Now almost 95 years old, Pat Jarratt worked at Lort Smith from 1948-1952. A time when a weekend of work would earn you $4 and it cost $1.25 to spay a cat!
Having been brought up on a farm, Pat has always loved animals and would gather up strays and look for animals in need. When she came to live in Melbourne after the war, she was delighted to find Lort Smith.
“I was working elsewhere as a switchboard operator and read a feature in the paper about Lort Smith, it was of great interest. I rang and enquired about volunteer work. They told me they didn’t offer volunteer work but they did have weekend work available. I started, on my own, the next Saturday and I didn’t know the blunt end from the sharp end of the hospital. The phone used to ring non-stop!” recalls Pat.
Pat’s weekend role included ‘a bit of everything’. From answering the phone, feeding the animals, exercising the dogs, cleaning cat cages and driving the ambulance – she found it very rewarding work.
“People would think you were a bit odd if you wanted to work with animals, but someone had to look after the critters,” said Pat.
“I could count on one hand the number of vet clinics in Melbourne in those days. There were only two or three in the metropolitan area, and none were open on weekends – so we just had to do the best we could.”
“I wasn’t too crash on seeing blood but there was a good girl called Nan who had been a nurse in the war, she could do lots of things. And we had the luxury of an unofficial assistant vet who lived on the premises. A beautiful saintly man he was. If I was working on the weekend alone and an accident came in, I’d only have to ring the bell and he would be down. Then there was Billy Budd the yardman. He was fabulous, and an institution in his own right. Nothing was too much trouble and he could fix anything. He looked after the stray dogs, keeping them clean and warm with pot belly stoves.”
If Pat had to duck out quickly for an emergency pick-up, she would drive the DKW. But for collecting multiple animals, Pat would take out the English Bedford. “It had paintings of little critters with bandages all over it. And compartments for the cats and dogs” remembers Pat.
A humorous staged photo with staff pets brought back memories for Pat.
“The big terrier is one of the first dogs I picked up in the ambulance and she became a hospital mascot. Her name was Biddy. I picked her up in Richmond, in fact I could still take you to the house. She was having pups and she couldn’t get them out, they were all stuck everywhere, terrible! In this frightful house, I was in tears, useless I was! I scooped her up and took her to the hospital. The vet operated on her, took the puppies out, sewed her up and spayed her. And then we decided she didn’t want to go back to where she came from. They didn’t want her anyway! People were not tuned in to getting their animals spayed. ‘It was only an animal and you could easily get a new one the next week’,” said Pat.
“Chicquita the Pekingese came in with puppies and they were all dead. She was in an awful mess. So they operated on her, removed all that performance, sewed her up, and of course spayed her! The woman didn’t want her back because she could no longer breed with her. So I kept her and she was my dog for the rest of her days.”
Pat remembers the most loyal dog she has ever met. She received a call from workmen in Essendon who were demolishing houses and came across a savage dog inside one of them.
“Please send someone to get rid of the dog they said. So off I went with a collar and lead to see if I could get a hold of him. When I got there, the two ‘heroes’ were drinking a cup of tea and one of them asked ‘haven’t you got a man with you?’ and I replied ‘no, I don’t need a fella!’.
“When I got inside the house, I saw the old codger. He looked shocking, all battle scared and filthy, very skinny and his feet looked like swollen red footballs. His lip was aggressively quivering so I sat on the floor and said to him ‘c’mon, come over here and tell me what’s happened’. He came over on his belly and eventually I could put my arm around him and gave him a big cuddle. I picked him up and took him out to the front seat of the ambulance, walking right past the two workmen. I cuddled him all way back to hospital,” explained Pat.
Meanwhile, Pat’s boss had worked out where the dog had come from. His carers had moved from Essendon to Bendigo and the dog had been placed in the back of the removalist van secured with a lead. Upon arrival in Bendigo, he got off his lead and bolted. All the way back to his house in Essendon!
“We gave him a big feed, a bowl of milk, bandaged his feet and tucked him into a warm bed. When the owners were contacted their response was heartbreaking – ‘keep him, he’s too old for us anyway’. I responded with ‘he’s not too old to walk 200 miles in your name!’ Dear old faithful pet. People were the biggest problem,” said Pat.
Not all of Pat’s stories are sad however. She would often take the ambulance to the railway station as they transported sick animals from regional Victoria to Melbourne for treatment at Lort Smith.
“We would get quite a few sick animals coming from the country and they would be put on the train. The railways were great with helping us. Mr Davies would share his ham sandwich with the animals. Bless his heart! We would put them back on train home when fixed. People were very kind to us. Whenever the community knew what was required or what could be done, by and large, they were very supportive of Lort Smith,” remembers Pat.
This continues to this day – Lort Smith does not receive ongoing government funding and relies heavily on donations and bequests from the public.
The most unusual animal that Pat treated was a horse. “An old ‘rag and bone man’ with a horse and cart, had a collision and the old horse fell over. The horse was brought to Lort Smith and we had a lovely loose box [stable stall] that had never been used. It had plenty of room for the horse to move around and lay down. I rushed up to the market and got some food for him, and I looked after him for five days bathing his wounds, then we sent him out to RSPCA Home for Horses to retire,” recalls Pat.
In December 1949, the Woman’s Day ran a story on people who would be working over the Christmas period. Pat’s full page picture and story garnered her a few letters from male admirers, and likely resulted in the stray dog pictured, finding a home.
“Lort Smith really tried to avoid putting animals down for no reason, it was a desperate situation if they were. We would get very distressed,” remembers Pat.
Louisa Lort Smith, who Pat describes as a very good lady and terribly generous, would phone the hospital every Sunday morning without fail.
“She would ask me my name, how much I enjoyed working there and then always say ‘Keep the Flag Flying’ before slamming down the phone,” laughs Pat.
“’Mrs Lort’ was a bit eccentric, a wonderful old girl who had a woman chauffeur and was not interested in light and airy talk. I was always most astute when speaking to her. And I don’t think she ever received the accolades she deserved. She and Lady Lyle were great mates and had a lot of similar interests.”
“Obviously I have enormous affection and respect for them [Louisa Lort Smith and Lady Lyle] for being so brave. Because people didn’t do that kind of thing for animals back then. Animals were secondary. They were two pioneers in animal care. Both marvellous women,” says Pat
The Lort Smith committee was made up of all women bar one. Pat describes them as a wonderful bunch who wore lovely clothes, had chauffeurs, showed signs of wealth, and had hearts of gold.
Pat was particularly taken with one committee member – Joan Richmond. Not long arrived in Australia, Miss Richmond was an English aviatrix – ‘a female flyer like Amelia Earhart’. She was also the first woman to drive the famous Le Mans race in France.
“On occasion I was invited into a committee meeting to tell them about something that I had witnessed. They were a terrific bunch but I was a bit scared of them. Miss Richmond was a newcomer to the board – a gorgeous woman who would take on anyone in animal welfare! I had a marvellous experience with her….
“One day I was dropping off deceased animals that needed to be disposed of in Footscray. To my shock and horror, I found a big pen of draft horses – all shaved and ready for slaughter. They were no longer of use because tractors were coming in, so farmers were selling them for meat. I was in tears and horrified because I was a horse person. Technically, no laws were being broken but it was just awful to see beautiful draft horses being kept in such a state.
“The next morning I told my boss and she encouraged me to tell the board at the next meeting and that’s when I met Miss Richmond. She immediately said ‘I’ll come, I want to see that!’ So together we drove down to the yards and she had a great big press camera with her. Of course they wouldn’t let us in, but there was a boat hire place nearby so she rented us a boat!
“We had to paddle up the Maribyrnong River to where this dreadful place was. I couldn’t row, she was instructing me on what to do, and we were going around in circles, I was so ashamed of myself! But we managed to get there at the same time the men who worked there were outside having smoko. You have no idea the instruction we got on what we should do, and where we should go, the magic words were flying! We were told that we should be finding ourselves a man – I was so embarrassed in front of Miss Richmond, but she couldn’t give a continental! She stood up in the boat and took lots of pictures of the horses.
“A couple of days later, a story about the plight of these poor horses came out in The Herald! The story aimed to avoid the exposure of horses to inhumane treatment before they were put down.
She was a pet and I loved her dearly. She had a real impact on me, she inspired me. I just loved the style of the woman – eccentric!” shares Pat.
These days, Pat is kept company by her faithful terrier companion Paddy. As it would happen, he was dumped on a highway near Pat’s rural property in New South Wales. There he sat for three days before Pat coaxed him inside and he has been there ever since!