The Vermilion Ambulance and the Johnston Street Jewel

There was a slow start to Wagga’s attempt to form a motor ambulance service.

At an initial public meeting held in January 1923 a committee was appointed, headed by Dr Martin, but no other concrete steps were taken.

A year and a half later, in July 1924, the Greater Wagga League charged Mr Harvey Paull with making enquiries into establishing a motor ambulance service.

At a public meeting held on May 11, 1925, it was moved that an ambulance district be formed at Wagga Wagga under the NSW Ambulance Transport Service Board.

Harvey Paull reported to the meeting that a sum of between £600 and £700 would be required to establish the service, followed by approximately £300 a year for ongoing administration.

The new committee consisted of: Mr HE Gissing (Chairman), Mr H Paull (Secretary), Mr A Maguire (Treasurer), Mrs AR Raleigh, Mrs WM Tonkin, Mrs M Byrnes, Messrs Muir, WJ Campbell, RJ Cunningham, WJ Peacock, W Higgins and WR Maybury.

By January 1926, the committee had just over £600 in donations. They appointed a superintendent (Mr Fred Roffe of Maryborough, QLD) and commissioned the building of an motorised ambulance.

The Vermilion Ambulance

The most striking characteristic of the new ambulance was its colour – a very bright vermillion, with a white medal and the Geneva (or Red) Cross. Across the panelling in gold lettering was written, “NSW Ambulance Brigade, Wagga Wagga District.”

The vehicle was built by Messrs. Douglas and Patterson of Fitzmaurice Street. It was constructed on a Hudson super-six chassis, mounted on balloon-tyred wheels and the timber framework was of Queensland maple.

Douglas and Patterson also made two collapsible stretchers with telescope handles, mounted on rubber-tyred wheels.

The vehicle could carry three stretchers or two stretchers and seven sitting patients.  Stretchers could be suspended above the floor level, supported by specially constructed brackets.

Wagga ambulance and Fred Roffe.
This is a photograph of what was probably the first ambulance belonging to the Wagga Wagga District Ambulance Service. The officer is likely to be the first Superintendent, Mr Fred Roffe and he is outside the ambulance headquarters in Simmons Street. [From the Murrumbidgee District Ambulance Service Collection, SA1933].
The next step for the committee was the building of an Ambulance Station.

The New Station

Following their appointment and the purchase of Wagga’s first motor ambulance in 1926, Fred Roffe and his assistant set up the ambulance headquarters at 29 Simmons Street but this was only a temporary arrangement.

After some investigation, the Wagga Ambulance Committee chose a site in Johnson Street to build a permanent station.

Newspaper article.
A rare article in the local paper detailed what had just been demolished to make way for the new station [The Daily Advertiser, 6 April 1928].
The NSW Minister for Health, Dr Richard Arthur, visited Wagga on August 15, 1928, to lay the foundation stone of the new building.

Mr HE Gissing, as committee president, opened the proceedings by stating proudly that in its two and a half year of operation, the ambulance service had already travelled over 37,000 miles for 2212 patients.

On January 30, 1929, the completed station was opened by the NSW Premier, Thomas Bavin.

The Johnston Street Ambulance Station and the fleet of ambulances.
Through loans, subscriptions, appeals and public entertainments, the Wagga Ambulance Committee built Wagga’s first permanent ambulance station in 1928. This photograph of the Johnston Street station was taken in 1937 [from the Murrumbidgee District Ambulance Service Collection, SA1933].
The two-storey building, had a frontage of 53 feet, a depth of 52 feet and cost, including furniture, around £5500.

The ground floor was comprised of a large plant room with a concrete floor and tiled walls and was designed to provide space for twice the number of ambulances the service currently owned.

On either side were offices, casualty rooms, and a lecture room; at the back was the store, fumigating room, conveniences and laundry and the second floor housed the permanent staff’s living quarters.

It had been designed by local architects, Pitt and Morrow, built by a local contractor, the Charles Hardy Company, with local labour, financed through local donations, and was designed specifically to cope with the requirements of the service for years to come.

Surprisingly, the building managed to “cope” for nearly 90 years and now Wagga has a new ambulance station in Fernleigh Road, beginning a new era in this district’s ambulance service.


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