Mosman Voices - oral histories online

John Wilmot Roberts

Interviewed by Trish Levido on 15 December 2005
Subject: ,

Trish Levido. What year was this?

John Roberts. Around about 1951, I was 32; I think my first born was just a baby.

Trish Levido. What did you have to give up to be a volunteer at that stage? Were you doing other things on the weekend?

John Roberts. I should have been at home with my wife and my new baby. I think it was unfair on my wife. I’m glad I did what I did but I regret not being with her for only one day of the weekend.

Trish Levido. This went on for some time.

John Roberts. For about 15 to 18 months, every Saturday afternoon, every weekend.

Trish Levido. You must have become quite close to a group of people who came from all different backgrounds.

John Roberts. Yes, there were some new Australians there, it was a wonderful get together, and then at the end of the Saturday afternoon John Begg always provided a couple of bottles of beer.

And the little community of Mosman Hospital expanded and then its company was formed, and then the final opening day arrived. There was quite a big gathering up there from Mosman.

Trish Levido. Who owned it at that stage?

John Roberts. The Church of England, they paid out the lady who owned it and they carried the expenses. As I said I was not involved in the formation of the company or whether it was held in the Church of England Property Trust or who had the control over it. I only know that it got to the point of directors and then sadly like so many voluntary undertakings when fruition came and success was achieved then people wanted the power and the rights, which split it, and I know the ladies set up a delightful little verandah ward for the babies.

You can imagine all the ladies in Mosman were making curtains and bedspreads etc. When the power struggle started I can remember some of those on the opposite side were saying John Begg’s drive and passion in getting this hospital going with Frank Hugh Moir was because John Begg wanted his patients to have their babies there, because John was quite competent in obstetrics although he was a General Practitioner. He was practicing at Crown St Women’s Hospital where he was doing a tremendous amount of work in infertility. It may not be medically true but according to John a lot of the young families after the war – the returned servicemen had difficulty starting families, and he did a tremendous amount of work on that matter.

Trish Levido. And the work took 18 months?

John Roberts. Yes, and we volunteers did most of the painting, inside and outside as well as the guttering and demolishing the chimneys.

Trish Levido. Who bought the materials?

John Roberts. I don’t know, but I guess this was all part of the 35,000 pounds they were trying to raise.

Trish Levido. And this is a picture of all the work. This is you climbing the ladder and there were no safety harnesses in those days.

John Roberts. No, and the ladder was under the gutter above that window.

Trish Levido. Mmmm – scary stuff. Were there any accidents?

John Roberts. No. I have no knowledge of any volunteers having any serious accidents.

Trish Levido. How many hours did you put into the work?

John Roberts. (voice faint) I can’t remember how many volunteers there were actually.

Trish Levido. You were married when you volunteered, were there any women volunteers?

John Roberts. Oh yes, as I mentioned John Begg’s wife invested a lot of work and effort. The ladies painted, mostly inside and they cleaned the area.

Trish Levido. Do you remember how you got the squatters out?

John Roberts. That was a tremendous legal effort because they had to go through the proper legal procedures, serve eviction notices on them. I was not involved on that side of it.