No tears for former hospital

Unsentimental: Philomena O'Connell-Cooper, right, and sister Pat Doyle

As bulldozers prepare to move in on Queenstown’s former maternity hospital, the first baby born there says it’s just a case of progress.

Philomena O’Connell-Cooper, who popped out in 1947, isn’t saddened the hospital, now Bungi Backpackers, is being bowled to make way for a $60 million-plus hotel.

She thinks it comes down to her upbringing. Her folks, Jim and Iris O’Connell, were known as hospitality trailblazers in the resort.

They owned O’Connell’s Hotel which was demolished in 1986 to make way for today’s shopping centre on the corner of Beach and Camp Streets.

The hotel was one of the first to offer ensuite rooms and cater to large conference groups.

O’Connell-Cooper may have been more nostalgic if it was still a maternity unit.

“It had been looking a bit shabby and it had a new lease of life as the backpackers and was painted purple which I thought was funny. When I heard it was being bowled I just thought, ‘that is change’.

“Mum and dad used to always say they were always quite excited with progress and change. They always realised the town wasn’t going to stay the same. I have a bit of that in me really.”

Early days: Philomena O’Connell-Cooper with her mum Iris O’Connell

O’Connell-Cooper, a former principal of St Joseph’s School, also reckons the “untidy” area around the backpackers isn’t a good look for the entrance to Queens-town.

She thinks the swanky new development will help.

Aussie developer Pro-invest Group has lodged plans with City Hall for the 227-room Hotel Inn Express on the corner of Stanley, Sydney and Melbourne Streets.

Existing tenants at Bungi Backpackers will move out this month before bulldozers move in.

O’Connell-Cooper admits she’ll keep a close eye – despite a short stint in the unit.

She was rushed to Invercargill for a blood transfusion at just 12 hours old.

Luckily she survived and nurses at the hospital presented her with a cup to mark her place as the first baby born there.

So has she still got the cup?

“Mum kept it well polished – I am not so diligent,” she laughs.

Despite being based in Dunedin, she regularly travels back to the resort to stay with her sister Pat Doyle and catch up with family.