Any day soon the Page Chest Pavilion at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital will be a thing of the past. The workers and machines have been burrowing down from the roof for weeks now, deleting the structure floor by floor. It’s possible few will mourn its demolition, in part because it is giving way to the Lifehouse Cancer Centre, fulfilling the plans of a much admired doctor, Professor Chris O’Brien, and also because the plain, blonde-brick structure had long since passed out of fashion and, presumably, usefulness.
Its replacement will introduce a rare ultra-contemporary element to the streetscape of Newtown’s main thoroughfares (King Street and Missenden Road) which are largely protected-heritage, mock-traditional or 1960-80’s utilitarian.
It will also erase the main, possibly the only, structural reminder in Sydney of the country’s eleventh Prime Minister, Sir Earle Page, a doctor who worked at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital before he moved, in succession, into the military, agriculture, local politics and then federal politics., where he became one of the longest-serving MPs (just shy of 42 years) and one of the shortest-serving PMs (three weeks in 1939).
In September 1958, Sir Earle returned to his old hospital to unveil a plaque at the Page Chest Pavilion that had been named in his honour though the building seems to have been operating as the home for the hospital’s Thoracic unit since the previous year.
Half a century later the then serving Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, joined Mrs Gail O’Brien and the state premier, Kristina Keneally for the sod-turning for the building that is replacing it.
Mr Rudd told the audience he hoped he’d still be the PM when the new Lifehouse Centre was ready for opening in 2012. Prophetic words.
Sir Earle would have understood being pushed out of office. He lost his seat in the 1961 election; he was 81 and terminally ill at the time. He died shortly afterwards, in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, of cancer.
The State Library of NSW holds a photograph of Sir Earle Page opening the Page Chest Pavillion in September 1958. See acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/search/simpleSearch.aspx?authority=place…
The Lifehouse at RPA has a website at www.lifehouserpa.org.au