A Tripe Story

I promised you a tripe story so here it is…

When I was a student nurse, part of our training included an eight-week secondment to one of three centres.  You weren’t given a choice (standard) and instead, given orders as to where your secondment was to be.  Up for selection was eight weeks in a psychiatric hospital, eight weeks in a hospital dedicated to the terminally ill or eight weeks in a hospital for profoundly physically and mentally disabled children.

My ‘lucky dip’, landed on the children’s hospital for the profoundly physically and mentally disabled.

Collaroy Beach - google images, image

Collaroy Beach – google images, image

Collaroy Hospital was a small hospital of no more than about 60 beds.  It was situated within a rambling old beach house with rolling lawns that led right down to the sand.  The story as to how this beach house became a children’s hospital is that the property had always been privately owned but the last remaining family owner bequeathed the property to the State Government with the stipulation that it had to be transformed into a care centre for children in need.

A basic conversion took place and the hospital opened for children with many, many issues.  There were three 20-bed wards.  The first was for children who were mobile as in they could walk and run however as many of them had a habit of banging their heads into the walls and floors, they had to wear crash hats.

Collaroy Beach

Collaroy Beach

The second ward was for babies and toddlers and this was the preferred ward to work in as it wasn’t as depressing and there was no heavy lifting involved.

The third ward was for older children who were profoundly retarded meaning an IQ of less than 20.  Working on this ward was physically demanding as most of the children were teenagers; unable to walk or communicate and lifting them in and out of cots, wheelchairs and bean bags while they remained a dead weight was physically demanding.

The staff at the hospital eagerly anticipated the arrival of student nurses as it gave them an opportunity for a lighter load.  While preferring to work with the babies and toddlers, all student nurses were sent to the ‘bean bag ward’; so named because the patients spent most of their days reclining in bean bags.

Image from Mrs B's House of Chaos

Image from Mrs B’s House of Chaos

Arriving for my first day on the job was a rather confronting experience.   I was shown around and then told I would be working on the bean bag ward, (standard).

It was a ward full of the most depressing and confronting images of children I have ever experienced.  And all of the children seemed to be there due to some horrific, tragic and sad story.  One of them was a girl named ‘Louise’ whose parents had been unable to have children.  Finally they were able to adopt and they adopted a perfectly normal and beautiful baby girl.  When she was six weeks old they took her to the clinic for her Triple Antigen immunisation vaccine where she immediately had an alarming allergic reaction that transformed her normalcy into nothing more than a vegetative state.  Unable to cope with her profound mental retardation that came with a high level of dependency, her parents admitted her to the Collaroy Hospital.  She was 14 years old when I looked after her and every Sunday her parents never failed to visit her.

Collaroy Beach

Collaroy Beach

My days at Collaroy started at 7am.  The first task of the day was to get the patients out of bed.  They all slept in cots to reduce the risk of falling out of bed, and they were all wearing nappies due to being incontinent.   We firstly had to change the nappies, clean up any messes and then get them dressed for the day.  Dressing a person who is a dead weight and a person who has no idea how to co-operate is challenging.

After they were changed and dressed we transferred them to wheelchairs and sat them around a long white table.  For breakfast they sometimes had a basic cereal like weetbix but all too often there was a cook-up going on in the kitchen.  I dreaded the cook-up.

I would wrap bibs around my five or six patients and then sit on edge as the food was brought to the table.  I always feared the cook-up; it was tripe; white, rubbery long bits of tripe mixed with peas.

Trying to feed the profoundly disabled isn’t easy.  When you have an IQ of less than 20 your table manners are nought and so as I was trying to feed them, limbs would be flailing and the tripe would be flying and I would be gagging.  The tripe would hang out of their mouths and they would cough and sneeze and choke and bits of partially chewed tripe would hit me in the face and splatter across my uniform, often mixed with saliva and snot.

Such a beautiful, clean beach

Such a beautiful, clean beach

When the ordeal was over I’d clean up the carnage, picking up bits of tripe from the table, walls and floor.  Then I’d wipe their hands and faces and move the children to the centre of the room where they would recline in beanbags until lunchtime.  Meanwhile, the recovery process from the breakfast gagging experience was to go from patient to patient changing adult-sized nappies.

While I’ve painted a pretty awful picture of the Collaroy Hospital, it was a wonderful and much needed facility for parents of children needing 24-hour care.  The children were all given the very best of care and they were looked after in a beautiful rambling beach house that was situated on one of Sydney’s prettiest beaches.  While the work was extremely labour intensive that involved lots of heavy lifting, you couldn’t have asked to work in a more picturesque setting.

Sadly, the State Government closed the centre, sold off the land to a developer and what was once rolling lawns descending to the sand is now high-rise apartments.  I’m not sure if that was what the generous benefactor had in mind.

I do wonder what has become of all the children who were once cared for by the staff at Collaroy Hospital.  Where did they go?

My Collaroy Hospital experience was more than two decades ago and still to this day, I cannot look at tripe without seeing plastic bowls filled with rubbery tripe and peas and wondering how much of it was going to be spat on me.

Trippa Fagiolini

Trippa Fagiolini

And that’s why, when I had lunch with Tania and Celia and they were so keen to order the Trippa Fagiolini, I said, ‘No need to divide it into thirds’.




  1. When I see a profoundly retarded adult I always wonder about the physical difficulty of caring for someone in that condition. They deserve the best of care but gosh that’s tough. With that history, I couldn’t face tripe either.

  2. What a beautiful start to Collaroy Hospital – so very sad to hear it is no longer though. A friend had a severely retarded son who sadly passed but know the struggles of looking after one little boy so can only imagine what it must have been like looking after 5 or 6.
    Have a wonderful weekend ahead Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  3. And, that is why I could never be a nurse. So sad.

  4. What a difficult assignment for a student nurse, but how rewarding it must have been at the same time. I understand about the tripe. It is sooooooo popular here in Mexico in the form of menudo, a type of tripe soup thought to be a cure for hangovers, but I could never really wrap myself around it though I certainly appreciate other types of offal.

  5. What a story Charlie. I so admire your nursing experience and this in particular is a heart warming, but also daunting and clearly very challenging, story. I too wonder where the children went and am not sure the swap to high rise apartments is quite right.

  6. You have an amazing background, Charlie… and such a wealth of experience. I could never be a nurse… just as I have always hated tripe. More for Celia.

  7. It’s such a shame that facility was closed. And even without those memories, I would not be able to stomach tripe for breakfast!

  8. Although it was wonderful to hear what good care the children had at the Collaroy hospital, the news that it was closed and sold off was unfortunately too common an occurrence in this day and age. There was a beautiful facility for children and young adults run by a nursing order locally which operated for 76 years. It was located on the banks of the Detroit River until it was closed down 2 yrs ago and replaced by twin-tower condominiums that bear the name of the previous facility. The children were transferred to a hospital facility.

    Tripe is NOT something I have a hankering to try though a friend was a fan of menudo.

  9. Oh dear, well with that sort of memory and association then no wonder you are reluctant to try tripe. I really do wonder what happened to all of those patients. They are so vulnerable and in need of care.

  10. What a special gift you have Charlie, to be able to look after children like Louise, we need more caring nurses like you in this world! It is sad the hospital closed down and that you have such a memory of tripe.

  11. What a very real but desperately sad story: Many of us do not know of this facet of life at all, others turn away and say they cannot cope – someone has to. Been there, done that: in my case in Orange for my ‘country residency’ in Med School looking after both children and adults in the same situation. We would be totally ‘wrecked’ by the evening and my stint only lasted three or four weeks!! Just two comments: tripe for breakfast: yuck, yuck, yuck!!! And don’t think it was cooked ‘a la Romana’ either! Secondly: another case of ‘Triple Antigen’ reaction!!!! The medical profession insists it SO rarely happens and I did have my kids vaccinated: but I have heard and seen far, far too many cases of this and I am not certain that given my ‘druthers I would vaccinate again. I simply do not know!! A heartbreaking story, Charlie – thank you so much for telling it so clearly!

  12. Oh my, so many things come to mind, but I can not stop thinking about those poor kids. They were fortunate to be cared for. Isn’t it something the challenges that life puts in front of us all. I have lots of memories of being a young nurse. I just stick on how naive I was, how inexperienced. Not that I was silly, but I just did not have much of a grasp of how much suffering exists in our world. I learned two things pretty quickly – there were lots of unfortunates out there, and I was not as smart as I thought. Memories of bumbling around the Emergency Room (the most challenging , yet ultimately the most rewarding posting I ever had) immediately come to mind.

    I never cared for tripe, and to this day I never eat it. I can certainly understand how your experience would be enough to put you off it forever!

  13. Wow those memories associated with tripe must be bittersweet. You were doing such a wonderful job of taking care of the children, but it was also a hardship.
    Shame the facility closed down, we need more places like that if anything to take care of people!

    Choc Chip Uru

  14. What a beautiful place for them to be looked after in! Trust the state government to make money out of it instead of using it for what the benefactor had intended.
    That must have been a very difficult experience for you and I absolutely understand your horror of tripe. I dislike it intensely and I don’t even have your experience with it.

  15. When my son was in 3rd grade one of his best friends had a diabetic stroke leaving him profoundly impacted. For about a year we visited Mark in a facility every Friday. It was an incredible experience and I had so much respect for the nurses and caregivers in that facility. I still remember some of the other children, especially the young children, some who had been born in perfect health, but then experienced an accident of some sort. I can’t tie this into tripe, I just don’t like it! 🙂 But I can certainly understand why you don’t want anything to do with it. What a memory to share, Charlie.

  16. I’m not surprised you can’t stomach tripe after that experience Charlie, thank goodness it wasn’t a food you were really fond of or the consequences could have been much worse!
    What a lovely sounding facility, such a pity it was sacrificed for extra revenue. We know a family with three gorgeous children of their own who have adopted two severely handicapped sons. It’s beautiful to see such a happy, well adjusted family. They also do volunteer work in China each year at similar sounding hospital to yours- but without beach views, running water or any government funding. They are amazing people indeed! Xox

  17. I am sad to hear about those children and sad to hear that the home closed and was ‘developed’ (what a euphemism). And it is a testament to your writing that I didn’t pass over a story about tripe even though I had to check first that there were no pictures to avert my eyes from. I also did a double take when I read there was a Tripe Antigen immunisation (maybe need to put on my glasses)!

    • [big smile] Since I was the one to comment on Charlie’s mention of the ‘Triple Antigen’ perhaps, just perhaps have another look. In case you have not brought up children a ‘triple antigen’ vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough is supposed to be given to all babies at 2, 4 and 6 months with a booster at about 4 years. Unfortunately in earlier years quite a number of life destroying complications arose: both Charlie and I having been health professionals we have seen such and that was the case here. It had nought to do with tripe. And Charlie’s story really had nothing to do with tripe 🙂 ! Supposedly the newer forms of the vaccine do not ruin so many babies’ and families lives . . . supposedly . . . that is the main reason so many families no longer immunize but instead try to raise their children’s’ immune status.

      • So true Eha and very well said. Once you have seen how one tiny injection can reduce someone to a vegetative state you seriously begin to question just what they’re putting into those vials.

        • Tee Duggan says:

          My son Kirk started convulsing after his injections when he was about 8months old, he was admitted to hospital for 3 days, very scary.

  18. I have a lot of respect for those that enter the health field. It would be hard to spend the working hours with those that need so much care. Children especially tug at my heart. God bless you, Charlie for the lives you touched. Not a fan of tripe to begin with, so I would’ve passed on the soup as well!

  19. Tripe would be challenging during the best of times, and your reasoning is certainly understandable. Hungarians make a tripe dish with a tomato sauce too and I used to love it as a kid, but I haven’t had it in 40 years so I’m not sure how I would feel about it now.

  20. Tee Duggan says:

    Hi C, I love how you tell a story and always will. I enjoyed working at Collaroy Childrens Hospital the kids always made me laugh and smile. I also liked it when the North Shore Nurses came to do pracs, it did break up the monotony. I have many good memories but one which stood out was when we would take some of the kids swimming at Long reef, the excitement on their face was priceless, it probably wouldn’t be allowed now due to all the OH&S regulations, oh I miss certain aspects of the 70’s and 80’s.

  21. What a very hard, but rewarding job. I’ve spent a lot of time in nursing homes working with bedridden elderly and that was hard, I can imagine the emotions of working with children. Koodoos to you Charlie! What a very good person you are! I think I would have a hard time with tripe as well after such an experience.

  22. I’ve never had tripe and have only seen it once while my cousin was cooking it. And tripe with peas sounds awful! I can’t imagine the emotional demand that job had. It would be incredibly sad to face that every day. But without the people who were willing to work there and the student nurses willing to learn, imagine where those kids would be. I’m sure you’ve earned extra jewels in your crown for lovingly caring for them. 🙂

  23. Amazing story. I remember a school excursion to a facility that cared for children with mental disabilities. We spent the day interacting with the children and I have never forgotten a small boy in a helmet continually hitting his head against the floor. It was an important lessons for us able minded children and a reminder of just how lucky we were. Boo to the state govt for closing the facility and selling the land I am sure the benefactor did not have such commercial money making plans in mind! BTW loved your fruit and nut slice, my sister in law will love this for Christmas.

  24. mark brownhill says:

    I was one of those children at Collaroy in 1966. my earliest memories centre around that hospital. I was three years old. I was one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and after an operation in Camperdown by Dr John Furber was sent to Collaroy.my parents lived at Narrabeen and my mum visited daily. to this day I still remember the terminally ill kids . I was able to walk with callipers on my legs and eventually recovered. I have had 2 hip replacements since. Again I reiterate I was one of the lucky few to walk out of there.

    • Lovely to hear from you Mark and thanks for letting me know. Good to hear you were able to walk out of there.

    • After reading your stories I must add that I too was a patient at Collaroy Hospital, during 1964-65. I was there convalescing in between having operations on my feet and hips at Camperdown Children’s Hospital. I don’t have any memories of being there, I think I was too young, and I truly believe that my mind has actually blocked out the trauma of those surgeries. All I have are some photos that my relatives took when visiting me.
      Anyway, I found your story Charlie whilst doing a little research into the history of Collaroy Hospital, as I am assisting a Biographer to write my ‘life story’.
      Thanks to Charlie and Mark for telling your tales. It would be great to chat further perhaps if either of you are interested.

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