‘She sighed. She had an eerie feeling about Callan Park, like a tingling sensation in her spine that made her think of a B-grade horror movie. She massaged the back of her neck and realised how tense she was. Rimis was shining his torch up at the tower. The torch kept flickering and promising to die on him. He rapped the head of the torch against the palm of his hand and the beam shone a little brighter. Jill tried her best not to look up, but she could not stop herself; to her, it was still a beautiful structure despite what had happened here tonight or in the past. She strolled up to Rimis and stood beside him. ‘It used to be a lunatic asylum,’ she explained. ‘The largest Australian public works project of the nineteenth century. Now it’s the Sydney University’s College of the Arts.’ (an extract from ‘Asylum’)

My latest crime novel, ‘Asylum’ due to be released later in the year, is set in the grounds of Callan Park. Callan Park is located in Rozelle, an inner-west suburb of Sydney and was once a mental asylum. I read an article last weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald about the on-going uncertainty of Callan Park’s future.

A master plan for the site was approved by Leichhardt Council in July 2011 after consultation with the local community. To date, no decision has been made by the state government as to its future. The sixty hectare harbourside land sits idle and neglected with many of the buildings already derelict.

More uncertainty surrounds Callan Park following Sydney University’s refusal to rule out the possibility of its withdrawal from the Kirkbride Complex. The College of the Arts has occupied the park’s historic Kirkbride complex since 1996 and has extensive art-making facilities at the site, including specialist kilns and glassworks. Approximately 600 students use the buildings.

The Kirkbride Complex was designed and built in the 1880’s with the direct application of moral therapy principles and non-restraint methods of psychiatric care in mind, based on the principles of Florence Nightingale. Through my research, I discovered Callan Park, was once a tranquil place, with vegetable gardens, lakes and even a piggery and it also took in distant views to the Blue Mountains on a clear day.

The thinking of the time was, that lunatic asylums should be places where patients could be provided with medical attention for their illnesses instead of being confined in a ‘cemetery for deceased intellects.’(Doctor Frederick Manning). Unfortunately, the good intentions of Doctor Frederick Manning, James Barnet, Sir Henry Parkes et al, fell by the wayside due to overcrowding, lack of funding, and a change in the thinking of how mentally ill people were to be cared for.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported, advocates for Callan Park say it is vital that the university keeps the college there to attract other like-minded tenants. They also fear the Kirkbride buildings will fall into disrepair if the university decides to leave.

The future of Callan Park needs to be determined, NOW! For more information log onto: www.callanpark.com

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