OK, so it may be a little bit odd I must admit. But it has taken me a while to realise quite why I am intrigued by abandoned places. Somehow I am fascinated by the mark humans leave on their environment. Especially in a country like ours, that is relatively young by international standards.
I was lucky enough to have access to the old Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs recently. (Legitimately I must add. Thank you – you know who you are!). Opened during the First World War, it has been a convalescence home, and later a drug and alcohol clinic, until it was shut in 2003.
Yet eleven years on, it sits like an idle juggernaut, abandoned in no-mans land. (Sorry I have mixed geographic analogies there. The more astute may say, Tony that can’t happen, but hey it’s my story!). It sits tangled amongst the pressures of government finances, historic protection orders, new earthquake regulations, developer’s plans, Waitangi settlements and fierce public interest. It is not an easy or cheap problem to solve, while in the meantime the sands of time slowly take it toll on the grand old buildings scattered about the site. Much like other grandiose state facilities now abandoned – The Kimberley Centre in Levin, Seacliff in Hokitika, Napier Hospital …
But that aside. There is a time capsule sitting right there. A view to our past, and priviledged glimpse from where we have come.
The octagonal Queen Mary Soldiers’ Ward with a centralised nursing station, testament to best practise care at the time. The concrete floors of the shower block that must have brought continued misery to returning soldiers in winter. The newspaper lining in drawers with daily headlines of the past. Wooden panelling and craftmanship not seen in contemporary structures. Analogue TV’s fit now only as museum pieces. Noticeboards and leave books still with names annotated.
A little bit over the top in terms of technique, I share a few HDR (high dynamic range) photos here from my visit.
“Built by the Department of Defence in 1916 on the 15- hectare site of a previous 1897 sanatorium, the twin-octagonal design of the Soldiers’ Ward of the hospital is a rarity in New Zealand architecture. Like its sister hospital in Rotorua, the ward accommodated 200 sufferers of shell shock and neurasthenia in two octagonal rooms connected by a corridor. Features of the rooms were a central nurses station and a lantern roof designed to let fresh air and sunlight into the ward. The gardens feature rhododendrons and azaleas thought to be over 100 years old.
The Queen Mary Soldiers’ Ward, however, is the only double-octagonal ward still standing. It is celebrated as a building of national significance. In 1921, Queen Mary Hospital was handed over to the Health Department. Chisholm Ward, named after the medical superintendent of 23 years, opened in 1926 and the Rutherford Ward in 1942.
The hospital treated patients with hypertension and anxiety as well as some joint disabilities. From 1943, the hospital focused on treating functional nervous diseases, and from around this time also became involved in treating alcoholics. Since 1998, the facility has been leased by Queen Mary Hospital Ltd for the Hanmer Institute, a private drug rehabilitation hospital funded by the Ministry of Health.
Queen Mary Hospital Ltd’s lease runs until 2019 and the company has first right of refusal on the land but its Ministry of Health funding is insufficient for the company to own and operate the property. Ngai Tahu have second right of refusal on the land.”