In 1976 the NSW state government consolidated the two mental health care facilities in Lilyfield, Callan Park Mental Hospital and Broughton Hall Psychiatric Clinic, into one body, called Rozelle Hospital (the word ‘Psychiatric’ was discretely excised from the name). Drug and alcohol and psycho-geriatric services were added to the psychiatric care and rehabilitation roles of the hospital.
A watershed moment in mental health with profound and long-lasting repercussions for Rozelle Hospital occurred seven years later in 1983. The Richmond Report recommended a policy of deinstitutionalisation, moving patients of mental hospitals back into the community. From the 1960s, with overcrowding in state mental hospitals rife, there had been isolated attempts to deinstitutionalise starting to happen but the Report advocated that the government accelerate the process on a more systematic basis.
The Report’s blueprint advocated moving patients out of the psych wards and into the community at large. They were to be given support through a network of community-based agencies. As well, the plan was to open up new special units in mainstream general hospitals and accommodation facilities to take care of the needs of the former inpatients. In reality however these measures have never been properly supported by successive NSW governments, Labor or Liberal. Cynically but unsurprisingly, the parties in power have tended to manipulate the program to cut back on existing bed numbers and close wards in the mental health care system.
New specialised mental health wards were eventually opened, such as in Western Sydney hospitals Nepean and Liverpool. But the cost of caring for the former patients, providing them with the services and housing they needed once released, has not been adequately met by the authorities. As a consequence, the state’s prisons have returned in practice to a traditional role they had filled in past centuries, acting as de facto psychiatric institutions. Government research points to a high percentage of prisoners (90% female and 78% male) experiencing a psychiatric disorder in the year preceding their incarceration [R Pollard, ‘Out of Mind’, Sydney Morning Herald, February 12, 2005].
A side-effect of deinstitutionalisation at Callan Park was the physical deterioration of wards and other dwellings on the site. As wards closed, their upkeep was not maintained and many fell into various stages of dilapidation, some were found to contain very significant levels of asbestos. In 1991 an extensive DPWS Heritage Study was undertaken by the Department of Public Works with every building, evaluated zone-by-zone, to determine if it should be preserved, repaired or removed. Bizarrely, some of the buildings deemed suitable to be demolished were in satisfactory condition and still being utilised, such as the NSW Ambulance Service!?! Many of the old buildings earmarked for removal were subsequently pulled down but fortunately, somehow the Ambulance building complex survived [‘DPWS Heritage Plan’, (1991)www.leichhardt.nsw.gov.au].
The fallout from the policy to deinstitutionalise continues to be felt in the community. NSW Health’s 2007 ‘Tracking Tragedy’ report identified that there had been some 113 suicides by former psychiatric patients plus a number of patients who had committed homicides upon release [‘Final Government Response to Tracking Tragedy 2007’ (3rd Report)].
By the early ’90s the Kirkbride Block was being phased out as a psychiatric institution (the nearby wards however were retained for patient relocation) and a deal was struck with Sydney University (USYD) to lease it from 1996 as the site of its College of the Arts (SCA). The University then injected 19 million dollars into upgrading the facilities to make it suitable as a tertiary education campus. At the same time the nearby Garryowen House was repaired to become the new home of the NSW Writers Centre.
Uncertainty about the Government’s future plans for Callan Park led concerned citizens to form the Friends of Callan Park (FOCP) in 1998. Their concerns were well-founded as the Carr Labor Government in 2001-2002 produced a draft Master Plan for the land which included the sale of significant chunks of the site for residential development and the shift of psychiatric services to Concord – all formulated without having consulted local residents (this followed an earlier clandestine arrangement made by Carr to provide land in the Park gratis for a Catholic retirement village). FOCP and Leichhardt Council mobilised community support against the Government’s plan, resulting in a huge backlash from residents of the municipality.
Embarrassed, the state government backed down, ditched the Master Plan and enacted the 2002 Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act which guaranteed that the entire site would remain in public hands to be used strictly for health and education purposes only [‘Callan Park – a Tribute to the Local Community’, (FOCP), www.callanpark.com]
Later, Labor planning minister Sartor (again covertly) offered the the central core of the whole site (an area of 35HA) to Sydney University whose expansion plans for the SCA site envisaged increasing the student numbers to 20,000 and providing for up to 7,000 places in residential accommodation. USYD received a 99 year lease from the Government on the 35HA land. The University was planning to move the Sydney Conservatorium of Music from its present location in the city onto the Lilyfield site (the Conservatorium were very lukewarm to this proposal, as it turned out). This over-the-top development would have required 16 new buildings (some up to 4 storeys high!) to be built, which would have been a breach of the 2002 Act. Again after for a public backlash the Government backed down [Sydney Morning Herald, October 21, 2002;Inner West Courier, November 6, 2007].
Recently USYD has been murmuring about the prospect of pulling out of the Rozelle campus, citing financial difficulties as the reason. It has already flagged its intention to move the Fine Arts School to the main Camperdown site [‘Sydney University abandons art school at Callan Park’, Sydney Morning Herald, November 25, 2015]. The uncertainty about Callan Park’s future has prompted critics like FOCP to suggest that the Baird Government may follow the same path as Labor did in trying to sell-off part of the site for commercial gain. FOCP has accused the Government of taking a “demolition by neglect” approach to Callan Park, this will be a fait accompli, they contend, especially if USYD leaves Rozelle as the buildings will no longer be maintained and inevitably fall into disrepair [‘Callan Park in danger of being “demolished by neglect”, (23-04-15), www.altmedia.net.au].
The next signpost in the Callan Park story occurred in May 2008 when the Government moved the psychiatric patients out of Broughton Hall and relocated them at a new, purpose-built psychiatric unit at Concord Hospital, six kilometres down the Parramatta River. The Friends of Callan Park had campaigned to retain the psychiatric facility, the late Dr Jean Lennane advocated that, rather than closing down Callan Park, the bed numbers needed to be increased as deinstitutionalisation had led to an increase in homelessness among the mentally ill, or had seen them end up ‘warehoused’ in gaols, or tragically, dead. FOCP also called for an extension of outdoor recreational activities available to the patients, eg, establishment of a city farm on the grounds with the patients tending the animals as part of their therapuetic regime.
Leichhardt Council also voiced its disapproval of the Government’s plans for Callan Park. Despite the chorus of opposition, the NSW Government went ahead with the closures. The Council persisted with its criticisms and the NSW Government in late 2008 granted the Council care, control and management of 40 hectares of Callan Park (roughly two-thirds of the area) under a 99 year lease (previously the “physical fabric” of Callan Park as a whole had been managed by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) on behalf of the Government) [http://callanparkyourplan.com.au/ downloads/background/A-Callan-Park-History-Timeline.pdf PHPSESSID=ecd5ab22e072 abe7c43db83d82830b6d].
Sensing the need to be more proactive, Leichhardt Council prepared its own “Master Plan” for Callan Park, which, in a poll conducted by the Council, elicited 87% approval from municipality residents. The plan provides for greater use of the land for a broad cross-section of the community, with new sporting fields and skate parks and other activities.
The land and structures of Callan Park continue to be owned by the NSW Government now under the agency of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (although the SHFA website still confusingly lists Callan Park on its website as one of the “places we manage” [www.shfa.nsw.gov.au]). Some of the wards and halls (those remaining ones not riddled With asbestos) get rented out for film and television shoots from time to time, one building permanently houses a film production unit (building Callan 201) whose management harbours its own designs to expand further into the Park and create an international film production hub (again which would be a flagrant breach of the 2002 Act if it was ever allowed to happen)[‘Premiere plan for Callan Park film hub’, (20-06-13)www.altmedia.net.au]. Other current tenants of Callan Park include the Ambulance Service and a host of NGOs, eg, AfterCare, WHOS, SIDSKIDS and Foundation House.
With Sydney University’s future campus expansion plans looking elsewhere (closer to the city, North Eveleigh has been mooted as the spot to expand into) [University of Sydney, Campus 2020 Masterplan], Leichhardt Council seems to be running most of the debate currently. Very recently, the Council approved (over opposition from The Greens and Liberals) a motion to use the complex site to house some of the 7,000 Syrian refugees due to be settled in Sydney next year, ‘Leichhardt Council approves plan to resettle refugees at former mental hospital’, ABC News, 09-12-15, www.mobile.abc.net.au]. This produced a predictable if minor furore from some quarters of the community, demonstrating that land use in the area known locally as “The Lungs of Leichhardt” continues to be a divisive and hotly contested issue within the community.