One day in the first week of a temporary job at Royal Perth Hospital I went down to the hospitals museum, I was initially excited to go there and check out the old medical equipment, however within about 20 minutes I was freaking out and wanted to get the hell out of there. Afterwards I could not stop thinking about the place all day, this is why.
My colleague had discovered some sort of award thing whilst cleaning out an office. It had been presented to someone a few decades ago and sat in a fancy box. She didn’t know what to do with it as it could have some historical value so we headed to the museum to see if they would take it.
The museum is housed within the original Colonial Hospital building opened in 1855, it looks pretty old and creepy from the outside. I was intrigued to go there and envisaged the whole building had been refurbished with shiny wooden floors, down lights and elaborate displays. Therefore I was quite surprised to find that it was actually housed within a small corridor on the ground floor, suffice to say my expectations were not met.
We entered via the office and the first thing we noticed was how crammed the space was with all kinds of paperwork, files and random junk sitting on every available surface, shelves were overflowing and there were many boxes on the floor full of god knows what. There was only one curator working that day, she was probably in her 60’s I suspected and had likely been working there for many years. We gave her the awards and she was impressed with the boxes but had no idea what they were for, she added them to the pile of stuff on one of the desks.
We got chatting about the lack of storage space they have for items they keep receiving and how they struggle to find places for everything or throw anything out. The regular volunteers are mostly retirees who help out, but they had all recently injured themselves there and were off work so the curator was working alone without any other help. I didn’t find this revelation particularly unusual until we commenced a spontaneous tour of the museum.
As we were talking about the cramped storage she got to showing us an example, she lead us out of the office and down a dark hallway which I then realised was actually the museum. It was far smaller than I imagined and everything seemed crammed in, this part was originally a ward so there were rooms off either side of the hall, it was very cold down there and I saw lots of mannequins at the far end which were a bit eerie.
The curator showed us the room in which they lack a lot of space, the shelves were stacked full with huge thick patient register books, ancient looking and yellowing stacked on the shelves, I assume they were in date order and I kept trying to see if I could spot the oldest book by how old it looked alone. I would have loved to snoop through them but you are only meant to do so for legitimate reasons while wearing gloves, also we were only meant to be down there to drop something off.
The books contain the hospitals patient history from the very beginning before the days of electronic systems, some of the books were semi recent, maybe dating back to the 1970’s, just before computer records took over. To this day the people still call the museum to find out if their ancestors were patients at certain dates, the curator then has to go through the appropriate book manually searching for the names and trying to decipher the handwriting on what they were admitted for.
After conversing in that room for a while she took us down the hallway into the next room packed full of lots of old medical equipment and apparatus. There was an early dialysis machine and the first X-ray equipment ever imported to Australia. It was rather surreal being amongst all of this ancient equipment that was used back in the day and wondering who it was used on and whether it was successful. We also saw an acne removing machine that apparently sent electric currents through the brain to get rid of pimples, surprisingly this wasn’t successful.
In the next room she showed us cupboards full of old school medication in boxes and bottles, I would have loved to read through some of the ingredients but they were behind glass, she told us a lot of them have been discovered as poisonous now. My colleague recognised a few of them from her grandparents cupboard back in the day. I wish I could have taken pictures of some of the things we saw but I didn’t have my phone with me, I was very unprepared for this one off tour.
Towards the back of the museum were the mannequins done up with the uniforms the nuns used to wear, consisting of long dresses with aprons, caps and long chains with keys on, then moving along to less elaborate dresses and finally early evolutions of scrubs. Compared with the plain casual scrubs hospital staff wear now it was pretty interesting to seeing the clothes they actually would have worn, even though the mannequins were pretty creepy with faces and wigs.
Next she lead us into a room which contained an old iron lung, up on the wall were photos and displays of the last man in Australia to live in it. Looking at all the photos of this man and reading his story, while being right next to the actual machine he lived in was rather eerie. It was smaller than I ever imagined and I was fascinated to find out how it worked, it made me thankful TB is not prominent in our society anymore. The room was also full of old wheelchairs and crutches and I decided this museum would be a great place to shoot a horror movie.
There was a really old straight-jacket on a mannequin sitting at the end of the museum, this actually looked like something out of a horror movie and freaked me out a lot, I didn’t like to look at it too much in case I “saw something”. I have watched too many lunatic asylum based horror movies for this, most of them were utter shit but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about it sitting there. The museum curator then proceeded to tell us that one day she was looking down the hallway and could have sworn she saw it moving towards her. This caught me completely off guard and I suddenly felt way more on edge in there. My heart raced a little and suddenly I wanted to be out of there as soon as possible.
After that harrowing revelation she casually mentioned that a nurse was actually murdered by a patient in the room next to us when this used to be a psychiatric ward. She said there is a certain coldness around there and a lot of the time she doesn’t feel like she is alone. She told us the place creeps her out sometimes, especially when she is working alone, so she makes a point of saying out loud that she just wants to get on with her work, and be left alone. The hairs on the back of my neck stood right up and my stomach dropped, I could not believe what I was hearing, and she mentioned it with such nonchalance, I am glad she mentioned it towards the end of us being there as I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the tour very long had I known about it before, I am such a chicken when it comes to these things.
I was now suddenly very eager to leave but she was still telling us things and lead us into another room full of old surgical tools, lots of syringes, scalpels and saws used to hack peoples limbs off during the war and in the hospital. I felt so uneasy and too scared to look around anywhere other than the display cases in case I saw something I didn’t want to see.
I am scared easily and by now my mind was thinking all sorts of things about the volunteers injuring themselves, supposedly a few of them had tripped on the smallest things or just fallen over and were now unable to work in there for some time. I couldn’t help but wonder if this had anything to do with some kind of presence not wanting them to be in there.
This is a shitty photo of what the building looks like now, I took it as I was walking past and didn’t want to look like a weird stalker. It has a certain gothic eeriness about it.
After the tour we headed back out through the office and the curator said we could come back whenever we liked if we wanted to see more. Part of me was curious to see more but a bigger part of me never wanted to see the place again. I hurried back to my desk and ruthlessly googled any information I could find on the internet about the old days and any scary stories about the place but I wasn’t very successful. In usual internet fashion I somehow ended up stuck in the depths of websites detailing how iron lungs worked and cases of TB.
I am glad it was only a short job there and I got away with no further freak outs. Hospitals have always creeped me a out a little given how many people die there, but I have now decided hospital museums are far scarier.