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Callan Park

Callan Park is a heritage-listed former insane asylum located in Rozelle, part of Sydney’s Inner West. The main body of the Callan Park Mental Hospital is the Kirkbride Complex. The asylum was designed in 1877
 by James Barnet, Colonial Architect, in collaboration with Frederick Norton Manning, Inspector of the Insane.

The design was based on the latest European designs and according to the principles of Dr Thomas Kirkbride, a noted American reformer in the area of mental health care. Male and Female wards were at either end of the complex and were separated by administrative buildings in the core.

Construction commenced on 11th February 1880 and was completed in 1885.

On the 19th December 1884, the first transfer of 12 women was made to the asylum from Gladesville Hospital, and by June 1885, the number of female patients had risen to 110 (with 303 male patients). Eventually, Callan Park would receive the whole of the new cases of insanity occurring in the metropolitan district.

Callan Park was intended as a solution to cope with the overflow from Gladesville Hospital, but it took only three years until Callan Park itself became overcrowded.

Mental health care has come a long way in 100 years.

It was initially 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 referred to as Callan Park.

In the early 1900s, people were declared insane from a broad range symptoms including PTSD, mental anxiety, fever, fright, nostalgia, even pregnancy and puberty.

Ordinary patients received three meals a day, with those male patients who worked receiving an additional half a pint of beer (or lime-juice), with bread and cheese, for lunch.

The female patients who worked received bread and cheese for luncheon, and tea in the afternoon.

At the time, qualifications were not as necessary to work in healthcare as they are today. It was a person’s willingness that got them the job, rather 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 vital 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 of health care which requires years of study and practice before becoming qualified. Individuals also have more say and rights regarding their treatment these days. It’s no longer a custodial situation as it was in the early 1900s.

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 last patient of the hospital was discharged or transferred to Concord Hospital in 2008.