Supporting Lives: Behind the Scenes at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital

By James Parker and Amelia Walker
Artists in Residence History and Heritage Collection

A South Australia’s History Festival event, presented by the Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Arts in Health program through collaboration with the Women’s and Children’s Health Network’s History and Heritage Collection.

Hidden under the Women’s and Children’s Hospital is an archive of artefacts and images curated by the History and Heritage Collection Curator, Emily Collins.

As part of South Australia’s History Festival, experience this archive by stepping into the silenced lives of porters (orderlies), cooks, cleaners, linen and logistics staff at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Often overlooked in comparison to nurses and doctors, these staff play crucial roles in patient hygiene, nutrition, comfort and more.

The Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Artists in Residence, James Parker and Amelia Walker, have transformed tales from the hospital archives into a mixed-mode online and physical exhibition.

James Parker is a visual artist who works mostly in the primary school system and in his own practise as an exhibiting printmaker and bookmaker.

Dr Amelia Walker is a nurse-turned-poet who lectures in creative writing at the University of South Australia.

These long-term collaborators have included dry-point prints, poetry, and digital storytelling in celebration of these hidden heroes and their unsung contributions.

Supporting Lives: Behind the Scenes at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital is centred around the trolleys used by these subtle and silent workers and their journeys throughout the hospital and the integral role they play.

“I was impressed by the different trolleys within the different departments of the Hospital and all their different functions, designs and construction. This exhibition is about those trolleys and the people who push and pull them through the corridors, keeping everything as it should be,” Parker said. “I hope it brings these wonderful workers out into the light so we can say well done and thank you.”

Both Parker and Walker appreciate these individuals and take delight in collaborating in the Hospital space.

“As a former nurse, I was especially excited by the opportunity to collaborate on a project about health and hospitals,” Walker said.

“Responding to archival materials was a new venture for me and has offered insights I can bring back to my role as a lecturer in creative writing at the University of South Australia.”

This exhibition is part of the WCH Foundation’s Arts in Health program which focuses on encouraging creativity, providing moments of calm in a busy health environment, and easing the distress of patients and their families at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

WCH Foundation’s CEO, Jane Scotcher said, “Our Arts in Health program helps to bring the History Collection of the Hospital to life by coordinating artist residencies that add ‘arts thinking’ into the healthcare environment.”

“We are thrilled with the exhibition that James and Amelia have created, working alongside Museum Curator Emily Collins. What a wonderful tribute to all the staff that work behind the scenes.”

Supporting Lives: Behind the Scenes at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be on display for the Hospital community and available online for the public to view from 1 May – 26 July 2021.

Exhibition videos

Artwork by James Parker, poems by Amelia Walker and video editing by Reg Parker.

Exhibition Gallery

Prints by James Parker.

Bain Marie

Cleaning Away

Corridor Choreography

Logistics

Maintenance with Ladder

Porters

Wheelie Bin Tandem

Exhibition Poetry

With / out any trace

Of all the hospital’s histories,
why are those of cleaners
so hard to trace?
As though they sweep their very selves
away – along with dust, dirt, footprints
and finger-streak smudges on doors,
along with spilled blood, urine,
muscous, breath,
all the deaths
that could have bred there
had they not.

Florence Nightingale is regaled as nurse.
Yet she, too, was a cleaner.
In wars as well as pandemics,
simple hygiene saves more lives
than surgeons stitch together,
matters more to comfort
than any glow
of any lamp.

Yet so many people treat like dirt
those who keep us clean,
brushing lives aside like specks
of dandruff or strands of shed hair
– awkward reminders
of how being
human means being
animal and abject.

Is this why the greatest trace
of hospital cleaners
a century ago, and yesterday
is their tracelessness?

The ideal mark of a thorough clean
is that no mark be left behind
– an achievement visible only
through what is not seen
because it has been swept,
scrubbed, soaked or scratched
from view – or, failing that,
covered over, in service
of a saccharine illusion
that no blood was ever shed,
no fresh thing soiled.

This is the irony – and the art –
of cleaning: its object is to make all
its objects dis/appear
as though never there at all.

View all poems by Amelia Walker

Supporting Lives: Behind the Scenes at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be on display for the Hospital community and available online for the public to view from 1 May – 26 July 2021 in the Green Heart Gallery.

*Please note: Due to COVID-19 there are visitor restrictions in the Hospital. To remain updated on this information visit www.wch.sa.gov.au.

View the exhibition brochure here.

Learn more about James’ art practice here and Amelia here.

This exhibition is part of the WCH Foundation’s Arts in Health program which focuses on encouraging creativity, providing moments of calm in a busy health environment, and easing the distress of patients and their families at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation raises funds to support the health of women and children under the care of Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The Foundation’s Arts in Health program creates a vibrant and bright hospital environment that helps to improve the health and wellbeing of patients, their families, and staff.

This exhibition was planned and exhibited on the lands of the Kaurna People, we pay our respects to the Kaurna Elders past and present and to the Elders of the lands this brochure reaches.

For more information about the exhibition or purchasing an artwork, please contact:

Lauren Simeoni, Arts Officer, Arts in Health
Email artsinhealth@wchfoundation.org.au
Telephone 08 8464 7900

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