Ambulance Services

An ambulance at the Devon Hospital, about 1920 (AOT, PH30/1/3353B)

Ambulance Services developed slowly in Tasmania. In the nineteenth century people depended on family and friends taking them to a doctor or hospital, and from 1887 St John Ambulance provided first-aid treatment in major towns. Large hospitals provided their own ambulance services: in 1887 the Launceston General Hospital possessed an ambulance wagon, and in 1909 'a handsome and efficient horse ambulance'. The need for ambulances grew with the appearance of motor vehicles, which could take people to hospital faster than horses, but which at first few individuals owned. Some municipal councils began to provide ambulance services, occasionally combined with a fire brigade, but action was haphazard.

In 1923 a public meeting in Hobart asked that the government run an ambulance service, and the Southern Tasmania Ambulance Board was set up, with municipal councils and the government paying subsidies. This led to arguments, councils often feeling they were paying too much; in the 1950s Glenorchy and the Royal Hobart Hospital set up their own ambulance systems, and in 1959 St John Ambulance took over services in major towns. This proved too large a task for a volunteer organisation, and in 1970 it was taken over by the government, which has run the ambulance service since. Private services were set up in various areas in 1999.

Further reading: C Craig, Launceston General Hospital, Launceston, 1963; A Alexander, Glenorchy 18041964, Glenorchy, 1986; A Alexander and S Petrow, forthcoming history of Hobart City Council.

Alison Alexander