In a non-descript building lies a wasting corpse, not that of a human, but that of a decommissioned mortuary. Thousands of cars drive past it on their daily commute along Hampstead Road, unaware of its existence behind a tall fence.
The mortuary provided services for the former Metropolitan Infectious Diseases Hospital, now the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre. At various times it also served the old Royal Adelaide, Morris, Glenside, Hillcrest and Enfield Hospitals. With the introduction of vaccines to counter diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and others, the mortuary declined in use. The last patient was admitted in 1995. The building is scheduled for demolition in 2022.
Museum staff recently photographed the remnants of this once fully operational facility.
The mortuary contains a visitor’s waiting room, a room where a body can be viewed ‘in state’, a refrigeration room for cadavers, an autopsy room, and work rooms. A special feature of the facility is a raised viewing platform where medical staff can watch and learn during an autopsy.
Above: Refrigeration Room
A hospital porter remembers that the Northfield High School was next door. ‘The kids were always gossiping about dead people being kept in the buildings’. Staff had to make a special cover to wheel deceased patients from the wards to the mortuary so that the kids could not see them.
Above: Autopsy Room
The mortuary will be part of a behind the scenes tour of the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre, during South Australia’s History Festival, scheduled for May 2022. Visitors can expect to see where bodies were laid ‘in state’, sit in the autopsy viewing platform, and open up the mortuary refrigerators. Details of the tour dates and times will be released on the History Festival website closer to May https://festival.history.sa.gov.au/
Written by Jacquelyne Ladner
CALHN Health Museum