INTERVIEW WITH MR JIM McNULTY, FORMER SECRETARY / MANAGER OF THE TOOWOOMBA HOSPITALS BOARD
My full name is Leslie Clarence McNulty but I'm better known as Jim McNulty. I was Secretary/Manager of the old Toowoomba Hospitals Board from 1968 to 1981. I am not related to other McNultys in Toowoomba. I was born at Goondiwindi in 1921. I went to a small one teacher school at Goondiwindi West, which was about 3 to 4 miles west of Goondiwindi on the St George road. The school is now closed. We used to ride horses to school in those days. We had a free and open country life. I passed the old State Scholarship exam. As there was no secondary school west of Warwick I attended school at Warwick. I boarded at Warwick. I passed .Junior from here and got a public service call up to the Clerk of Petty Sessions at Goondiwindi. I started there in October,1938. I began as the office boy - did the postage and registered births, deaths & marriages. Eventually I progressed to assisting the magistrate in the court, taking depositions, handling some conveyancing, etc.- you did everything: Mining, Lands, Workers Comp., Aborigines, Pensions, Tax collections (both Federal & State). It was a very interesting job.
After the war I was transferred to Monto where I passed the C.P.S. exams. I waited around but promotion was very slow. At that time the Health Department was seeking Secretary/Managers from within the Public Service. I thought about it a while and then applied and was posted to Blackall Hospital. I was there about 4 years. To get promotion you had to go west. The Board consisted of Blackall, Isisford & Tambo hospitals. You visited the smaller hospitals on a regular basis. Sometimes the smaller hospitals didn't have a full time doctor and one had to go from Blackall. However roads weren't very good in those days and floods could cut people off. I then went ot Mt Isa. It was a fairly wild and woolly town then. There were something like 40 nationalities working in the town. They mined lead, copper and zinc. The town facilities weren't good and the hospital was a conglomeration of old buildings.
Shortly after I got there lots of new building projects were started. After 3 years they gave me a more congenial place. Gayndah.
The Central Burnett Hospital Board consisted of Gayndah, Mundubbera and Biggenden Hospitals. I was at Gayndah for 5 to 6 years before going to Bundaberg. It was great to go to a coastal place. I was there for two and a half years before being promoted to Cairns. Cairns, at that time, was a sleepy hollow - not like it is now. I was amazed at the growth when I visited there recently. I was only in Cairns for about 2 years before receiving a transfer to Toowoomba. It was an equal transfer but I wanted to get back to my grass roots and my wife came from Warwick.
We were in Toowoomba in 1968. The hospital was upgraded and I received promotion. I later could have gone to Brisbane for further promotion but I was getting older and had the opportunity of retiring at age 60 so took it. The quality of life in Toowoomba was so much better than Brisbane. I retired just after my 60th birthday and have enjoyed life since. I have always been interested in the Health Department- it grows on you.
I’ve always felt that Queensland hospitals led the way in many aspects of administration and were progressive. I hope this progress continues. Dr Des O’Rourke was medical superintendent while I was here. He was also superintendent at Bundaberg when I was there. I followed him to Toowoomba. Matron Fountain was very well known. She died just before I got here. Miss Lewis was Matron when I first arrived. She resigned in 1972 and was replaced by Miss Leila Coleman. At that time, when Whitlam came to power, Medibank was introduced. There were many changes and there seemed to be more revenue for buildings. We were engaged in quite an expansion in buildings. We had additions to the Commonwealth Health Lab., a new morgue, medical block, new engine room and a new Hospital at Gatton. It became a very busy and progressive period. There's no time capsule in the medical block. It's a pity but it was thought of after the foundation stone had been laid.
There was a great representation from the Historical Society to retain the Victoria wing and medical block from a heritage point of view. However the Board and the Health Department felt that because of the ongoing cost of repairs it would not be worthwhile to retain the building. Whilst it had some architectural features which could have been unique we considered it best to demolish it. The space would be very valuable and the building served no useful purpose. The upstairs was dangerous and could have been a fire hazard. All the old features, bricks and mortar, floorboards, etc. would have required costly maintenance and money is always tight in health budgets. Had the building been outside the hospital grounds we quite possibly would have got some funding. It would have been a financial liability to retain it.
Toowoomba soil has some special ingredient and buildings seem to crack. When the building of the medical block commenced, we had to revise the foundations. They had to hold the building up a while until they devised the ‘Franki’ pile to make the building sound. This area is an old swamp area I believe. All those things had to be taken into consideration when considering the retention of an old building. For the medical block we had to go down a lot further than we thought. I hope there are still no problems with the medical block. It was commenced in 1976 and completed in May, 1979. I have photos of the various stages of construction. There were a couple of big trees removed for the block. I replaced them elsewhere with pines but I think they have been removed for the helipad. The medical block & Victoria wing were very dilapidated. The upper eastern wing was not used at all.
I was virtually chief executive officer of the Hospitals Board. In the old tripartite system the medical superintendent was in charge of medical staff; the matron in charge of nurses and the manager controlled finance, administration and overall management of the hospital. It was quite a fair job when you considered Mt Lofty, Oakey, Millmerran were included as well as Toowoomba General. In 1969 Gatton was added which had previously been a private hospital. The Board had a chairman which was usually a police magistrate. With the manager and chairman both public servants it gave the Department some sort of control over the activities of the Board. We had local government representatives on the board as well as others from voluntary organisations in the town. They met regularly & had various sub-committees. There was provision in the Act for appeal to the Board if someone had been dismissed by the medical superintendent, matron or secretary. The Board could overrule the decision. They were very powerful.
Staffing did increase at the hospital in the period I was here. There were substantial increases in domestic, nursing and clerical staff- in all facets in fact. I’d say staff would have increased in excess of 100. In such places as outpatients there was open sesame, which placed enormous strain on their staff as well as specialist clinics. The hospital provided a very good service - no means test; you could come to outpatients, be referred to a specialist, and, if necessary, have an operation at no cost. People get very good specialist treatment in Toowoomba.
The medical block cost about seven and a half million dollars. The work was completed without one day’s industrial dispute and only one minor injury.
Noel Young would be worthwhile interviewing. He lives in Partridge Street and was a laundryman then a driver here for many years
An Interview with Mr Jim McNulty at 9.30 am on 24th February 1994 at 43 Joyce Street, Toowoomba. Interview conducted by John Clements.