Tuberculosis was a virulent and highly contagious disease that provoked widespread fear in the years before it could be treated with antibiotics. Doctors and health authorities could commit sufferers to sanatoria like Waterfall, under special laws designed to contain the spread of TB, and detain them until they were cured, or died. TB was also a factor in the removal of children from their families. It hospitalised breadwinners and caregivers, so caused poverty and hardship. It also made children sick, causing them to be institutionalised. Welfare authorities also removed children from households where TB was present. The lethal nature of TB was considered to justify such harsh measures.
Waterfall was the state's only purpose-built facility for people suffering tuberculosis (consumption or TB). The site, at 1,000 feet above sea level and 26 miles south of Sydney, was chosen as it was believed that tuberculosis patients needed a high and rarefied atmosphere in the country away from the grime and pollution of cities. The first patients were admitted on 14 April 1909.
The first building had open verandahs looking out to sea. Patients in the active phase of TB were isolated in fibro chalets, about the size of a garden shed, until they improved in health, or died. Those who died were buried on site.
The main building at Waterfall, opened in 1909, had beds for 180 male patients but at first some of the wards were used for staff. In May 1912 a new wing for 120 female patients was completed, with tuberculosis patients from Newington State Hospital transferred upon its opening.
Additional chalet-style accommodation was built, but demand for treatment for "the white plague" meant that the Sanatorium was often overcrowded, with emergency beds placed on verandahs.
Treatment consisted of rest, relaxation, improved nutrition, and medicines to treat symptoms as they appeared, with the hope of increasing resistance. Patients stayed in the sanatorium until they achieved a clean bill of health (which could take years) or died. All who died at Waterfall were buried on site.
The advent of antibiotic treatment, together with thoracic surgery, and a national campaign to prevent tuberculosis, greatly improved the prognosis for the disease. Isolation was no longer considered a necessity, and tuberculosis patients were accepted into public hospitals for treatment. By 1958 patient numbers at Waterfall Sanatorium had decreased to less than 100. The sanatorium was closed and the site was converted to Garrawarra Hospital. The old buildings have been boarded up for some time. Garrawarra Centre for the Aged is located on the site.
There are 2000 graves in the Waterfall Sanatorium cemetery, which is part of the Garrawarra Hospital grounds but is controlled by Wollongong Council. In 2012 the Wollongong Mayor, Gordon Bradbery, announced a conservation management plan would be prepared for the cemetery. Permission is required from the New South Wales Ministry for Health to visit the site.
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18 July 2018
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01214
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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