Cultural Artefact: Physiotherapy


Physiotherapy, initially called massage because this was the main component, appeared in Tasmania in the early 1890s. At first masseurs were male, but the profession became the province of women, the first female 'masseuse' beginning work in Hobart in 1904. The Australian Massage Association was formed in 1905, but there was no branch in Tasmania.

By 1920, women such as Cecily Radcliff and D Tarleton, who had trained on the mainland, were working in Hobart, and Joy Chapman worked at the Repatriation Hospital from 1928. In 1926 there was one masseuse in private practice in Launceston, and that year Jess Boyes began working in a voluntary capacity in the Launceston General Hospital.

Massage gained public recognition during the polio epidemics of the 1930s, as it was a vital part of treatment. In 1930, the Hobart General Hospital appointed Margaret Oswald as diathermist (using heat treatment) and masseuse. Much of the work was massage and exercise done in the wards, and the Physiotherapy Department consisted of a small room in the Outpatients' Department with a table, couch and two chairs. During the decade, a radiant heat bath, 'short wave diathermy', ultra-violet apparatus and galvanic apparatus were provided, and a gymnasium was equipped. More equipment in more areas meant work grew considerably.

In the severe 1937 polio epidemic, 393 cases were admitted to the Hobart Hospital, and Massage Department staff was increased to twelve (some part-time), under specialist physiotherapist Thelma Secretan. Similar developments took place in Launceston. In 1940 Wingfield House was built in Hobart to assist children who had had polio, and St Giles did similar work in Launceston. Wingfield was provided with three hydrotherapy pools, a gymnasium and open-air wards, and Cecily Radcliff was appointed matron. Massage was renamed Physiotherapy in 1939, as the work had expanded far beyond massage, and it developed more during the Second World War, when physiotherapists treated amputees, burns patients and brain-damaged veterans.

In 1951 the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Physiotherapy Association was formed, with seven foundation members. The Physiotherapy Act (1952) set up a registration board to register qualified physiotherapists. Physiotherapy expanded greatly, into such areas as ante-natal care and sport and work injuries, greatly encouraged by Douglas Parker, Director of Orthopaedics in Tasmania from 1946 to 1965. Training moved to universities, though it has never been available in Tasmania, and men started to take up the profession. In 1966, 59 physiotherapists were registered, of whom 36 were practising (others were retired through age, or had married and stopped work). They were employed at major hospitals and in private practice. In the late 1970s physiotherapists were recognised as 'first contact practitioners' - until then patients had to have medical referrals. The scope of physiotherapy continued to expand, with involvement in sports, and development due to advances in medicine and surgery. In 2004, 292 physiotherapists were registered in Tasmania.

Pat McRae

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