die of his injuries in hospital. A truly harrowing story of Brisbane’s early medical history.

Virtual Tour


Robin Dods verandah-focused architecture is instantly recognisable. When this building functioned as a hospital, the first two floors were for patients and the top floor were living quarters for the Sisters of Mercy before they moved into a building next door to the hospital.


The light pole that you can see in this photograph is original.


Inside the front reception area. You can see the ceiling is original with the heart and cross pattern.
A photograph of the August 1910 opening day with a plan of the hospital superimposed.
The staircase connecting all three levels in the hospital.
An amazing vintage lift that is no longer in working order.

Inside the Archives

An example of a nursery cot from the 1930’s. The Children’s Hospital was built after the Mater Public Hospital.
Barbie Nuns on the top shelf.
An original plan of the Mater Private Hospital.
There were images on display on all walls of the archives showing the building stages of the hospital and some interiors.
A cabinet showcasing all kinds of medical objects.
Outside on the verandah.
The original hospital that ran temporarily in North Quay.
Photographs of the hospital’s interior.
These pages contain all the information you need to know on how to bathe a patient.


Whitty Building

Lift down to the morgue.

Sisters of Mercy Chapel





Final Thoughts

Overall, I found the tour to be well-paced and interesting. The stories about how the old hospital operated, in particular, were great to hear. This was enhanced by the fact that we were exploring the heritage building and seeing for ourselves where some of the stories took place.

I wish it had been a little better organised. The second tour we went on today, the Walter Taylor Bridge tour, sent emails prior to the event confirming meeting place and time. Other than that, the tour ran smoothly and to time.

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