1510 Callan Park
The main Kirkbride complex of Callan Park began construction began in 1878, as a solution to cope with the overflow from Gladesville hospital.
It was originally named Callan Park Hospital for The Insane, before being renamed to Callan Park Mental Hospital in 1915 and then Callan Park Hospital in 1976. It’s been known as Rozelle Hospital since 1994 and is now often simply referred to as Callan Park.
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In the early 1900s, people were declared insane from a broad range symptoms including PTSD, mental anxiety, fever, fright, nostalgia, even pregnancy and puberty.
The “insane” were not permitted to travel on the Kings roads, and so they would enter the asylums through tunnels beginning at the waters edge while the “sane” would laugh at them. This brought rise to the name “ha-ha tunnels”. Within the tunnels are cells, similar to a prison with shackles fixed to parts of the walls, used as a means of restraint.
You didn’t have to have many qualifications to work there back in the early days, and there were more wardens than nurses. It seemed to be more about wanting the job than actually being qualified to do it.
Mental health care has come a long way in 100 years.
For all the saddening stories to come from Callan Park, there is an equal amount of good from the important work done by the doctors and nurses who helped people and improved the lives of many.
Mental health nursing today is a highly specialised area that years of study and practice before becoming qualified. Individuals have more say and rights regarding their treatment these days. It’s no longer a custodial situation as it was in the early 1900’s.
The nurses who worked here in the later years helped turn lives around. They should be thanked for that and the great work they continue to do today in a field where we as a society are still trying to break the stigma attached to mental health.
The grounds of Callan Park are therapeutic in themselves and include some landscape plantings and elements dating from the site’s long involvement with the Director of the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens , Charles Moore.
There are dozens of varieties of mature trees across the site. Expansive open spaces are stretching right down to the waterfront and still to this day, is still enjoyed by many in the surrounding community.
The last patient of the hospital was discharged or transferred to Concord Hospital in 2008 but, the NSW Ambulance state headquarters still exists on the site and the amazing central sandstone Kirkbride complex is the home to the Sydney College of the Arts . NSW Writers Centre also occupies some of the buildings, and Friends of Callan Park do an incredible job advocating for the preservation of its heritage and community use of the grounds.
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