"Ever since man, woman or child became sick or injured there has always been a mode of transport no matter how basic to convey them to hospital - from man carrying man, push, horse or motor vehicles through disasters, wars, plagues, sickness and accidents." PKD 2012
The Beginning (1880-1890)
In 1883, ambulance services began in Melbourne following a public meeting which decided to form a branch of St John Ambulance Association. Humble transport methods would see patients carried on removed wooden doors or bundled into a hansom cab to be taken to hospital. In 1887 sufficient funds were raised by St John’s Ambulance to purchase six ashford litters which were placed at police stations. In 1899 the first horse drawn ambulance began operation. The first Melbourne ambulance station was a stable complex off Bourke Street at the rear of the Windsor Hotel.
In 1910, the first motor vehicle ambulance began operation, responding to 700 of the 4000 ambulance calls in the first year. 1916 saw St John Ambulance split its function and the Victorian Civil Ambulance Service (VCAS) was formed, solely relying on public donations and municipal council financial support as the then state government refused to subsidise the ambulance service, unlike the statewide police and fire brigades.
By 1916 the Service was insolvent and its closure contemplated despite transporting 5600 patients a year and travelling 60,000 miles. However in 1918 a serious outbreak of influenza in Victoria made the ambulance service essential and, with Public Health Department funding the epidemic, staff rose to 85 drivers and attendants and the fleet increased to 16 cars and horse drawn vehicles.
The Era (1920-2000+)
In 1923, the fleet comprised six motor vehicles, a motor cycle and sidecar, three horse drawn ambulances and 27 operational staff. Country services at Yarram, Yarra Junction and Rushworth began. 1925 saw the end of the horse drawn ambulance era. In 1944 some ambulances received one way radio transmissions. 1946 saw the entire fleet of 27 vehicles fitted with radio receivers. In 1954 two way radios were fitted to the fleet and the first communications centre began operation. 1962 brought the beginning of air ambulance.
1969 saw the first specifically developed ambulance, the Ford F100 Series, go into service. In October 1970 Melbourne experienced Australia’s worst bridge disaster – the collapse of the huge Westgate Bridge under construction. 37 men lost their lives. The VCAS played the major medical role in this disaster and many attending officers can still recount this tragic event today.
In 1971 the MICA (Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance) concept was trialled successfully. Helicopter retrieval of trauma and time critical patients began in 1986. The 1990s heralded the division of non-emergency patient transport services and MICA paramedics increased from 75 to 126 with 12 new emergency ambulance stations; computer assisted dispatch and advanced medical priority and communication systems and the Victorian ambulance clinical information system rolled out statewide.
In 2016, from humble beginnings Ambulance Victoria has continued to expand. Its medical care and technological expertise development equals any ambulance service in the world.
Arrange a Visit
Chas Martin - Co-ordinating Officer
Ambulance Historical Society Museum