Our Hospital: History of Mt Wilga Private Hospital

History of Mt Wilga Private Hospital

Everyone associated with Mt Wilga Private Hospital is very proud of our very significant history and heritage. You can rest assured in the knowledge we have provided outstanding rehabilitation services with excellent outcomes for almost 60 years.

Our Heritage
In 1907, Sir Henry Marcus Clark, a renowned businessman purchased 212 acres of land on the Hornsby Plateau, reputed to be the highest point in the Sydney metropolitan area.  Over a few years he designed and commenced building the manor house, on the land that is adjacent to where Mt Wilga Private Hospital is currently located. The land and house have heritage significance to the Hornsby Shire and both are listed as a National Trust Property. Marcus Clarke named the property ‘Mount Wilga’ after the Wilga tree which was evergreen and could survive long periods of drought. He died in 1913, and didn’t live to see the finished house, which was completed by his wife, Georgina in 1914.

Mt Wilga becomes a Rehabilitation Centre
In 1953, the Commonwealth Government transferred its rehabilitation services from Jervis Bay on the south coast of NSW to the Mt Wilga site.  This centre originally catered for the rehabilitation and residential needs of disabled servicemen. The rehabilitation team was medically led by the eminent Dr Brad Norington CBE.

During this time, Mt Wilga established its enviable reputation as the most modern and best equipped facility in Australia and began to cater for the rehabilitation needs of everyone, but predominantly people with spinal injuries.

Our role in the Australian Paralympic Movement
Proudly, Mt Wilga played an important role in the founding of the Australian Paralympic Games movement, notably driven by Dr John Grant AO OBE, who is still closely linked to the Hospital and its activities, by being a member of the Medical Advisory Committee.  He was joined by two former staff members, senior physiotherapist Miss Eileen Perrottet and remedial gymnast Mr. Kevin Betts AO.

Eileen Perrottet returned from London in 1952, after furthering her experiences, to help start the first Paraplegic Centre in WA. From there she helped organise a team of seven to the Stoke Mandeville Games (the forefather to the Paralympic Games) in London, 1957.  She then moved to Mt Wilga where, in 1959, she organised the first Paraplegic Games in NSW, held at the Mt Wilga Centre. Eileen initiated Kevin Betts’ interest in working with paraplegic patients that, at the time, were being assisted by our rehabilitation programs.

Dr John Grant went to London in 1957, and on his return, inspired by what he had seen, introduced sport as a leading part of rehabilitation. This began the hospital’s annual Games.

In 1960, Australia sent a team to the inaugural Paralympic Games held in Rome. Of the twelve competitors three had been patients of Mt Wilga and trained by Kevin Betts and Eileen Perrottet. The 1960 team came home with ten medals.

Becoming a Premier Private Hospital
In 1984, in line with the Government’s policy on ‘integrating the disabled into the community’, the centre was closed.  However in 1987, Mt Wilga was purchased by Alpha Healthcare. 

The property was subdivided, leaving the heritage listed Marcus Clark house on our now adjoining property. After an extensive refurbishment and upgrading, Mt Wilga reopened as a private medical and rehabilitation hospital in September 1988.

In June 2000, Alpha Healthcare was purchased by Ramsay Health Care, now the largest global operator of private hospitals. In 2005 the Hospital underwent major redevelopment, vastly improving the quality of the therapy areas and accommodation. Thus Mt Wilga became Ramsay Health Care’s premier specialist Rehabilitation Hospital.

In mid 2012, having repurchased Mt Wilga House and further subdividing the land, Ramsay Health Care resold the house to a local family. Mt Wilga Private Hospital kept part of the land and will open another $12million development. The Hospital will be transformed in the forthcoming months into a new and improved hospital campus with 39 new patient single rooms with en-suites, new therapy gyms and increased car parking.

Naming our Wards and buildings
Our wards and buildings are proudly named after key influences in the history of Mt Wilga Private Hospital.

The Marcus Clarke Building, houses our national and internationally recognized Specialist Lymphoedema service, the only one of two comprehensive Lymphoedema service’s in Australia; along with our occupational therapy and speech therapy services.

John Grant Ward is named after Neurosurgeon, Dr John Grant who devoted a professional lifetime to the rehabilitation of the physically disabled. In 1950, Dr Grant was appointed, as a junior neurosurgeon, to Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH).  He was inspired by the work of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German refugee, who established spinal injury services for World War II casualties in England.  Dr Grant was responsible for the establishment of the Neurosurgery and Spinal Injuries Units at RNSH.  He has subsequently held Consultant appointments at no less than 11 health organisations throughout Sydney.

In 1961, Dr Grant co-founded the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW.  This is a charity that now assists over 7,000 clients.

Culminating in over 50 years of involvement in building up wheelchair sports, Dr Grant was President of the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee in 2000.Dr Grant is also a past president on the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation and the International Paralympic Committee.

In 1987, Dr Grant became Chairman of the Mt Wilga Private Hospital Medical Advisory Committee, a position that he retired from in 2011, although he remained on the Committee until he passed away in 2013.  Dr Grant was instrumental in the co-ordination of the development of rehabilitation services at Mt Wilga Private Hospital.

In 1973, Dr Grant was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire; in 1990, a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2002 both an Officer of the Order of Australia and a Gold Order of the International Paralympic Committee.

Brad Norington Ward is named after Dr Brad Norington, who was a pioneer in the field of rehabilitation medicine. He helped give hundreds of patients a bright future in the face of disabilities that would have once cut short their lives. Dr Norington was also a personal inspiration to his patients. Confined to a wheelchair since his last year of medical school, when he suffered a severe case of polio, Dr Norington confronted them with the proof that they could overcome their problems and lead successful and fulfilling lives.

For 30 years, he was a specialist consultant at Mt Wilga when it was run by the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. When Mt Wilga became a private hospital in 1987, Dr Norington was invited to stay as a consultant during its early transition.

Besides Mt Wilga, Dr Norington worked as a senior specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Prince of Wales Hospital from 1962 to 1984 and was a visiting specialist at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, from 1958 to 1984.

Dr Norington was a founder of the Australian College of Rehabilitation Medicine and the organisation’s inaugural president.

For most of his working life, Dr Norington was a board member of the NSW Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association and, with his wife, Jacqueline, played an active role establishing Ferguson Lodge, a residential centre at Lidcombe Hospital for the disabled.

In 1979 Dr Norington was awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth for his services to rehabilitation medicine and the handicapped. He was named Father of the Year for NSW in 1981.  While Dr Norington survived much longer than predicted, he died relatively young, aged 62, in 1991.

Kevin Betts Ward is named after Kevin Betts OAM, who was a remedial gymnast employed at Mt Wilga in the late 1950’s and 60’s. During his life he made a significant contribution to the Paralympic Movement in Australia, along with being known as the “Father of Wheelchair Sport in New South Wales”. A highly respected professional, Kevin Betts was always full of enthusiasm and regarded by many as a man who could empower others – providing insight, leadership and motivation to all those around him. He has been described as having had an expansive knowledge and was always willing to share this.

Together with his wife, Marie Keating, who was also the Director of Nursing at Mt Wilga from 1960 until her retirement in 1987, Kevin Betts was committed to the role sport played in benefitting the lives of people with disabilities.  Kevin coached the Australian Paralympic team and supported them at the inaugural games in Rome in 1960; of the twelve competitors three had been patients of Mt Wilga and trained by Kevin Betts and other Mt Wilga colleagues. The 1960 team came home with ten medals.

Kevin Betts held a number of positions on International and National committees involved with technical and constitutional issues including the International Paralympic Coordinating Committee, International Stoke Mandeville Games, FESPIC, Australian Wheelchair Sports Foundation, Australian Council for the Disabled, and New South Wales Sports Council for the Disabled.

Kevin Betts was recognised for his contribution and involvement with a number of awards :

  • 1977 Queens Jubilee Medal for 25 years service to people with disabilities
  • 1981 Inaugural Sir Ludwig Guttmann (the father of modern rehabilitation) Award. Established by the then, Australian Wheelchair Sports Federation, recognising individuals who have made a significant contribution to Wheelchair Sports in Australia.
  • 1989 Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List
  • 1992 The Kevin Betts Sports Stadium at Mt Druitt was renamed in his honour

Kevin Betts was a remarkable individual who passed away on 4 May 1990, having left a truly significant mark on the history of Mt Wilga and sport for people with disabilities.

Description: Austcorp is off-loading the historic Mt Wilga site. Picture: PETER KELLY
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