For 40 years and more, Dr Henry Joseph Cahill treated all and sundry in Flemington, many of them at the surgery in the house he commissioned at 125 Wellington Street. “Hillcrest”, built in 1918, operated as a doctor’s surgery well into the 1970s. Until his unexpected death there on 29 September 1953, it was Dr Cahill’s surgery.
Dr Cahill was already an established local practitioner before building Hillcrest. He was surgeon for many years to the Victoria Racing Club and Moonee Valley Racing Club. He attended the Flemington Kensington Bowls Club to treat grass abrasions, but also – as a highly respected local – to officially open the green.
Two patients from January 1917 demonstrate the breadth of his practice.
The Flemington Spectator (11 January 1917) describes how, when called to an accouchement in Kensington, Dr Cahill was “probably unconscious of impending events, and scarcely dreamt what a surprise was in store for him. The patient was the wife of a successful cartage contractor, and before the medical attendant had finished his task, four children had been brought into the world – three boys and a girl. The mother had previously given birth to five children, but they arrived singly.”
In March 1917 Dr Cahill was “sent for” by those sitting at Flemington Police Court to attend to Charles Putley, charged with behaving in an offensive manner at Newmarket. During his detention, “Putley mumbled a lot of unintelligible gibberish”. He was ordered to be “treated as a lunatic at large”, with Dr Cahill committing him to the Receiving House at Royal Park.
In September 1923 Dr Cahill treated many of the 88 people injured when two trams collided on Mount Alexander Road.
In 1935, aged only 20, Dr Cahill’s son Frank became the youngest doctor ever to complete the 6-year course at Melbourne University.
The Flemington and Kensington Conservation Study in 1985 described Hillcrest as being a skilfully designed and large example of the Bungalow concept: “Beyond the Queen Anne Style, this reflects the symmetry, broad gabled roofs and massive construction of the Bungalow period.” The house has been extended since then, with subsequent owners purchasing the property next door to extend the garden. In 2002 a lightning strike took away the grand cypress tree, probably as old as the house.
Writing for the Flemington Kensington News in Spring 2013, Diane Kane wrote the following about the house:
“Dr Henry Cahill had the vision for Hillcrest. Like this handsome house, locals say he was kind, solid and generous. He saw his patients in what is now the front study, where morning sunlight streams through the lead light bay window. Many human stories gathered in the nearby waiting room, now the gorgeous living area…
Old appointment books from the 1920s remain with the house. Handwritten in elegant copperplate script are the patients’ details and a cluster of wonderful recipes in the back from roly-poly pudding, cream puffs and bread and butter pudding to mixtures for treating skin ailments. The spirit of the past is palpable.”