New Ground Broken

Part 3: 1960s Hospital Redevelopment

Following World War II, Adelaide experienced a significant population boom and an influx of migrants. This surge placed considerable demand and strain on the Royal Adelaide Hospital, its services, and staff. The need for redevelopment of the hospital site was first discussed in the 1950s. At that time, the hospital grounds housed 47 separate buildings and 32 wards.

Hand coloured grid plan of existing buildings, building to be demolished, and buildings to be retained. Architect in Chief’s Department, September 1955.

Initial Relief and Redevelopment Beginnings

In 1954, some pressure was relieved with the opening of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. However, issues such as overcrowding, scattered wards, and the deteriorating condition of 19th-century buildings persisted. In 1959, redevelopment began with the construction of the East Wing on land acquired through a swap with the Botanic Garden. This allowed the hospital to remain fully operational while older buildings were demolished.

The East Wing was constructed bay by bay and opened in the same manner. Levels 4 and 5 were inaugurated on May 22, 1962, by then-premier Sir Thomas Playford, with the rest of the building opening two months later. The new wing featured 490 beds, operating theatres, radiotherapy and gynaecology departments, and a pharmacy.

The new East Wing set against the older RAH buildings.
The East Wing in 1962, seen through the adjacent Botanic Gardens kiosk.

The Great Demolition of 1963

The year 1963 marked a significant transformation for the hospital, known as the “great demolition.” Almost all old buildings were torn down, and extensive excavation took place. The redevelopment included the demolition of all buildings and wards constructed between 1857 and 1890.

Chronological order of the buildings and wards demolished:

  • Thoracic Theatre Building
    • Charity Ward
    • Mercy Ward No.1
  • Main Block
    • Adelaide Ward
    • Albert Ward
    • Alexander Ward
    • Alfred Ward
    • Beatrice Ward
    • Dorcas Ward
    • Faith Ward
    • Hindmarsh Ward
    • Hope Ward
    • Leopold Ward
    • Martin Ward
    • Victoria Ward
    • Wyatt Ward
    • The Dispensary
    • Radiotherapy Department
  • Vecro Ward
  • Da Costa Ward
  • Frome Ward
  • Torrens Ward
  • Kitchen
  • Laundry Building
  • Ophthalmic Theatre Ward
    • Elder Ward
  • Chest Clinic
  • Terrace Ward
  • University of Adelaide Offices
  • Boiler House
  • Public Building Department Workshops
  • Mortuary
  • Splint Makers workshop and fitting room
  • Chapel
  • Casualty Building
    • Gawler Ward
    • Grey Ward
    • Robe Ward
    • Sturt Ward
  • Flinders Ward
  • Light Ward

New Constructions and Major Redevelopments

Several new buildings were built as part of the redevelopment, these include:

  • South Administration Wing, Outpatients and Casualty, and Theatre: Built between 1966 and 1968, these three separate buildings were connected by covered passageways.
  • East Administration Wing: Constructed from early 1964 to early 1966, this wing housed lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a library, kitchen, and cafeteria.
  • Central Outpatients and Casualty Building: Opened on November 27, 1967, this building included facilities for casualty services, outpatient reception, almoner services, outpatient clinic suites, dispensary, medical records, library, splint-making workshop, and surgical instrument maintenance.
  • Dental Hospital: built in stages and officially opened on August 29, 1969
  • The theatre block: Completed in 1969.
  • North Wing: Completed and occupied by mid-1969, it accommodated 570 patients across 15 wards for medical, surgical, and orthopedic units. It also included a 17-bed intensive care ward, a 30-bed admission ward, and specialized units for burns, paraplegia, and spinal injury patients. Wards from the McEwin building were relocated here.
  • Residential Building: The final building of the redevelopment and completed in1969, this building provided accommodation for nurses, who were required to ‘live in’ while studying and training. Shortly after its completion, the requirement for nurses to ‘live in’ was removed, necessitating new uses for the vacated blocks.

Additional Redevelopments

The redevelopment included the construction of a multistorey 385-car car park in 1970. In 1973, the East Wing and the Central Block were linked, providing a lounge for nursing staff on the same level as the staff cafeteria and office accommodation on all levels.

Much of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital, as many remember it, was built during this period. The total cost of the redevelopment was estimated at $28.5 million (around $226 million in today’s money), providing over 1,000 beds for patients.

Written by Anna Grigoriev, CALHN Health Museum