Mercy Health Albury unveils restored nativity display

The festive season at a Border hospital has included the same nativity scene for more than six decades.

Plaster cast figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and farm animals, up to 65 centimetres tall, have welcomed visitors into Mercy Health Albury since at least the 1950s.

But age had started to weary the characters while the original stable became no less heavy and cumbersome as it grew older.

So a restoration project began a year ago, with the successful results revealed on Thursday.

Chris Jones, a Border china doll maker and painter, stripped back and repainted the original figurines as required and also donated a permanent baby Jesus – others had gone missing over the years – as well as a lamb and angel.

A new, lighter stable was built by Albury’s John Symmons, whose daughter is a Mercy Health staff member.

Now on wheels, the nativity is far easier to move into place each year.

Ms Jones said she took great pleasure in her task.

“As a child I used to see this nativity scene in the stairwell here and it was an absolute honour to be asked,” she said.

Mary and Joseph’s faces did not need repainting, so she had to make sure the new work fitted in with the old.

 “Working with ceramics for a long time you get used to matching colours and toning things and then antiquing it and making it look aged,” Ms Jones said.

“That’s what we needed to do, is keep the authenticity of what it was originally.”

The figurines are believed to have been the work of Mattei Brothers and Company, manufacturers skilled in plaster cast who had immigrated to Australia from Italy in the early 1920s.

“It did have a lamb but I think that’s probably got broken long ago and many a toy baby doll’s been used in the manger so we decided we’d get an appropriate-sized doll,” Ms Jones said.

Sister Carina Morton, who was the hospital’s last Sister of Mercy in 2015, blessed the nativity during a short ceremony before Ms Jones and Mr Symmons cut a ribbon in front of the scene.

“It’s important to have a sense of the past while we stand in our present and look forward to a future,” Sister Carina said.

“Thank-you John and Chris for keeping this particular chapter in our local Mercy story here in Albury.

“It’s been making an appearance every year for the past 60 years that I know of.”

Ms Jones said the figures probably now had a little more sheen than before because she had sealed the nativity for extra protection.

“Resealing it so that it would not get damaged again” she said.

“And hopefully preserve it for another 60 years.”