The concrete elegy to industry
Steele’s big creation captured a big Hospital audience. Visible to clinical and research staff and patients in all rooms at the rear of the Outpatients Building, it was perhaps aimed specifically at the north-facing wards on the 7th and 8th floors, where a play room had been situated for convalescent children. The mural sculpture looked directly over the Casualty Department carpark. Thousands of sick and injured children would have encountered the artwork when they were brought in via ambulance.
Reginald Steele was one of the chief architects on the Outpatients Building project. He knew the site plans inside out. He would have positioned his mural sculpture with the children in mind.
The artwork was also composed for the occupants of the General Purposes Building. Steele probably designed this building himself. Having sketched the plans for each room, he was intimate with their intended purpose and contents. He knew his audience: engineers, painters, plumbers, electricians, carpenters – and machines.
Steele was an architect of some 30 years when he designed this sculpture for the Hospital. Its motifs are the abstract language of a man who had drawn 100s of building plans in his life. The larger geometric shapes speak of simplified structural elevations; of roofs in aerial view. The mural design is like a deconstructed, fantastical architectural drawing in 3-D, populated by giant toy maintenance workers with tools for heads. It is a concrete elegy to industry; a platonic love letter to fellow men in the building arts and trades.
Above all, the artwork was playful. The aim of its creator was to bring happiness to young patients, and brighten the days of those who laboured to maintain the built environment to support their healing.
View of Casualty Department carpark, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, mid-late 1960s
The inspector of the Hospital’s Casualty carpark was very familiar with the mural sculpture. He worked long hours in front of the artwork every day.
Ambulance officers unloading a child patient at the Casualty Department entrance, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, mid-late 1960s
Aerial view of Adelaide Children’s Hospital, 20 March 1963
Opposite the park on Sir Edwin Smith Avenue, a section of the General Purposes Building and mural sculpture can just be seen peeking out from behind the Outpatients block.
Clem Backman, Maintenance Engineer’s Assistant, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, 1964
In charge of mechanical maintenance, Clem Backman was the offsider to Maintenance Engineer Doug Hawes, who had an office on the first floor of the General Purposes Building just down the corridor from the mural wall.
Demolition Drawing for General Purposes Building, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, September 1976
The details marked on this ground-floor plan of the General Purposes Building (GPB) indicate the location of the electrical transformer station, switchboard and medical gases on the ground floor (at right).
The mural sculpture, comprised of a series of Unistrut gridwork panels, was mounted above the roller shutters on level one. The Hospital carpenters, Kurt Erdman, Phil Martin and Bernie Stickland, worked inside the building directly behind the mural wall.
This demolition plan is a revision of an architectural drawing for the original building design, c1960–61. The original date and details of the architectural firm have been covered over and changed.
Plan prepared by Woods Bagot Architects Pty Ltd, Job No. 2445/09, Drawing No. 6.
Bill Osborn, Foreman Painter, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, 1958
Bill Osborn looked after all paintwork maintenance at the Hospital. Until his retirement in 1965 he worked in the basement of the General Purposes Building, which also contained the Electricians’ workshop and Lister Blackstone diesel generator.
Lister Blackstone diesel generator in the basement of the General Purposes Building, Adelaide Children’s Hospital, mid-late 1960s
The generator is the last piece of machinery retained from the old General Purposes Building. Long decommissioned, it still resides in a basement at the WCH site.