Altona was well known as a holiday and fishing village. Dr Louis Joel a local resident who had grown up on a dairy farm in Altona saw the need for a hospital similar to the typical country nursing hospital. Many residents gave donations of a penny a week and with much more local fundraising the ‘Altona District Hospital’ was opened in 1938. Dr Joel became the hospitals first medical officer and a well respected figure in the district.
The Boom years for the 25 bed maternity hospital was a significant part of the Altona Community. Many past and present local Altona identities were born here. Numerous extensions and a nurses quarters were built to meet the demand for its services.
Increasingly, the requirements of government health funding were determining the future of hospitals, particularly small district hospital such as Altonas. The Altona District Hospital and title to its site was taken over by the State Government and The Hobsons Bay Community Advancement Co-operative was formed in May 1997. After vigorous community action, the hospital building and sixty percent of the land was saved and purchased by the Co-operative on behalf of the broad Altona community. The vision was to further develop then use the facility as a community centre, with particular emphasis on arts and resources.
In Dr. Joel’s formative years he lived with his parents on a dairy farm in Altona adjacent to the area where the Toyota Motor Company plant now stands. He rode his horse, Dolly, to school every day in Williamstown. Prior to entering his teens, his family moved to Carlton and the young Louis attended Wesley College, then Melbourne High School and finally graduated from Melbourne University in 1926 qualifying as a Physician and Surgeon. Following graduation he worked as a Ship’s Surgeon and arrived in England. He moved to Edinburgh where he furthered his studies at the University extending his surgical skills.
On his return to Australia, he married his sweetheart and settled in Williamstown, an industrial suburb where he felt people needed his skills whether he received payment or not. Many years were spent in Williamstown and he was heavily involved with the Williamstown Hospital.
Altona, an idyllic small fishing village with many little fibro houses owned by the local Maltese fishermen, was always close to his heart. He realized that Altona was without medical services and he set about developing the first Altona District Hospital in an old house in Pier Street. To staff the hospital, he appointed a Williamstown Nursing Sister, Irene Webber to the position of Matron and the little hospital soon became overburdened with patients.
Dr. Joel raised the funds to purchase this property by borrowing from one of Melbourne’s leading families who were in the confectionary industry. The debt was repaid together with interest within the agreed time frame and the financiers handed him back a cheque equal to the interest on the loan, as a gift to the hospital. Naturally he was quite emotional about this most generous gesture.
To meet the needs of the growing population within Altona, he, together with a committee, set about funding the construction of a new larger, modern hospital. This building is now known as the Louis Joel Centre.
Shortly after opening the hospital, Louis Joel realized that it was essential to have consulting rooms in the town where he looked after patients, visiting them two and three times a week. As the practice grew he brought in another doctor, John Lewin, who became the Resident Doctor.
Driving to Altona was no easy task, particularly during the winter months when the old Blackshaws Road flooded and he had to detour through Seaholme. He, like others, was an expert at getting bogged and carried hessians bags in the boot of his car to help in these conditions.
Dr. Joel was known for his dedication to his patients who looked upon him not only as their Physician but as their confidante and mentor. He was known to drive from Williamstown to Altona at any time of the day or night to meet the call for acute operations, delivery of babies or any other need. He was admired for his dedication and the numerous babies he brought into the world, many of whom helped to increase the population of Altona.
Dr. Louis Joel, MBE, was decorated by her Majesty the Queen, for his fifty years of service and involvement in the community affairs of Williamstown and Altona, of which, both the area and the people were close to his heart.