Resonances between the Arts and Pastoral Care at the RMH

A reflection from David Glenister – Coordinator Pastoral Care, The Royal Melbourne Hospital


The place for the arts in the clinically-focused culture of the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) is emerging. Given we service a hugely diverse clientele of people speaking over 80 different languages, it is imaginable that this “royal bazaar” might visually reflect such colour. Unfortunately the RMH is somewhat run down and dim, especially in comparison with our neighbouring partners the Woman’s and PeterMac hospitals with whom the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is being constructed. These hospitals are beautifully designed and feature significant contemporary art collections, fund curators and have green areas integrally incorporated into their designs.

I am the coordinator of Pastoral Care and Chaplaincy at RMH and bemoan the fact that we lack a vibrant visual culture. For example, other than a few exceptions, the art works on our walls are old and tired. We have artists in our midst however, as the mental health, aged care and palliative wards become home to Master of Art Therapy students on placement each year from La Trobe University.

RMH3This lack is also balanced somewhat by a strong music therapy department managed by Emma O’Brien. She employs two music therapists to work with individual patients as well as professional musicians who perform on the wards. I have included a photo here of musician Dave playing his piano accordion in the oncology ward.


However, in this clinical environment the pastoral care department also provides creativity, colour and a sense of magic. Our office exterior features a multicultural religious tableau and on the opposite wall is hung a large collage of the hymnal cross created by Christine Mason.


Services are held daily in our beautiful Sacred Space.







The Venerable Hojun chants the heart sutra in Japanese in front of the starry night sculpture which creates a kind of visual and aural cornucopia.


I also regularly arrange art materials for long term patients and conduct art sessions for individuals, and occasionally groups, in oncology and aged care.   Our department is also involved in the Mental Health recovery program, conducting a weekly spirituality group.  What we bring to this setting is perhaps at the other end of the scale to the technicalities of medical care. Our work attends to the needs of the soul which, as phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard suggests, in all its forms, mimics the sound of expelled breath. In this our alignment with art and music therapy forms the core of our values in this clinical context.


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