St John of God Murdoch Hospital History Trail

Follow our History Trail and uncover the stories behind our buildings, natural surrounds and artworks.

The foundations of our hospital lay in the collaboration of several Catholic health care providers and the establishment of St John of God Health Care in 1989.

On 17 November 1989, the Sisters of St John of God, St John of God Health Care, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition and the Sisters of Mercy Perth submitted a joint proposal to the State government for a new Catholic hospital in Murdoch. The proposal was for a 200-bed private hospital offering 24-hour accident and emergency, day surgery, sophisticated diagnostic services, home care and health education.

St John of God Murdoch Hospital took in its first patients on 14 February 1994 and was blessed and officially opened on 8 March 1994. Since this time, the hospital has grown into a multidisciplinary campus with more than 500 beds and 2,000 caregivers.

History Trail stops

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Map of the St John of God Murdoch Hospital History Trail
Murdoch History Trail Map

Explore the Trail

1. Chapel

The opening of the hospital in 1994 was made possible through the collaboration of several Catholic health care providers, including the Sisters of St John of God and the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition. The artworks in our Chapel reflect this Catholic heritage.

Originally located on the ground floor near Ferns Coffee Shop, the Chapel was blessed on 12 December 1993. As the first official commissioning ceremony, the event reaffirmed the hospital’s motivation and ideals are grounded in the Christian gospel.

The Chapel was relocated to the main entrance of the hospital in 2016.

Our Chapel is an ecumenical space designed to offer a place for reflection for all. You are welcome to go inside and see the stained glass window and triptych that were commissioned for the original Chapel in 1994. Signage and pamphlets inside the Chapel will give you more information on these significant artworks.

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2. Linking corridor

The linking corridor - the corridor linking the main hospital with Murdoch Clinic - became our formal art gallery space in 2014. With regularly changing curated exhibitions, we aim to bring a sense of awe and wonder to patients, visitors and caregivers as they encounter the artworks.

The St John of God Health Care art collection

The St John of God Health Care art collection began here at St John of God Murdoch Hospital when the Murdoch Arts Program and art collection was launched on 8 March 2006. At the time, there were 60 artworks by Western Australian artists in the collection.

The inaugural exhibition displayed throughout the main hospital and Murdoch Clinic.

Since then, the art collection has been expanded to include all St John of God Health Care hospitals and services. It has grown to become the largest contemporary visual art collection of any health care provider in Australia.

The arts in health care

St John of God Health Care uses the arts to promote health, wellbeing and recovery across its hospitals and services.

We incorporate the arts into the design of our facilities by creating welcoming and healing environments along with areas for relaxation and contemplation.

We promote stimulation, optimism and connectedness through our arts activities and invite patients, visitors and caregivers to take part any way they can. These initiatives include hosting performances, song writing workshops, community choirs, and our mobile art studios that visits patients at their bedside.

We continue to research the effects and benefits our arts activities have on participants. This increases awareness and demonstrates the importance of arts in health care.

South Wing

As you walk to the next stop on the History Trail, you will pass by South Wing which opened in August 2014. South Wing has 120 beds for orthopaedic and neurosurgery patients, six operating theatres and a Cancer Centre with 20 treatment chairs and a dedicated oncology pharmacy. This addition provided the hospital with increased capacity to serve the community with quality care.

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3. Wexford Medical Centre

Opened in 2014, Wexford Medical Centre provides a range of specialist services and is an integral part of our hospital. The centre is named after the port town of Wexford in south east Ireland where the Congregation of the Sisters of St John of God was founded in 1871.

Construction of the Wexford Medical Centre commenced in September 2012 as part of a $234 million redevelopment of St John of God Murdoch Hospital. The seven-storey building was blessed and opened in March 2014. With 70 consulting suites, radiology, pathology and a café, completion of Wexford Medical Centre almost doubled the consulting suite space on our hospital campus. 

The Sisters of St John of God

The Sisters of St John of God were born out of a French nursing congregation founded in Paris in 1824 called the Sisters of the Bon Secours - our Lady of Good Help. The Bon Secours primarily nursed in the homes of the wealthy who could afford to pay for their services.

In 1861, the Bon Secours opened a convent in Dublin, Ireland. A number of Irish women joined the congregation and within a short time became frustrated they could not help the less well-off. Following chance meetings between some of the women and the Bishop of Ferns, Thomas Furlong, the seeds were sown to form a separate congregation of nursing Sisters in the town of Wexford. 

The first five women left the Bon Secour Convent on 7 October 1871, arriving in Wexford later that day. With Bishop Furlong’s guidance they agreed on a name for the new congregation: the Sisters of St John of God.

The Sisters of St John of God soon started home nursing in and around Wexford. In early 1872, they started their work with the poor and destitute by nursing in workhouse infirmaries. More women joined the congregation.

By 1900, there were around 100 Sisters of St John God nursing in workhouse infirmaries, fever hospitals and aged care facilities throughout southern Ireland. They also took up teaching, first in workhouse school rooms and then in parish schools. 

The Sisters come to Australia

In the mid-1890s, Western Australia was in the midst of a gold boom. Along with a rapid increase in population came disease and a shortage of health care facilities and workers.

Concerned for the people of Western Australia, the Catholic Bishop of Perth, Matthew Gibney, wrote to the Sisters of St John of God in Wexford, appealing for assistance.

The first group of eight Sisters arrived in Western Australia on the mail steamer RMS Orizaba in November 1895. Bishop Furlong gave them a house on Adelaide Terrace in Perth, from where they began their works of service in Australia. This included nursing from tents in Kalgoorlie and then managing community hospitals in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie.

In April 1898, the Sisters of St John of God opened their own hospital, convent and school in Subiaco. The Sisters established more hospitals in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia over the following decades. 

St John of God Health Care

In 1989, the Sisters of St John of God brought together their nine hospitals across Australia to form St John of God Health Care. The construction and opening of St John of God Murdoch Hospital was the first major project for the new organisation. Today, we are one of many hospitals and services that make up St John of God Health Care.

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4. Murdoch Surgicentre

The opening of Murdoch Surgicentre in 2000 was a significant milestone in the development of our hospital as a major health care campus. It was opened on 29 October 2000 by Premier Richard Court.

The day procedure unit and angiography suite operated independently until 2020 when it officially became part of St John of God Murdoch Hospital. It then became fully integrated with the main hospital to provide orthopaedic, ophthalmic, dental and plastic surgery day surgery.

Our surgical services through the years

When St John of God Murdoch Hospital opened in 1994, it had eight theatres and two minor procedure suites located in the central building.

Each theatre was designed to deal with specialist, general, day and emergency surgery and was equipped with the latest radiology facilities. Three theatres also had laser equipment.

A dedicated 12-bed free standing Day Procedure Unit for adults and paediatrics was completed in 2001 and in 2005, two additional theatres and an expanded Central Sterilising Supply Department (CSSD) were completed as part of a major development of the hospital.

In 2010, a new 10-room operating suite, a four-room endoscopy suite and a two-room angiography suite were completed. Six new theatres were commissioned in South Wing in 2014. Since then, the hospital has also invested in robotic technology to provide the best treatment and outcomes for patients.

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5. Murdoch Medical Clinic

Excellent patient care with a full range of onsite services was at the core of the hospital’s original design. Opening in 1994, the integration of Murdoch Medical Centre with the main hospital was a first in Australia.

The aim of integrating facilities was to reduce and avoid the frustration, delays and stress often experienced by doctors and patients by co-locating a broad range of clinical services in one centre.

The three storey building had modular medical suites, meeting rooms and a lecture theatre seating 130 people. A reception area, retail outlets and cafeteria on the ground floor provided comfort to patients and visitors.

Sister Teresina Connolly SJG was appointed manager of Murdoch Medical Clinic in September 1993. The clinic opened to patients in January 1994. At this time, there were approximately 80 doctors with over 28 specialities based there including an eye centre, lung function laboratory, colposcopy clinic, and a gynaecology and obstetrics clinic.

Over the years, facilities at Murdoch Medical Clinic have been refurbished and enhanced to keep pace with the evolving health care needs of our community. This includes an upgrade to the hydrotherapy pool at Southcare Physiotherapy, which has provided onsite physiotherapy services since the hospital opened in 1994.

The team behind the unique hospital campus design

When St John of God Murdoch Hospital was first proposed in 1989, it included services not traditionally offered by private hospitals. In addition to the first fully integrated medical clinic, these included 24-hour accident and emergency, day surgery, sophisticated diagnostic services, home care and health education.

St John of God Health Care worked closely with project managers PDC and architects Silver Thomas Hanley to design and deliver a modern health care facility. The design solution comprised two major buildings: - a multi-level medical, surgical and maternity hospital accommodating 200 patients, and a medical clinic with 80 doctor’s rooms connected by a treatment building incorporating theatres, emergency services, diagnostic facilities and allied health.

Sisters of St John of God, Sisters of St Joseph, staff and medical practitioners from St John of God Hospital, Rivervale, and St Joseph’s Private Hospital in Bicton, combined their expertise to make significant contributions to the layout and functionality of the hospital campus.

The well-being of patients and staff at the centre of all design decisions. The hospital’s physical environment and services were designed to complement the compassionate, respectful and hospitable care our patients and their loved ones would receive in our hospital.

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6. Emergency

When our Emergency Department opened in 1994, it was the first in a private hospital in Western Australia. Today, it remains the only private emergency department south of the river.

The Emergency Department initially comprised two consulting rooms, four treatment cubicles, a plaster room and a resuscitation room. Surgical theatres, pathology, radiology and intensive care services were all available onsite 24 hours a day. A helipad was also provided onsite (in front of the hospital near South Street) for emergency transfers by air.

Specially trained caregivers and the latest in medical technology ensured patients received clinical care of the highest standard.

The Emergency Department opened on 4 March 1994 with just two caregivers and one doctor. Over 15,000 emergency cases were attended to in the first year of operation.

St John of God Murdoch’s Emergency Department was voted the number one private emergency department for several years running in the 2010s by global health organisation surveyor, Press Ganey.

Expansion to continue excellent care

In 2001, a 10-bed Emergency Short Stay Unit (ESSU) was built alongside the Emergency Department for patients needing 24 to 48 hour observation. This greatly assisted in alleviating pressure on beds in the main hospital. The Emergency Department itself was upgraded in 2005 as part of a broader redevelopment of the hospital.

A project to improve the aesthetics, patient experience and functionality of the Emergency Department commenced in 2022. Due to be completed in 2024, the comprehensive renovation includes:

  • an expanded and refurbished waiting area
  • a new triage zone and admissions space
  • new examination rooms
  • a larger caregiver station at the centre of the department.

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7. Main hospital entrance

The sculpture at our main entrance was inspired by the life and work of our patron saint, John of God, who began his work with the sick, mentally ill, disabled and destitute in Granada, Spain, in the 1540s. The bronze figure depicts Saint John of God rescuing psychiatric patients from a fire in the Royal Hospital in 1549.

We celebrate St John of God Day on 8 March each year.

John's early life

Born in Portugal in 1495, John Cidade spent his young life as a shepherd before joining the Spanish army. He then found his way to Gibraltar as a servant for a wealthy family. On returning to Spain, he became an itinerant bookseller, selling both religious and secular books. Growing weary of travelling, he settled in Granada where he opened a small book store near Elvira Gate, one of the main entrances to the walled city.

Religious conversion and hospitalisation

After about two years in Granada, John heard the famous theologian John of Avila speak God’s word during an open air gathering. Avila’s words had such an impact on John that he ran around the city throwing away his possessions and tearing off his clothes. John said he wanted to imitate Jesus, who died destitute and naked on the Cross.

As John appeared mentally ill, he was admitted to the Royal Hospital where he received regular whippings and drenching with cold water – the standard treatment for mental illness at the time. While in hospital, it dawned on John that his purpose in life was to help those most in need – the sick, the mentally ill and the destitute. He began this work by earning the trust of the hospital warders and helping to care for his fellow inmates.

After some months, John was released from hospital. On Avila’s advice, he went to Baeza and Guadalupe for religious and medical training before returning to Granada. 

The first St John of God hospitals

When John returned to Granada, he was offered shelter in the porch of Casa Venegas, the grand home of merchant Don Miguel Aviz Venegas. Each night, John invited the sickest men and women he came across to share the safety and relative comfort of Casa Venegas’ entry porch. The entrance to Casa Venegas became so crowded, John was soon asked to move on.

John moved to the fish market area where Avila’s followers provided overnight shelter and basic care for Granada’s sick and destitute. This shelter also became overcrowded as John brought in more people each day. With funds raised through begging on the streets, John rented premises of his own. This became the first John of God hospital.

When this first hospital became too crowded, John moved to a larger property. A third St John of God Hospital was in the process of construction when John of God died on 8 March 1550.

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8. Grounds and lake

Our beautiful grounds and lake are a result of the hospital’s original design brief, which called for a welcoming space for patients and visitors to enjoy. 

Turning sand into an oasis

St John of God Murdoch Hospital sits on 11 hectares of sandy woodland bounded by South Street and Murdoch Drive, purchased in August 1991. The brief for the new Murdoch Hospital called for a welcoming atmosphere with an emphasis on landscaping.

Landscaper Peter Cala turned a prehistoric sand dune into an oasis of lush trees, verdant shrubs and flowers in rich colours. A big challenge was saving the existing banksia woodland which is very fragile and prone to dieback.

As the Sisters of St John of God wanted a garden that would change with the seasons, a number of deciduous trees were planted. The Sisters also wanted the garden to be an amenity for patients to use and enjoy. This resulted in the peaceful lake and waterfall in front of the main patient accommodation areas. 

An urban refuge

Our grounds are also an urban refuge for wildlife, including the rare quenda. The lake is home to schools of shimmering orange, black and white koi.

Park benches alongside the lake’s edge provide a peaceful vantage point for patients and visitors to enjoy the mesmerising fish movements.

Outdoor venue

Our grounds are also well utilised for outdoor events and performances. For many years, we hosted an annual carols by candlelight which was well patronised by the community.

The lake and surrounding gardens also provide a stunning backdrop for the hospital’s popular Christmas week celebrations and annual Light up the Lake remembrance service.

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9. Volunteer sculpture

This sculpture represents our volunteer community which was founded in February 1993, a year before the hospital opened. 

Murdoch Hospital Auxiliary

St John of God Murdoch Hospital volunteers began on 25 February 1993 when four community members came together to discuss how they could support the new hospital. Pastoral Care Coordinator, Sister Anne Cullinane SJG, provided guidance to the group.

The group was formally established as the Murdoch Hospital Auxiliary in August 1993 when around 40 men and women gathered at Yidarra Primary School and elected the first office bearers. By late 1993, the auxiliary had 76 volunteers under the leadership of Joyce and Peter Ellis.

Auxiliary members initially focused on staffing the coffee shop and gift shop. Within a year of the hospital opening in 1994, auxiliary members were also contributing to patient wellbeing in palliative care and the Day Procedure Unit. By the late 1990s, the auxiliary had around 120 members. 

Hospital Volunteers

In May 2013, the Murdoch Hospital Auxiliary voted to dissolve as an entity and become part of the hospital’s Volunteer Services Department. At this time, there were around 205 volunteers providing support throughout the Murdoch campus including on the wards and in the gift shop, coffee shop, Emergency Department, hospice, and day procedure and endoscopy units.

Our volunteers today

Just as our hospital services have evolved in response to changing health care needs, so too have our volunteer services. Over the years, our volunteer roles have expanded to include specialist activities such as reiki therapy, arts and crafts, handling our caregiver wellbeing dog Sunny, Justice of the Peace services and Special Ministers of the Eucharist.

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10. St Joseph’s foundation stone

St Joseph’s Private Hospital was established by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition in 1956. Closure of the hospital in 1993, and the transfer of staff and services from Bicton to Murdoch, supported the establishment of our hospital in 1994.

The foundation stone from St Joseph’s Private Hospital was relocated to our grounds here at Murdoch when the hospital was demolished to make way for an aged care facility. 

Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition

The Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition were founded in France in 1833 by St Emilie de Vailor. Initially dedicated to the education of children, they also opened hospitals in several countries as the congregation spread across the globe.

The Sisters of St Joseph were invited to Western Australia by the Bishop of Perth in 1854. They arrived the following year and were the second congregation of religious women to come to Western Australia.

The Sisters of St Joseph initially established a school in Fremantle. They went on to open several more throughout Perth and regional Western Australia, as well as one in Victoria. 

St Joseph’s Private Hospital, Bicton

In 1951 the Archbishop of Perth, Redmond Prendiville, asked the Sisters of St Joseph to establish a small hospital in Bicton to meet the needs of the growing southern districts in the post-World War II period. They had only been involved in teaching in Australia up to this point. St Joseph’s Private Hospital was their first hospital in Australia.

St Joseph’s Private Hospital was blessed and officially opened by Archbishop Prendiville on 11 November 1956 in front of a crowd of around 1,000 people. The first patients were admitted the following day.

Costing £120,000, the hospital had 34 general medical and surgical beds and a modern operating theatre. The facility was staffed by eight Sisters of St Joseph, lay nurses and support staff.

Later upgrades to the hospital increased capacity to 41 and provided a comprehensive radiology unit and many in-house medical services. Completion of Joseph’s Medical Centre in 1984 provided additional accommodation for specialists. In 1993, the hospital had a busy theatre suite comprising two operating theatres, recovery room and facilities for doctors and staff. 

Closure and relocation to Murdoch

St Joseph’s Private Hospital closed on 24 December 1993. The 41 bed licences were transferred to St John of God Murdoch Hospital, along with staff who wished to do so.

At St John of God Murdoch Hospital, Sisters of St Joseph worked in pastoral care, surgical theatres and on the wards for several years. The St Joseph and St Emilie wards were named in honour of the hospital’s connection with the Bicton hospital.

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11. St John of God statue

This statue was originally located at the front entrance of St John of God Hospital, Rivervale. The transfer of staff and services from Rivervale supported the establishment of St John of God Murdoch Hospital in 1994.

The statue was left behind at Rivervale until it was rescued by a passerby as the site was being cleared for redevelopment. After being placed in storage and forgotten about for some time, the statue was restored and unveiled during a special ceremony on St John of God’s feast day, 8 March 2010. 

St John of God Hospital, Rivervale

In 1934, the Sisters of St John of God opened a 16-bed medical and surgical hospital in a converted house in the suburb of Belmont. The move was instigated by Dr Thomas Meagher, who convinced the Sisters a Catholic hospital was needed on the southern side of the river. At this time, the Sisters of St John of God had other hospitals in Subiaco, regional Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

The house at Rivervale soon proved too small and a double storey, purpose built hospital to accommodate 50 patients opened on 9 January 1937. Wings added in 1959 and 1969 increased bed numbers to 100.

Over the following decades services evolved to include Western Australia’s first bone bank, an onsite medical centre, and a palliative and aged care facility. By the late 1980s, Rivervale was a centre of excellence for pain relief, orthopaedic hand and wrist trauma and laser assisted balloon angioplasty. It also had one of the best urology departments in Australia.

St John of God Hospital Rivervale closed on 14 February 1994, the day St John of God Murdoch Hospital opened. Many staff transferred to the new hospital. Sisters of St John of God worked in a variety of Mission, pastoral care and support roles at the hospital until the mid-2000s. 

MURTEC and GensisCare

Turn to the building in front of the statue. This is MURTEC - the Murdoch Training and Education Centre (MURTEC).

Since opening in 1994, professional training and education have been pivotal at St John of God Murdoch Hospital. The opening of MURTEC in 2012 significantly enhanced these efforts.

MURTEC’s training rooms simulate real life wards and feature computer controlled mannequins that provide students with lifelike experiences to hone their skills and confidence in symptom identification and response. 

Next door to MURTEC is the GenesisCare Radiation Oncology Centre, the first private facility of its kind in Perth’s southern metropolitan corridor. This centre builds on decades of oncology care for patients at St John of God Murdoch Hospital.

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12. Murdoch Community Hospice

Murdoch Community Hospice opened in October 1998 to provide a dedicated palliative care facility south of the river. Initially managed by a community-based committee, the hospice became fully integrated with St John of God Health Care in 2006.

Origins in the community

In 1995, a steering committee comprising the Sisters of St John of God, St John of God Health Care, the City of Melville, local business and community representatives put forward a proposal for a dedicated palliative care facility. It was to be available to both public and private patients and controlled by a community-based board of management.

St John of God Health Care provided the land for the new hospice and the Sisters of St John of God contributed $1 million towards construction and fit-out. The remainder of the $5 million budget was achieved through State government funding, a grant from the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia, and fundraising by the St John of God Foundation.

Nursing staff and volunteers from St John of God Murdoch Hospital, the Cancer Foundation, Cottage Hospice and Silver Chain Hospice Care Service contributed to the design. Emphasis was placed on providing a comfortable, homelike atmosphere with easy access to outdoor areas.

Opening and early years

The first patients were admitted on Tuesday, 20 October 1998, a month ahead of the blessing and official opening on 25 November 1998.

Murdoch Community Hospice was considered a unique facility in Perth. Each of the 20 spacious rooms had ensuites with spa baths. There was a family dining room, sitting rooms, an overnight room for relatives and carers, a children’s play area and a chapel.

Admission was based on individual needs and included respite care, symptom control, and comfort and care during the last stages of life.

A day respite centre, now called Footprints Day Care, opened in 2000 and offered a range of social activities, complementary therapies and support groups for patients and their carers.

Transition to St John of God Heath Care

Murdoch Community Hospice was integrated into the St John of God Health Care group in 2006. A $5 million refurbishment of the facility was completed in 2020/21, funded through the legacy of gifts in wills from grateful patients.

St John of God Murdoch Community Hospice continues to provide end of life care and bereavement support to the community today.

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