The large fire at the Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital building in mid-October may prove to be the final straw for its owners, with Heritage NSW this week enacting urgent legal action following ongoing calls from the community to ensure its protection.
Having already watched as the St John’s Orphanage building in Goulburn deteriorated to a state of disrepair, the community is eager to see Kenmore preserved and Heritage NSW has echoed that sentiment this week through Minister Don Harwin.
Mr Harwin said after numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact the owners, Australia China International Pty Ltd, it was now time to begin legal action.
“I directed Heritage NSW to do everything in the Government’s power to force them to do the work required to repair the site, to secure the fire-destroyed building, and to prevent access to the grounds by trespassers,” said Mr Harwin.
“Heritage NSW issued a section 120 Order on 26 November to the owners, requiring them to ‘take immediate and active measures to redress disrepair or risk to a listed place’.
“After another site inspection on 2 December 2021 that revealed no works had been carried out, I have further directed Heritage NSW to take urgent steps to enforce the Orders. This will include the agency undertaking the preliminary make-safe works, with costs to be recovered from the owner through the courts if necessary.”
Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman alleged the owner’s behaviour showed a “reprehensible lack of care” for a much-loved heritage property.
“State heritage-listed property owners must abide by the statutory requirements of maintenance and repair, as required under the Heritage Act,” she said.
Former Kenmore Hospital nurse and strong advocate for the preservation and restoration of the entire Kenmore Gardens property, Leone Morgan said news of the NSW Government enacting these steps was encouraging.
“Let’s hope they do throw the full weight of the heritage laws at the owner because he’s had the place and done nothing with it,” said Ms Morgan.
For Ms Morgan and many others, this property represents “immense history”.
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“It wasn’t just a hospital, it was a village – 19 wards, many auxiliary buildings scattered throughout the grounds, a cricket oval, a cricket pavilion, houses which were there for staff, admission wards for males and females, and the designer of the original block was Walter Liberty Vernon, who was the architect of the time,” she said.
“It was quite self-supporting. It was used by the army in the Second World War as the 114th Australian General Hospital, treating not only shellshock but also physical diseases.”
While the community is united in wanting to see Kenmore restored, there is still a lack of clarity around what it could be used for today, while ensuring that the history and heritage are still preserved.
“Because there are so many buildings, I would see it as having a lot of uses,” Ms Morgan said. “Residential in terms of apartments, storage facilities, tea rooms and shops.