If you have ever had reason to call the Hospital, you would likely have first been greeted by staff in the switchboard. While now the switchboard are able to transfer calls using computerised technology, originally it was a manual operation.
Constance Wright and Con Gray were two long time switchboard operators beginning in the late 1940s and retiring in the early 1980s. Constance Wright recalled the original process for the operation of the switchboard:
“When I first went there, there was a shutter switchboard, where, when a ward called, an eyelid, sort of, would drop down, and once I plugged into the jack the shutter went up again. There was no automatic ringing. We had to use a little handle – wind it, to do all the ringing. …[I]t was much more hard work. Physical work. And code bells had to be organised. You had to ring the code bell with your left hand, and turn the handle with your right.”Constance Wright
The equipment used was slowly updated when new technologies became available.
The original RAH switchboard was located in The Bice Building on the eastern side of the ground floor. Daytime operation was from 8 am – 10 pm by female staff with a porter on duty at night.
The Switchboard operators got to know many of those that worked in the hospital. Working in the Bice Building, where the RMOs lived, they got to know them particularly well. The RMOs would occasionally even lend a hand, receiving instruction in how it worked.
Getting to know voices was also a skill of the job. Con Gray recalled one instance in which a former employee called in:
“he’d had a bet with somebody down there that switch would recognise his voice. And I did! And he was highly elated about that.”Con Gray
Written by Jonathan Hull, CALHN Health Museum