History of the site
We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land which the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse stands.
Gadigal land lies south of Port Jackson and stretches from South Head to Petersham with part of the southern boundary lying on the Cooks River. Aboriginal communities in the Inner West region are part of a thriving metropolitan area, forming an important part of Sydney’s cultural and spiritual mosaic and the ground on which the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse now stands has long been associated with providing specialist health services.
At the start of the nineteenth century, the area consisted of agricultural land divided by a track that would become Missenden Road. By the 1840s, residential and industrial development had begun, within the growing working class Irish population.
In the 1880s construction of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital began – on the eastern side of Missenden Road, opposite the current Lifehouse site. One of the state’s oldest hospitals, RPA opened in 1882 as a 146-bed hospital.
During the 1930s, the expansion of RPA began on the western side of Missenden Road, with an outpatients building constructed in 1936.
The current Lifehouse location – 119-143 Missenden Road – was first earmarked as a centre for specialist services when, in 1953, RPA gained a capital grant for a 100-bed hospital as part of Commonwealth drive to eradicate tuberculosis. It was described at the time as a plan to create ‘one of the best equipped hospitals to be erected in the Southern Hemisphere’.*
A multi-storey specialist hospital was designed by architects Stephenson & Turner, who were responsible for several buildings on the RPA site. And the Page Chest Pavilion opened in 1957, named in honour of the then Commonwealth Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page.
By the time it opened, effective antibiotic treatment of TB had been introduced and there was no longer a need for surgical treatments for the disease. So, the focus of the facility switched to heart surgery.
Teams of cardiac specialists at the Page Chest Pavilion went on to pioneer advances in surgical techniques in Australia – including the use of a heart-lung bypass machine, hole in the heart surgery and the first successful fitting of a pacemaker.
The Page Chest Pavilion was renovated in the 1970s and again in the mid 1980s, with new operating theatres opening.
By 2003, all of the surgical services were transferred to RPA and the building was demolished in November 2009 with work beginning on the construction of the Lifehouse facility.
*RPA Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1954.
You can learn more about the history of RPA at the hospital museum and website: www.sswahs.nsw.gov.au/rpa/museum/
1794 – agricultural land, divided by a track which later became Missenden Road
1806 – 500 acres of land known as the ‘Camperdown Estate’ were granted to William Bligh by Governor King
1841 – by this time the ‘estate’ had been subdivided and sold and residential and industrial development began, employing local residents, including many Irish immigrants
1882 – Royal Prince Alfred Hospital opens 146-bed hospital
1930s – Expansion of RPA hospital buildings on the western side of Missenden Road begins with General Outpatients building constructed in 1936
1937 – Boiler House building constructed
1941 – King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies opens
1953 – RPA gains a capital grant for a TB 100-bed hospital as part of Commonwealth drive to eradicate the disease
1957 – £935,000 Page Chest Pavilion opens on the present Lifehouse site, named after the then Commonwealth Health Minister, Earle Page and with underground tunnels built to link the hospital buildings on either side of Missenden Road
Early 1960s – TB virtually eradicated with the discovery of antibiotic streptomycin and the Page Chest Pavilion becomes a pioneering cardiothoracic centre
1962 – Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology established at Page Chest Pavilion
1974 – The Page Chest Pavilion was renovated to make improvements to hospital hygiene
1986 – new operating theatres built
2003 – all surgical services relocated to RPA
2009 – work starts on demolition of The Page Chest Pavilion and the construction of Lifehouse.