Review for Kyoomba Sanatorium 1916 – 1935 by Assoc Prof Cliff Pollard AM
Deborah Wheeler has performed a tremendous service for the military history of this country and especially for those who served in the First World War, in her two volume work: Kyoomba Sanatorium 1916 – 1935. This history of the tuberculosis sanatorium at Stanthorpe and the soldiers who were treated there, would be unknown to almost all Australians. The sanatorium at Stanthorpe was opened as a private facility in 1907. It was built by Mrs Margaret Allison, the owner of the Kyoomba property. She offered it rent free to the Defence Department in 1916 for the duration of the war and two years afterwards. Twenty beds were available. Later she would offer it to the Department, which they bought in 1918 for ‘very generous terms’.
The Sanatorium was known by several names: Kyoomba Sanatorium, Kyoomba Military Hospital, Stanthorpe Military Hospital and the Kyoomba Repatriation Sanatorium, Stanthorpe. The author has researched in detail the origin of the Sanatorium and its history as a functioning facility for treating tuberculosis. She has provided details on many of the servicemen, who were patients; the doctors, nurses and supporting staff; and the local people who provided an outstanding community service to the Sanatorium and its patients.
Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, tuberculosis was frequently lethal. Of the more than 500 servicemen that Deborah has recorded as patients, 168 had died by 1940. While it would be difficult to know with certainty that TB was the primary cause of death, it was perhaps the most likely cause for many of them! And of course, staff were in harm’s way! Maud Emily Bassett, a Staff Nurse who enlisted in November 1918, served at Kyoomba in 1920. She had worked at the Hospital for Sick Children, prior to enlisting. She died of tuberculosis on 6 September 1923 in St Martins Private Hospital, Brisbane, and is buried in Toowong Cemetery.
Prior to the start of World War 1, the mortality from tuberculosis had been falling. Inadequate ventilation, close crowding of the troops in unhygienic living conditions, poor nutrition, weakened immune status; all may have contributed to the explosion of the disease during the War. Most adults at that time carried the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria; inactive and latent. For many however, it became fulminant and often fatal.
Deborah Wheeler is to be congratulated for this very detailed research into a part of Australia’s military history and its aftermath, that would easily have been forgotten. Lest we Forget!
Assoc Prof Cliff Pollard AM
BD, MB BS, FRACS, FRCS Edin, FACS