The first half of the twentieth century saw crippling childhood diseases – tuberculosis of the bones and joints, osteomyelitis and poliomyelitis – spread through communities. These diseases were highly contagious and left many children with permanent disability. The Children’s Hospital in Carlton did not have the capacity or resources to handle the influx of children needing long-term care due to these debilitating diseases.

Many medical staff at the hospital had served in the First World War and undertaken medical training in Europe. They witnessed the developments of orthopaedic and rehabilitation treatments used on returned soldiers and believed these new treatments could also benefit children.

One such treatment was heliotherapy (Helios is the sun god in ancient Greek mythology). Championed by Swiss doctor, Auguste Rollier, heliotherapy was designed to expose a patient to the healing powers of the sun and fresh air in a bid to kill bacteria, increase vitamin D levels and improve immune function. Special buildings, called sanatoriums, with long open-air balconies were constructed across Europe. Heliotherapy became a popular method of treating bone and joint diseases.

The Committee of Management raised funds to build an orthopaedic hospital dedicated to treating children suffering from orthopaedic disease. Opened in 1930 with 80 beds, The Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Mt Eliza was the crown jewel of the hospital due to its beautiful architecture and location, and would continue to be so for over 40 years. By the 1930s one third of hospital expenditure was on the treatment and after-care of ‘crippled’ children.

Treatment techniques included heliotherapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The progressive philosophy behind these treatments led to the development of paediatric rehabilitation and Allied Health services. The mid 1950s saw major breakthroughs in vaccine research and development. The first polio vaccine was introduced to Australia in 1956 and by the 1960s vaccines prevented epidemics of infectious diseases from ravaging Victorian communities, dramatically reducing the disease burden on our population. By 1971 a hospital facility like Mt Eliza was no longer required and the remaining patients were transferred to the new Parkville hospital.

After the hospital closed down, the buildings were used for an aged care facility and then administration offices by Peninsula Health Council. In 2019 the site was sold to developers for $17.5 million.

Related films:

Christmas Festivities, A Healing Tide, Uncle Bobs Club, Final Days at the Mt Eliza Orthopaedic Hospital.