When Dr Geoff Lee, state member for Parramatta, introduced the first “community consultation” about the future of the North Parramatta heritage precinct in November 2013, he spoke of the opportunity to unleash economic potential. He described the need of a sustainable heritage precinct and the chance to create the best exemplar of cultural tourism. There would be many competing interests involved and it was essential that everyone be prepared to compromise in the interests of a big vision everyone could share. He cited the comparable example of the old Callan Park Psychiatric Hospital site, at Rozelle, as a planning failure. Beginning in 1989, community protests had prevented development proposals from going ahead. Old buildings now lay vacant and deteriorating. He didn’t want that to happen in Parramatta.
During the 1970s and 1980s, changes in mental health care were leading to the closure of institutions, including Callan Park, at Rozelle. The Parramatta Psychiatric Centre didn’t close, but its services changed and it was renamed Cumberland Hospital – now the site of contention about the NSW Government’s North Parramatta urban renewal proposals. The southern campus of Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital was closed in 1985, and is now the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney. Photographed above is one of the old Callan Park buildings currently in use. It is now the home of Sydney College of the Arts, where a new pictorial history Callan Park: Compassion and Conflict in the Asylum was launched in SCA Galleries last Saturday, before a large and enthusiastic audience.
Historian Roslyn Burge used images, documents and interviews to create a thoughtful insight into the former mental asylum – the patients, residents, staff, the local community, its landscape, and its importance as a place of refuge and confrontation in the past, and today. Callan Park: Compassion and Conflict in the Asylum draws from an exhibition of the same name and is published by Friends of Callan Park. Left, is Sandstone Jungle, Tom Ulman’s winning photograph in the Heritage Festival 2015 ‘Capture Callan Park’ photography competition, staged and exhibited by Leichhardt Council
In the book’s later pages, under the heading of Conflict, the stages of development of community action are outlined. In 1989, the state government’s slowness to disclose any details of its plans led to the formation of Save the Callan Park Action Group. Outraged by government secrecy about plans for a retirement home in 1998, the Friends of Callan Park was formed. It maintained a strong campaign to preserve the parkland for the mentally ill and ensure that the whole site remain in public ownership and under public control. Ten years later, the last patients were unceremoniously bussed out of Callan Park. In 2009, however, the present Minister for Planning (then a member of the Opposition), Rob Stokes, told a protest rally that their demands would be granted and delivered a five point plan supported by the Liberals. Nothing happened until a draft Callan Park Master Plan was presented to the now state government by Leichhardt Council. (Above, locals at North Parramatta protest about government secrecy earlier this year.)
The final entry on the Conflict page reads: 4 June, 2015 – unanimous agreement by NSW Parliament to implement a Trust for Callan Park was received with applause. . . . The decision to appoint a Trust for Callan Park is the first step in establishing a foundation which will set the course for the future appropriate care and management of this exceptional cultural landscape. The Friends of Callan Park has clear priorities and believes that the new model of care proposed in the Callan Park Master Plan 2011 could be a beacon for channelling compassion and conflict in a tranquil landscape that is already a vibrant and established resource enjoyed by the entire community for passive enjoyment, organised sport, dog walking and children’s play.
Anything but an illustration of failure, this success is an inspiration for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct campaigners. It is a particularly encouraging model for current psychiatric patients at the Cumberland Hospital, who face an uncertain future.
From August 15, you have an opportunity to visit SCA Galleries at Rozelle and see an exhibition co-curated with Campbelltown Arts Centre. The Slackers was a radical group of artists who took their name from the old Surry Hills slacks factory where they worked (photo above). Interdisciplinary and emergent artists, The Slackers operated from 1997 to 2002, including the core group at the heart of the space – Shaun Gladwell, Angelica Mesiti, Emma Price, Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, Wade Marynowsky, Alex Davies, Techa Noble, Michael Schiavello, Chris Fox, Melody Willis, Lea Donnan, Simon Cooper and Laura Jordan. Many have since developed successful careers
Under the title Cosmic Love Wonder Lust: The Imperial Slacks Project they have come together in 2015 to revisit this period. At the Rozelle and Campbelltown sites, they are exhibiting works from that earlier time and newly commissioned works responsive to their former practice. Left, Shaun Gladwell‘s Maximus Swept out to Sea (Wattamolla), 2013, single-channel digital video. The exhibitions continue to September 12 at Rozelle and October 18 at Campbelltown and include a forum on artist run spaces, collectives and collectivity as a mode of working. For more details on the program click Sydney College of the Arts and Campbelltown Arts Centre.