IT’S my opinion that one of the most beautiful campuses of any tertiary institution in Victoria is North Melbourne Institute of TAFE, at Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield. Recently partnered with Swinburne University and renamed Melbourne Polytechnic, NMIT has several thriving campuses around North Melbourne, but Fairfield is definitely the most attractive.
Manicured gardens, and turn-of-the-century architecture reminiscent of the ornate terra cotta -roofed Queen Anne style make it an unusual educational environment. Students of higher-education degrees in the business culture of music, graphic arts and publishing can mingle with future veterinarians, horticulturists, accountants, engineers or beauty therapists, from more than 500 nationally accredited certificate and diploma courses.
The campus was formerly the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, famous for its ‘culture of care’, and for its World War II heroine, matron Vivian Bullwinkel. The ethos of care and education survives in these historic premises, preparing students of all ages and backgrounds for a 21st-century bursting with possibilities.
Until I can work out how to embed a longer video, here’s a half-minute grab of Open Day at Fairfield NMIT: http://www.nmit.edu.au/nmit-youtube-channels/slam-student-life-media/ (That should open in a new window.) With an unusual amount of e-luck, the longer video, about being a student, will be at the end of this post.
Meanwhile, a brief history lesson may be in order: Victoria in the 1860s was rife with fatally infectious diseases, and although a ‘fever hospital’ was urgently needed, bureaucracy hindered the opening of the Fairfield hospital until 1904. In the light of the potential Ebola virus epidemic today, it is to be hoped that our citizens have become less tolerant of laggardly health care than they were then.
Admissions to the hospital had peaked during the post-World War I epidemics of Spanish flu and polio. When World War II erupted in 1939, 720 beds and 56 wards accommodated 3100 to 6800 patients a year. Fairfield was then a training hospital for the treatment of typhoid, diphtheria, cholera, smallpox, scarlet fever. Then came HIV/AIDS, and by the late 1980s admissions had leapt to 10,000 a year. Laboratories and a research centre, now the Macfarlane Burnet Institute, were opened, as Fairfield Hospital gained international recognition for its expertise in research and its innovative multidisciplinary health teams.
In 1996, despite community outrage, a short-sighted government closed this sole Australian hospital dedicated to treating infectious disease. Today, much of the site is occupied by the Melbourne Polytechnic-NMIT. The nurses’ quarters have been refurbished as Yarra House, an on-campus residence for students, where above a door to one of the corridors is a simple, painted door-plaque bearing the name of Vivian Bullwinkel – Fairfield Hospital’s Director of Nursing from 1961 to 1977. Already a famous Australian, she was destined to be one of the nation’s most celebrated nurses. In another post I’ll elaborate on Vivian Bullwinkel’s story.
It is ironic to consider how her career might have been affected in the time of World War I when, in the interests of Australia’s national security, all businesses having links with Germany were ordered to cease trading, and anyone with a German-sounding name was ignorantly suspected of being a collaborator. Anyone of German nationality could be detained indefinitely without charge in an internment camp — and thousands were. Sadly, a variation on this theme is taking place today in so-called peace time. But could you imagine an Australian Member of Parliament being interned as an ‘enemy alien’ even then? It happened in Hahnsdorf, South Australia, to an elected parliamentarian whose second-generation son was a medical specialist in London.
It would be a welcome indication of a more mature Australia, if, like the former Fairfield Hospital, our nation once again truly deserved to be known worldwide for its ‘culture of care’.