The idea of the term “ambulance” in Australia was first conjured in 1883 when St John Ambulance Association was established in Victoria. Other states later followed, including Queensland, founding the Brisbane branch of the Order of St John in 1889. By May of that year, St John would begin teaching first aid classes to the public from the Ann Street School of Arts, and continue the tradition through the years still doing so today in various establishments state-wide. Training in the St John classes prompted a small group of “graduates” to use their training for the good of others and formed the first Brisbane based City Ambulance Transport Brigade (CATB) in 1892. Equipment and training was limited, with the first true “ambulance” being an Ashford Litter (featured image) requiring the men to push the litter by hand. The men were soon termed “ambulance bearers” and sought new ways to manoeuvre the litter including the use of horses.
The idea soon grew and by 1902 the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade (QATB) had formed, and taken off into other areas of Queensland. In 1908-09 the QATB took ownership of a Canadian built Talbot (pictured), known to be the first motorised vehicle in the fleet of equipment for the early organisation.
Various modes of ambulance transportation would be designed over many years, as technology improved and new ideas would grow. Around the same time other Australian states were seeing a similar response to the earlier pioneers of St John, with ambulance services prospering throughout the country. Some early modes of transport are shown below:
As each Transport Brigade across Queensland was established, fundraising became a major factor for those brigades with adequate resources, new vehicles and uniforms, and those still utilising horse drawn stretchers. It was around this time that the more financial metropolitan Ambulance Transport Brigades began to fund new vehicles, which saw the ambulance service as it was known to rapidly change. The service though, still remained largely first aid and transport to a hospital. Unlike other states, St John in Queensland lost the bid to continue the public ambulance service and instead the QATB was successful in tendering to provide the state based service which is well-known today. After this success, and provision of funding to the QATB, their equipment, resources and uniforms were soon the symbol of times to come, as the “ambulance bearers” worked to provide a timely means for which the community could get access to early pre-hospital care. This evolution of QATB is shown in pictures below:
In 1993 the QATB dissolved and became the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) as it is known today, and with these changes the level of care also had an overhaul. No longer would “ambulance bearers” simply transport patients, but an entire pre-hospital realm of care would begin, and the service began to train paramedics, and not first aiders. Equipment would include basic medications, oxygen and life saving equipment which filled the newly designed ambulance vehicles. New vehicles with livery (stickers and lights) hit the streets with the newly formed “QAS”. See some below:
Many other vehicles have existed throughout the history of the ambulance service, and not all have been shown here. With the changes to roles and the expected level of care also came a need for increased training. QAS implemented a student paramedic diploma based program which would see student paramedics employed whilst training toward a Diploma of Paramedic Science. This scheme was abolished in 2013 in favour of a university based program which now sees students self fund a Bachelor of Paramedic Science, and then seek employment as a Graduate Paramedic with the QAS. An internship follows before the graduates are issued with a qualification to practice as Advanced Care Paramedics. With the increase in technology there is also several tiers of pre-hospital care now, including Critical Care, whereby Critical Care Paramedics are employed following a Postgraduate Diploma of Critical Care or Masters in Paramedic Science.
The pre-hospital arena is fast evolving and as new technologies come out of the hospitals into the community, it will only continue to evolve. What a fantastic career to be embarking on! I am proud to be a paramedic for the Queensland Ambulance Service, and look forward to many more years to come!
This is my abridged version of the origins of QAS. To further explore the history of ambulance in Queensland there are several locations you can visit.
Ash Street, Barcaldine Qld 4725
Phone: (07) 4651 1579
Open: Mon – Sat: 9am – 5pm
Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Entry Fee: Adult = $17.00
Concession / Student 15+ = $14.00
Child /student – 6 to 15 yrs = $10.00 (under 6 yrs free)
Children under 6 years (accompanied by adult) = Free
Family ‘A’ = $42.00 (2 Adults & 2 Children)
Family ‘B’ = $45.00 (2 Adults & 2+ Children)
157 Gill Street, Charters Towers Qld 4820
Contact: Charter Towers Local Ambulance Committee
Phone: (07) 4787 1478
Open: Sunday from 9am – 12pm
The museum isn’t always open, so calling in advance is recommended. Admission is gold coin donation.
33-35 Tingal Road, Wynnum Qld 4178
Contact: Wynnum Local Ambulance Committee
Phone: 0407 117 916
The museum is open by appointment only, so calling in advance is recommended. Admission is free.
Ambulance Week is a time when Paramedics, volunteers and dispatchers are recognised for their achievements in the workplace and the community. It is a time when stations open their doors to let the community in, and break down barriers. It is currently Ambulance Week at the time of writing this, and we have just had our stations Open Day. If you get a chance to attend one of these, it is a great day to meet your local paramedics and show support for what they do!
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