Firth Tower Museum: more to see than just the tower
Firth Tower in Matamata is a large property with extensive buildings, all containing bits and pieces of the collections from farming equipment, leather works, medicine and community history.
I arrived at Firth Tower Museum on the outskirts of Matamata at nine o'clock in the morning to meet with two volunteers and a member of staff, to explore the grounds, historic buildings, and the collections that make up the heritage reserve. The team were lovely and very welcoming. Gaylene, one of the volunteers, gave up a couple of hours of her day to take me around as I kept an eye out for the health and medical histories I knew I would find.
We went building to building and started outside of Firth Tower. From the tower, we went into the next building and up the stairs to their dedicated medical displays. The first thing I was shown was a beautiful red suitcase that contained a Dräger pulmotor. Next to that, they had a cauterising machine, various respirators, and medical odds and ends. There were displays on dentistry, and I found one of them incredibly relatable. It was labelled ‘A Painful Experience; A Memory of the Late 1920s or Early 1930s’ and were the reminiscences of H. B. Lowe’s experience at the dentist.
The images of local medical histories range from black and white through to colour, including a contemporary artwork as well.
Firth Tower is closed to the public for safety reasons and is currently surrounded by scaffolding. It's inaccessible, and when the tower was closed, the team lost several floors’ worth of storage and display space for their collections.
Along one of the walls was a long, painted mural of the town's original hospital, Matamata Cottage Hospital opened 10 April 1924 by R. D. Stanley, who painted it in 2000. There was a lovely little detail, of an information card tacked onto the painting just outside the hospital’s front doors that said “Matamata Hospital Visiting Hours. Daily, 2.30-3.30pm. Evening, husbands only 7.00-8.00pm. No children admitted.” A remnant of the original visitor access to the hospital so cohesively integrated into a contemporary artwork.
Local doctor, Neil Algar, put together a display case that includes a Gillies portable anaesthetic machine he used from 1957 to 1969 at Braeside Hospital. The machine was used during operations to keep the patient asleep. Gas and oxygen mixed in the machine and recirculated. The carbon dioxide is absorbed by soda lime in an upright canister. Additional anaesthetic agents like ether or halothane could be introduced to the circuit.
The last building Gaylene took me to was the school. In the entrance was an old dental set up. equipment. A chair, a drill and a mannequin in a dental nurse's uniform. The dental chair dates to the early 1920s and was used by the dentist on his visits to schools prior to the establishment of dental clinics.
Firth Tower in Matamata was a large property with extensive buildings, all containing bits and pieces of the collections from farming equipment, leather works, medicine and community history. The park also includes a large garden which is adjacent to one of the buildings, the Old Red Stable. The volunteers can take from the garden, but the majority of the vegetables go to feeding the local community.
If you're in or around Matamata, I would highly encourage a visit. It's a great place to explore and has a lot of activities to keep kids engaged. Firth Tower Museum is open Thursday to Monday.