For many graduates of the Otago School of Physiotherapy, the hydrotherapy pool at 140 Hanover Street, Dunedin was an integral part of their training.  Commissioned in July 1943 by the Education Department and finally constructed in 1946, the pool was instrumental in establishing new standards in hydrotherapy in a country already famed for its healing spas and therapy pools.  

The pool itself was located on the ground floor of the new Massage School, which was built at a cost of £100,000.  The pool was part of a rehabilitation complex that included ‘Hubbard tanks, anti-gravity inclined boards and Guthrie-Smith sling suspension systems’ (McLeod, 1989), a children’s therapy pool, contrast baths and douches.  The pool was 25 yards long and 10 yards wide.  It held 84,000 gallons of water at 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and was equipped with the latest air conditioning and filtration equipment.  The pool was 8 feet 9 inches deep at one end and 3 feet deep at the other. 

Nancy Grant – a student physiotherapist in 1948 – recalled that, “Patients were pushed on trolleys, wheelchairs or attempted mobility on walking frames across Cumberland Street, and if paraplegic, were placed on a metal stretcher and lowered from the ceiling to the heated swimming pool” (Grant, 1998).  And Billie McLeod remembered that, “[t]he length and breadth of the pool were such that patients in the earliest stages of rehabilitation – stretcher cases, cerebral palsied children and poliomyelitis victims, post surgical orthopaedic, arthritic and neurological or geriatric patients – could be managed with absolute safety at the shallow end of the pool” (McLeod, 1998).

As well as its role in neuro-muscular rehabilitation, the pool was used for pioneering work in post-myocardian infarction rehabilitation (Nye, 1976).  The pool rapidly gained an international reputation with overseas doctors, who always made a point of visiting it during their stays in Dunedin.  One such doctor – Sir Reginald Watson-Jones, orthopaedic surgeon to Her Majesty The Queen – wrote in the Preface of his book Fractures and Joint Injuries that, “In New Zealand, at Dunedin, I saw one of the finest physiotherapy departments in the world, including many gymnasia and treatment-rooms as well as a full-sized swimming pool reserved for old ladies and gentlemen recovering from severe fractures and major operations’”(Watson-Jones, 1960, viii).

By the 1980s, the pool had ceased to be a purely therapeutic facility.  Although the School continued to use the facility, electrotherapy and manipulations largely replaced hydrotherapy and massage in the physiotherapist’s armamentarium, and, in 1976, the School moved from health administration to become a polytechnic.  It is still known locally as the “Physio Pool”, however, and it continues to attract more than 50,000 visitors each year.  Maintaining the pool costs the Otago District Health Board $20-30,000 annually, but its listing as a historic building by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in December 2004 will certainly help preserve what is both a landmark of Dunedin’s recent history, and an enduring feature of New Zealand physiotherapy history. 

By David Nicholls

the Hanover Street Physio Pool


 

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