In the 1930s the general public still regarded an X-Ray plate with incomprehension and wonder.

When a 65 year old coal miner underwent an X-ray of his lungs at Lithgow Hospital the bizarre result only increased that feeling.

Beside Thomas Jackson’s ribs was a clear picture of a church steeple, and below that a building under construction. 😎 The steeple was identified as belonging to the nearby Hoskins Memorial Church. The unfinished building was a new hotel. This ‘landscape’ had not been superimposed over the image of the lungs, it had been created at the same moment.

Of course the newspapers had a field day; A CHURCH IN HIS CHEST!; SPIRE IN PLAIN SIGHT, etc.

The bizarre chest X-ray taken at Lithgow hospital in 1939.
The Memorial church at Lithgow, which appeared in a patient's X-ray.

The radiology room faced the rear of the church, and at first experts thought the film must have been accidentally exposed prior to the patient’s X-ray being taken. However, examination showed that the image of the local landscape was created by ordinary light waves;

Science so far has been unable to refract or bend an X-ray in order to create an image on a film. X-rays throw only a shadow, controlled by the density of the rays used. It has been suggested that in the dark room, the film was exposed and that a tiny aperture in the wall facing the church created a simple pin-hole camera.. (The Sun, February 17 1939)

There was one problem with the pin-hole camera theory. Mr Carroll, the secretary of the hospital, was unable to locate even the tiniest aperture. Time to think again;

One expert suggests that a photograph or newsprint of the church has been left under a light on top of the film in the room. But no evidence of such a photograph having been taken can be found. A photographic expert suggests that the church may have been reflected through the window onto some shiny instrument and then to the film. Operators of the machine, however, cannot offer any explanation of how that could have happened…A Macquarie Street diagnostition who is also a member of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiologists can offer only one explanation – the pin-hole camera.

In the meantime, a second X-ray of the man’s chest, taken the following day, and which turned out perfectly, with no trace of the church, has been used to diagnose the complaint of the patient. (Sun, February 17, 1939)

Honestly. that X-ray machine had a mind of its own, and an evil one at that. A few months later the Hospital’s resident medical officer almost died while setting it up.


LITHGOW, Tuesday.

Dr. E.B. Spiers, resident medical officer, was rendered unconscious by an electric shock, as he was adjusting the mobile X-ray unit at the Lithgow Hospital….When the machine kicked severely, Dr Spiers was knocked unconscious and fell to the floor. In falling he broke the switch controlling the rays. This saved him from being electrocuted. First aid was rendered by Matron Brook and Sister Renwick. (Daily News, June 14 1939)

Ironically, the Memorial Church almost became an annexe of the hospital;

Lithgow Hospital. where the strange X-ray was taken.
Lithgow Hospital


Tom Jackson lived in Hassan Street, Lithgow. He had worked underground for the Lithgow Valley Colliery for many years.


On October 4 that year, he attended the Workers’ Compensation Court. He was claiming £4 a week from the Colliery for total incapacity from pneumonoconiosis, caused by inhaling coal dust. He took along the X-ray plate, not as evidence, but as a curiosity. His lawyer, Mr A.E. Rainbow. handed the plate to Judge Ralph Perdriau, apologizing for its ‘tattered and torn’ condition. He explained that it had been carried about the country and to New Zealand and back. I wonder if Mr Jackson had been on the show circuit with his curiosity (only joking).

A bemused Judge Perdriau had no trouble recognizing the steeple of Memorial Church. Meanwhile, Mr Rainbow was enjoying the whole situation, as was his client. ‘I might have picked that church up in the mine’, he quipped, prompting his lawyer to suggest that they should be claiming for more than just dust. Well why not? Surely a church steeple and a pub in a bloke’s chest ought to have been worth a decent pension.

On a serious note, Tom Jackson was probably terminally ill. It is a sad reality that X-ray facilities in the coal mining town of Lithgow diagnosed many men just like him.

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