Kate Ellison and her equally amazing friends who form the South Coast District Hospital Auxiliary Incorporated Foundation occasionally sit in shopping malls with what she calls ‘begging tins’ from nine o’clock sharp til late afternoon.
“The people are incredibly kind,” she says. There is no raffle prize; shoppers just see the charitable sign and donate.
There are also those who deliberately go toward them to make the point they wouldn’t make a donation because “it’s the government’s responsibility”. Others in Goolwa, where Kate lives, decline to support a hospital in Victor Harbor. It’s a tribal thing.
Kate, who is president of the auxiliary, tries to explain that in an ideal world the government of the day would pay for all of our health care, our children’s education, the police to protect us and the whole box and dice, but, of course, we don’t live in an ideal world.
“The reality is that the money is just not there,” Kate said. “We are not selling as many houses so they are not getting as much same stamp duty, and there is this, that and the other. The money has got to be spread across the board, so if we can help pick up that shortfall then the chances of keeping our hospital are greater.
“I cannot stress the word ‘our’ enough; it’s our hospital serving the south coast and the region. It serves us here in Goolwa as much as it does Victor Harbor people. In fact, percentage wise, well over 50 per cent are Goolwa patients. It is not primarily Victor Harbor and secondary everyone else.”
And when you go beyond the local parochialism, and consider that the North Terrace city powerbrokers wanted to shut down Keith’s hospital 225km away and left the South Coast District Hospital alone because it was so well resourced or equipped through community support, you start to sense the impact this not-for-profit group has had on our widespread community has been incredible.
And now absorb the fact the Auxiliary is currently in its 85th year, and one of its most dedicated and equally active volunteers, Ruve Brookman, was seven when it was formed.
“I have really enjoyed every moment, especially the friendships I have made, being part of the Auxiliary,” Mrs Brookman said. “I guess being the wife of a doctor at the time it was expected of me to join, but I have no regrets.
“The Auxiliary has achieved some wonderful results for our hospital which is for communities across the Fleurieu Peninsula.”
Mrs Brookman’s husband, Ben, was a doctor in Victor Harbor practising in Carrikalinga House, which he later donated to the community.
Like Mrs Brookman, Rosemary Warwick, 84, is a life member of the Auxiliary, and can remember “the old days” when times were tough.
In 1954 Mrs Warwick was the first physiotherapist in Victor Harbor, and specialised in the hospital from 1960.
Subscriptions to the auxiliary were a shilling when it started in 1930, and under its charter members were expected to do mending for the hospital, make new garments and jam. Sewing was a priority – toilet mats, cosies, theatre gowns and pyjamas – and remained so until 1961 when the Auxiliary’s sole function was fundraising for the hospital.
The constitution deems that the group charges for a membership – currently $5 – and Kate explained the fee is low because the members who do all the work. Even at the monthly meetings they usually have a trading table and the members are expected to pay for the ingredients to bake a cake, make a pot of jam or whatever and buy something that someone else made. That means membership is incredibly expensive.
Kate said it was only seven years ago that the Auxiliary could not get enough members to a meeting, but now it has trouble finding enough chairs for everyone.
“We all do it because we believe in what our hospital does for our community across the south coast,” Kate said. “It’s not about me or any other member; it’s about community pride that comes with having our own hospital, something that, for whatever reason, we all believe that we may need one day.
“What an important hospital this is. We want to keep it as well-equipment as we can, remembering over the past few years the government has tried to close down the smaller hospitals. I don’t mean that as a political statement; it has just made us even more aware that we don’t want to have to go to Adelaide for every treatment.
“This past year we raised $100,000, thanks largely to a large bequeath, meaning we have been able to purchase a lot more. We are totally dependent on bequests and public donations, and the beauty of our constitution and our foundation status is that the money coming to us goes to the South Coast District Hospital.
“If the money goes directly to the hospital it is passed on to Health SA which puts it in the government coffers, and it can take months to come back.”
Kate declined to comment on whether all of the money found its way back to our hospital, but naturally guarantees that any money that came through the Auxiliary went to the hospital.
The evidence is seen in the emergency centre, and the chemotherapy unit established last year with six beds. It may not sound many, but it has saved residents along the south coast an incredible number of trips to Adelaide. This non-stop working unit cannot help every cancer challenger because it can only focus on specific treatments, but maybe one day…
Walk into the day surgery clinic and main theatres and the Auxiliary has bought all of the sterilising equipment, including a drying cabinet costing $24,000 in 2011, and over the past year two sterilising units that are not exactly your every-day dishwashers; bar coding every item to determine what instrument was used on any given day.
Kate senses the goodness in every-day people yet is ever surprised by the overwhelming support from groups like the Victor Harbor and Port Elliot Lions Club,. However, you can also see signs of concern in her eyes.