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Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital

Often known simply as the 'Fever Hospital', the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital was a well-respected and greatly feared Melbourne institution. The 1880s saw the inability, indeed refusal, of the major hospitals to cope with the annual bouts of infectious diseases such as typhoid and diphtheria. By the 1890s doctors considered that, in the interests of public health, Melbourne urgently required an isolated hospital; cases of smallpox had been dealt with until this time by a small centre for infectious diseases at Williamstown established by Dr Youl.

The Fairfield hospital had its origins in Queen Victoria's 1897 Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Queen Victoria had made it known that any funds raised to celebrate her Jubilee should be used to help the sick. By November, a fever hospital fund had raised £16 000 through municipal levies. The government granted 15 ac at Yarra Bend, Fairfield, and building work started in 1900. Work was completed in 1901, but because of funding problems the Queen's Memorial Hospital did not open until October 1904. Dr Sydney Allen was the first medical superintendent, Evelyn Conyers the first matron, and the first patient a scarlet fever sufferer named Elsie Lewis. Further buildings erected on the site between 1914 and the 1930s were designed by prominent hospital architects Anketell & Kingsley Henderson.

Because of public disquiet about the running of the hospital, a public inquiry was held in 1912. This led to a 1914 Act of Parliament, which established a board of management. An epidemic of poliomyelitis led to 1275 cases being admitted between July 1937 and July 1938; 77 patients died and many were permanently disabled.

In 1940 Queen's Memorial became a Training School for nurses. Dr Frank Macfarlane Burnet, later Sir Macfarlane Burnet (Nobel Prize, 1960), was appointed consultant epidemiologist, and Dr E.V. Keogh was appointed consultant bacteriologist in 1946. The name was changed to Fairfield Hospital in 1948, with new legislation also enabling the hospital to treat general medical and surgical patients. A medical research centre was established at Fairfield in 1983 (in 1986 renamed Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research). The hospital admitted its first AIDS patient in 1983, and in its final decade became deeply involved in HIV/AIDS treatment and research. In 1993 Fairfield Hospital laboratories amalgamated with other laboratories to become the integrated Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratories, a development recognising the international reputation of the laboratories. After a long-running campaign to save the hospital throughout the 1990s, it was finally - and controversially - closed on 30 June 1996.

W.K. Anderson

Anderson, W.K., Fever hospital: a history of Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002. Details