Hospital patients recognise each other as workmates on construction of Wagga Base Hospital nearly 60 years ago | video| photos

A FLICKER of recognition passed between hospital patients Mike Stefanowicz and Ralph Lord.

Looking at each other from their beds on the fifth floor of the Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, the penny dropped that they had worked together on building Wagga Base Hospital, now being torn down just a few metres away.

The pair had not seen each other for nearly 60 years after completing construction on one of the biggest building projects in Wagga’s history.

“I could not work out who he was for a while, but it really didn’t take long and then we started talking,” said Mr Lord, who will turn 80 next month.

CATCHING UP: Recalling their days as young tradesmen helping to build Wagga Base Hospital has helped Mike Stefanowicz (left) and Ralph Lord pass the time in hospital. Picture: Laura Hardwick

CATCHING UP: Recalling their days as young tradesmen helping to build Wagga Base Hospital has helped Mike Stefanowicz (left) and Ralph Lord pass the time in hospital. Picture: Laura Hardwick

“I said I helped build the hospital, and Ralph said so did I,” Mr Stefanowicz said.

I could not work out who he was for a while, but it really didn’t take long and then we started talking - Ralph Lord

Mr Lord was a carpenter, who retired from his trade in 1984.

Mr Stefanowicz, who came to Australia as a refugee from Poland after World War II, worked on the hospital as a welder.

His memory of the hospital construction is as clear as if the job was yesterday, recalling how he climbed all over the building site and how building materials were taken up in a hoist.

“The same building firm went on to build the high school at Gundagai,” said Mr Stefanowicz, who is approaching his 92nd birthday.

Swapping yarns about their hospital construction experiences has helped the men pass the time.

“It’s been good, actually, talking about old times,” Mr Lord said.

Mike Stefanowicz with his grand-daughter Vickie Burkinshaw and her son Angus, 11. Picture: Ken Grimson

Mike Stefanowicz with his grand-daughter Vickie Burkinshaw and her son Angus, 11. Picture: Ken Grimson

While impressed with the new hospital, both men are proud of the quality of construction of the old hospital.

“The first couple of concrete pours we had to do by hand,” Mr Lord said.

“It’s all structural steel behind the bricks all the way up.

“It’s a solid building.”

Mr Stefanowicz’s grand-daughter, Vickie Burkinshaw, said she enjoyed listening to the stories the two old tradies shared.

“We don’t tell enough stories,” Mrs Burkinshaw said.

“Opa often talks about the hospital,” she said.

There are two more twists to this tale of reconnection

Mr Lord’s fiancee, Maureen, was a trainee nurse in the isolation ward at the Wagga hospital, which Mr Lord helped tear down before Wagga Base went up.

And Mr Stefanowicz and Mr Lord have discovered they live close to each other in Mount Austin.

“They’ve made a pact to stay in touch,” Mrs Burkinshaw said.

Ralph and Maureen Lord. Picture: Ken Grimson

Ralph and Maureen Lord. Picture: Ken Grimson

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