Laying on a silent hill in Lilyfield, the inner west of Sydney, is a secret not many Sydney-siders have heard of: Callen Park Insane Asylum.
There are many faces of the Callen Park Insane Asylum, displaying decades of Sydney history from past to present, where patients went to be treated for their mental illnesses and then some.
Callen Park Hospital for the Insane opened in 1878 and closed its doors in 1914. Now heritage-listed, the former hospital was also used as a temporary college ground for Sydney University.
Now abandoned, the main building of the complex is an art gallery which is open to the public and tours are also held for anyone wanting to explore the grounds of the old hospital, which is now surrounded by high fences, restricting anyone from entering.
When first built, the asylum was designed according to the views of an American doctor by the name of Dr Thomas Kirkbride who was a physician, advocate for the mentally ill, and founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, a precursor to the American Psychiatric Association.
He was the founder of appreciating and understanding the need for nurture and care when it came to someone suffering from mental illness, rather than the mistreating and abandonment of anyone classed as insane.
A stark contrast to most insane asylums, where people were left untreated, abused and often completely neglected by staff.
The hospital itself has many layers, with building representing different eras of Sydney from when it was first opened to when it was closed.
Those parts of the late 1800s are in fairy good condition, though many people have unlawfully entered the high fences surrounding the property and defaced its walls with graffiti – which is a sorry sight to see. Later period of the building are in pretty and shape, which is sad to see, as the building decay makes it very hard for anyone wanting to restore the foundations for historical purposes.
Thankfully, the original foundations, all made from sandstone are still standing strong. Though, during World War 1 changes to mental health care were instigated and in 1914 patients could only be treated if they were committed into one of the major institutions, resulting in additional facilities being built in the grounds to accommodate for varying health concerns, not just mental illnesses.
These are the newer building you see today, which have fallen into pretty bad disarray.
In 1915 the hospital was renamed as Callen Park Mental Hospital and then again in 1976 to Callen Park Hospital. With parts of the hospital still in operation treating patients from 1994 to 2008, but in April 2008 all patients where then transferred to Concord Hospital due to a special provisions Act 2002 which restricts Callen Park for future uses for health, tertiary education and community uses.
In-fact, not that long ago the heritage society went through a lengthy struggle battling for the survival of the complex, as it was proposed to be torn down.
Though the battle is no doubt never ending, with the property being waterfront and prime real estate property (as far as the government is concerned) for development, for now the grounds are safe and can be enjoyed by all.