The Nurse who helped found the Mount Isa Underground Hospital

As a rough and ready mining town Mount Isa has always needed the tender care of nurses and the hospitals they work in.

The first hospital in Mount Isa was a row of tents operated by Mount Isa Mines from the earliest years of mining operations. The company opened a 40 bed community hospital on the leases in 1929. Eventually another hospital was built on the hospital reserve in town.

When Darwin was bombed in World War II precautions were taken to protect the Mount Isa district hospital in the event of an air raid and the underground hospital was built into the hills.

However the threat from Japan receded and the underground hospital was never used and left abandoned by authorities.

Nevertheless post-war pioneers like nurse Beth Anderson saw the potential of the underground hospital and an associated museum and started to keep an inventory of old medical and hospital stock that might become exhibits in the museum.

One young nurse that saw Ms Anderson engaged in this work was Barbara Shipman and she enthusiastically took part becoming one of the driving forces to establish the museum.

Now 82 and retired to Bundaberg, Mrs Shipman worked and lived in Mount Isa for 32 years, rising to become in charge of operating theatre.

“I was on the staff at the time and a group of us got together at the time to kick the museum off,” Mrs Shipman said.

“The doors were shut up after the war but the nurses used to go up there and smoke because it was cooler.”

The museum was a labour of love for the early volunteers.

“Beth and I – she’s passed on – saved some old equipment,” she said.

“We did terrible things because there used to be a rule back in those days that if it was superseded it was to be destroyed but we didn’t destroy anything. We used to have secret cupboards.”

Beth and Barbara’s unauthorised work was finally rewarded when their secret squirreling became the centrepiece of the museum that was later named in Beth Anderson’s honour.

This article was originally published on The North West Star website by Derek Barry on 10/7/2020.