The foundation stone for Oamaru’s former hospital (known locally as ‘the hospital on the hill’) was laid by Deborah Shrimski (the wife of Samuel Shrimski, who was himself a reputable businessman) on 2nd April 1872. All of the shops in the town were closed for the entire day to commemorate the event. After that, the hospital was constructed remarkably quickly and it opened at the end of the same year; although, the first patient, twelve-year-old James Riddell, had been admitted the previous month. The new public facility had four small wards (each equipped with two beds each), a day room, a surgery and two rooms for the warder and his wife. An additional attached wooden building housed a kitchen and wash house. In its first year, sixty-three patients were admitted to the hospital. Although a fee was expected where possible (£1 weekly), the committee in charge of such affairs never pressed for payment. Unfortunately, though, this lenient and humane attitude toward health led to some patients, who were more than capable of paying, avoiding to do so.
Over the years, as New Zealand’s population grew, so did its facilities to cope with the increasing number of people. Oamaru Hospital was one of those services that was extended and improved, and by the 1980s the site was completely transformed. Nevertheless, the beginning of the 1990s brought new Government health reforms and with them uncertainty as Area Health Boards were abolished and replaced with bureaucracies whose aim it was to ‘rationalise’ health costs and delivery. Subsequently, new hospital charges were introduced and many hospitals, including Oamaru’s, had to be downgraded. Despite largescale protests which saw half of Waitaki’s population attend a citizen’s march, hospital services were ‘rationalsied’. By 1997, all surgical operations requiring anaesthetic had ceased at Oamaru, and the Maternity Annexe was closed. This resulted in many jobs loses.
Things changed for the better, however, in 1998 when the Government announced that a $5 million loan would be provided towards the construction of a new Oamaru Hospital. Essentially, the funding was attained thanks to a community of lobbyists who had spent years trying to secure the continuation of services for the Waitaki population. A new hospital was constructed in 2000 and all services and staff were moved to the new site. Thereafter, the old hospital on the hill was closed. The original plan had been to redevelop the old buildings into a residential area; yet, the only development that took place between 2000 and 2016 was the conversion of the former maternity annexe into the Eden Gardens motel. As for the rest of the site, it rapidly deteriorated due to vandalism. Today, most of the site has been demolished, to make way for a proposed residential housing estate, but work on the project has stalled as parts of the hospital have had to be used as landfill for stabilisation purposes.
Our Version of Events
The old Oamaru Hospital site is one we’ve visited several times, usually on our way up to Christchurch as it’s an ideal stopping-off place. Each time we’ve visited, though, we’ve normally just loitered by the car while the Urbex Central boys have gone off to take photos of some ‘amazing boiler house’. I can’t say we’d ever been in an interesting boiler house before, so we were of the opinion that it was a bit of a desperate explore. However, what we didn’t realise when was that it contained an enormous boiler system and several additional rooms. For some reason, this part of the hospital survives and remains relatively intact. This is probably due to its relatively concealed location.
Anyway, on this occasion, we thought we’d bite the bullet and go take a look at this ‘epic’ forgotten place. And, I can say now that I’m glad we did go do some investigating. Props to Urbex Central for actually finding it too, since there’s nothing immediately obvious about the place at all. God knows what possessed them to wander down there in the first place.
Once you find it, then, the first thing you enter is a kind of locker room and toilet block. If you pass through this you find yourself at the top of a staircase that takes you down into the boiler house itself. At the bottom, there are three doors to choose from. The one to the immediate right takes you into the boiler room, the one to the left into two smaller rooms that house some heavily decayed machinery and the one behind takes you into a room that eventually joins the large boiler house. We started with the main part of the building and were instantly awestruck at what we found. The entire room, which was pitch black, was filled with plenty of archaic machinery, mostly from Northern Ireland. The smell of damp and decay was quite powerful, but that was to be expected I guess and the place doesn’t really get aired out very often. All in all, we spent around thirty minutes inside the building. It doesn’t take very much time to wander around it all, but there is plenty to take snaps of.
Explored with Nillskill and Bane.