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Former staff go back to Carrington

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013
Carrington Hospital
JASON OXENHAM
REUNITED: Former nurses L-R: Jim Jacobs, Sue Thomson and Erica Beattie are holding a reunion for Carrington Psychiatric Hospital staff.

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It may have been fodder for many a ghost story, but the former Carrington Psychiatric Hospital is still looked upon fondly by staff who worked there decades ago.

The imposing Victorian brick building has seen thousands of wardens, nurses and patients walk its halls since it was built in 1865, when it was originally opened as Whau Lunatic Asylum.

The Mt Albert hospital underwent many changes during its long history, but in the 1980s the institute's patient roll dropped to around 400 - from about 1200 in the 1970s.

The hospital was closed in February 1993, after being sold by the Auckland Area Health Board to be refurbished into what is now Unitec Institute of Technology.

A trio of nurses who worked at the psychiatric ward during the 1980s have joined together to hold a reunion for former staff.

Sue Thomson started working at the hospital straight out of school in 1980. She was interested in working at Carrington after seeing an ad for psychiatric nurse training.

"It's a silly story but I opened the paper and the ad appeared to shine, so I went along and did that," she says.

Ms Thomson worked at the hospital until shortly before the closure, and says her time there was formative.

"I remember it as being a really good experience," she says.

"There was a lot of collegial strength, and because I'd gone there so young in a lot of ways I grew up there."

Walking through empty wards to reach occupied parts of the hospital often put the spooks into young nurses, but Ms Thomson says researching for the upcoming reunion has dispelled some of the myths.

"People always said there was a ghost in the chapel because of a fire, but in actual fact if you look at the pictures from around 1870 the chapel didn't get burnt," she says.

"There were always ghost stories and over the years those stories got more and more exaggerated."

Jim Jacobs started as a hospital aid in 1970 and remembers horror stories of a different sort.

"We had head nurses who would go around and check that your socks were no more than a hand-width below the knee, and your shorts had to be no more than a hand-width above the knee," he recalls.

"I got sent home a few times for having my shorts too short."

With rules like that Mr Jacobs decided he would be better off in the recreation department helping patients keep fit or showing movies for entertainment.

Mr Jacobs is looking forward to meeting former colleagues at the reunion which takes place next month in the old woodwork room of the hospital, now the Pump House cafe.

"There were lots of wonderful people there and it was only because of the dissolution of the hospital that we all went our separate ways."

Reunion co-organiser Erica Beattie remembers the hospital as having a family atmosphere during the two years she worked there in the early 1980s.

"There were lots of clients who lived there, who were put there as children, so it was a real community," she says.

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The reunion is the brainchild of Ms Beattie and Ms Thomson. The idea came about after the two connected on Facebook and started reminiscing over their times working at the hospital, where both women met their future husbands.

"The more we talked about it we realised that it is 20 years in February that Carrington closed," Ms Beattie says.

Preparing for the event, Ms Thomson has encountered many former staff in their 80s and 90s who have strong memories of the working culture at the hospital.

"They are still able to tell you really good histories and they still remember what you were like back then," she says.

She has also gathered around 500 historical photos which will be displayed in a slideshow on the night.

The Carrington Psychiatric Hospital staff reunion is on February 9 at Pump House cafe.

Email sue.thomson@ middlemore.co.nz to register interest in attending.

- Central Leader

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