Friday, November 18, 2011

Fortitude Valley Child Health Centre

A hundred years can sound like a short time or a long time, depending on your perspective. In looking at the achievements of mankind, a lot has been accomplished during the last one hundred years, especially in the field of medicine. A quick look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells me that in the year 1900 infant deaths in Australia were at the rate of 103 per 1,000 live births. By the year 2000, that rate had been reduced to a remarkable 5 deaths per 1,000. As at 2010 the figure stands at 4.9 deaths, and we have no reason to think that it will stop there, particularly if we pay more attention to indigenous communities.

One could hazard a guess at the reasons, and I am sure that many of the thoughts that come into our minds would be quite accurate. But what about the pioneers? The actual people on the ground who made a difference in those early days. We had a couple here in Brisbane - Dr Alfred Turner, the first resident doctor of the Royal Children's Hospital in 1908 was one. He saw 100 children a week free of charge and was instrumental in developing a diptheria antitoxin. Matron Florence Chatfield, who opened Queensland's first baby clinic in rented premises in Fortitude Valley in 1918, was another. Those humble beginnings were the forerunner of today's building, the Fortitude Valley Child Health Centre, which opened in 1923 with Chatfield in charge. A couple of early photographs of the building follow.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #56878) 1927
(Photo:  Courtesy Brisbane City Council; BCC-B120-30647) 1924

In 1922 Queensland's Labor government introduced the Maternity Act, which had four main aims:
  • to decrease the death rate of mothers and babies, 
  • to increase the birth rate, 
  • to increase outback settlement, 
  • and to train mothers in how to care for children
Funds from the Golden Casket were diverted to allow the construction of this first clinic in 1923; this significant deal having been brokered by Charles Chuter from the Home Secretary's Department. Land was bought from businessman TC Beirne, and Cecil J Virgo from the Department of Public Works designed the practical building. Virgo, amongst other buildings, was also the designer of Coorparoo State School. As can be seen from the following current photographs, the building was later enlarged with the addition of an extension on the RHS, skilfully blended into the rest of the design. Unfortunately the first floor balcony has been closed in, probably to allow for the installation of air conditioning.
(Photos: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Although other Queensland Health Services have now been located here, a Child Health Centre continues to occupy most of the ground floor.

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. The Maternity Act of 1922 certainly tackled mother and baby health issues, but they added
    -to increase the birth rate,
    -to increase outback settlement.

    These may have been worthwhile policies but I wonder if they influenced the delivery of good health care eg by making it very difficult for married women to obtain contraception.

    When I had my babies in the early 1970s, I utterly relied on the Infant Welfare Centre in my town. My mother was 15,000 ks away, so the weekly visit to the nurse was a source of precious advice.

  2. In the housing commission where I lived during my teenage years, the Maternal & Child Welfare office was about the busiest place around and the source of much health advice for families who in many cases could not access more traditional health care.


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