Reflections at Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust

Since 2005, Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust has been documenting, publicising, and promoting the history of health services in the Waikato DHB area.

Reflections at Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust
Waikato Hospital. Image credited to kiwinz (

One of the major upsides of being the curator for Auckland Medical Museum Trust – an organisation that exists almost entirely online – is getting to visit physical collections around the country and talk to the people who are responsible for looking after them. Mid-March saw me in Hamilton in an outbuilding at Waikato Hospital.

The building serves many purposes and one of them is housing the collections of the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust. If you want to see a varied collection of the history of health and medicine in Waikato, this is the place for you. My visit was hosted by Andrea Oosterwijk who holds many roles in the wider Waikato heritage community. On my visit, she had on her hat as the contract curator for the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust.

Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust has a plethora of objects in their collection ranging from the fascinating to the horrifying to the benign. The shelves devoted to obstetric tools comprised part of the horrifying, and the box of old bottles which all once contained mercury-based medicines were fascinating. Something straddling the line of both was a bottle that once contained ‘Gripe Water.’ According to the label on the bottle, this was ‘important to mothers’. Intended for babies, Gripe Water contained 4.5% alcohol and it was recommended that babies and infants could be dosed up to eight times in a24-hour period. Recently I received my COVID-19 booster and seasonal flu jab, and as I was sitting at the pharmacy after the vaccinations, I saw Gripe Water available on the shelf in front of me. Here’s hoping the alcoholic content has been removed.

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One of the displays in Waikato Hospital curated by the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust.

The Trust was established in 2005 with the intention of documenting, publicising, and promoting the history of health services in the Waikato DHB area and Andrea is a few years into curating a display about cardiac medicine which is intended for Waikato Hospital. The display has been held up at various points due to things outside of Andrea’s control, not least of which the entire COVID-19 pandemic, but will complement the existing displays in the hospital curated by Andrea’s predecessors.

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Some instructions for nurses being trained at Waikato or Rotorua Hospitals. From the collection of Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust.

Partway through my visit, Trustee and retired doctor Peter Rothwell arrived at the collection storage building for a chat about the Trust. Medical museums, collections and trusts in New Zealand are relatively plentiful but also consistently in danger of losing their space to other needs of the hospital (see my blog about the David Warnock Medical Museum) so it was wonderful to hear from Peter how supportive Waikato Hospital has been.

The Trust has had quite a number of successes since its establishment 18 years ago, not least of which is the publishing of three very excellent books in 2009, 2012 and 2016 respectively. They also host two lectures a year in March/April and September/October. Like Andrea’s work on the display, COVID-19 has had an impact on the lectures in the last few years. In looking through the impressive list of past lectures, I was pleasantly surprised to see a name I recognised immediately – Associate Professor Margaret Horsburgh, the Co-Chair of Auckland Medical Museum Trust which administers our e-museum Our Health Journeys.

Though Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust doesn’t have the capacity for visits from the general public to its collection storage facility, the work of the Trust is more than evident in Waikato Hospital. As someone who spent quite a bit of time at that hospital in their youth visiting an ailing family member, I wish their displays had been there earlier. After all, there is only so many times you can read the same magazine in a hospital waiting room.