1 September 2020

Anger rises over Kenmore neglect, vandalism

| John Thistleton
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Exterior of the former Kenmore Hospital's main administrative building in Goulburn.

The main administration building at the former Kenmore Hospital in Goulburn. Photo: Supplied by Leone Morgan.

Four years ago, the new owner of Kenmore Hospital in Goulburn, Australia China International, pledged to revive the place, involve the community and be transparent.

Member for Hume Angus Taylor stood alongside company representatives for a photograph in the Goulburn Post newspaper in 2016 and said: “Everyone here would love to see Kenmore developed and it is my job to see what the government can do to support that.”

Today, frustration and anger is boiling over in Goulburn at the rampant vandalism and neglect of the historic former psychiatric hospital, now known as Kenmore Gardens.

People touring the 70 hectares of gardens, buildings and sporting fields have been appalled. Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman came away “shocked, saddened and angered” at the state of the site.

“The buildings have been subject to serious and continuing vandalism – reparation and maintenance have been ignored and the dilapidation of the buildings is a dishonour to Goulburn’s history,” she said.

A government spokesperson said Mr Taylor has not been approached by the owners to seek Federal Government assistance and he has had no contact with them since 2016.

Region Media has asked the owners’ representatives in Australia for comment and is awaiting a reply.

The 1890s buildings are the largest example of work by Australia’s first government architect, Walter Vernon.

Region Media has been told a fire was started in the old chapel, and that rare Australian cedar doors and stain-glass windows are smashed, and slate tiles on the roofs are broken, cracked and letting in rainfall. Marble fireplace surrounds have either been stolen or taken away.

“We don’t want to see another St John’s Orphanage incident at Kenmore,” said a local resident, referring to another one of Goulburn’s significant buildings. A huge fire, one of three blazes at the site in the space of 12 months, all but destroyed St John’s in 2016.

Ms Tuckerman has raised grave concerns about Kenmore Gardens with the Heritage Council of NSW and to Don Harwin, NSW Special Minister of State and the Arts. Several constituents and stakeholders have contacted her with concerns about the lack of care and maintenance of this historical site.

“Kenmore is much more than structures on soil,” she said. “Many people hold fond memories of careers, service to the community, sport and recreation on the grounds of Kenmore or the Wollondilly River.”

A vacant building on the Kenmore Gardens site.

A vacant building on the Kenmore Gardens site. Photo: Supplied by Leone Morgan.

Ms Tuckerman said the owners were seeking interest from anyone who may have a purpose to use the site.

“The owners currently employ a caretaker to undertake general maintenance and gardening,” she said. “Owners of state heritage listed sites have an obligation to conserve the history of the site. I await a response from the minister.”

Members of the Goulburn community are upset the stately buildings at Kenmore Gardens, in which Australian soldiers were nursed during World War II, are being ravaged inside and outside.

Many people believe a live-in caretaker would better safeguard the site. Peter Trama, who runs restoration and maintenance business Goulburn Outdoor Services, lived as caretaker on the former Marian College campus in the CBD and helped restore the historic chapel. He said once he and his wife moved in, vandalism stopped.

Mr Trama estimates repairs and restoration of older buildings would cost millions of dollars, and unless roofs and windows are sealed, the damage bill would run into many more millions.

Aerial view of Kenmore Hospital site.

An aerial view of the Kenmore Hospital site, including its sporting fields. Photo: Supplied by Leone Morgan.

The early ‘core’ Vernon buildings are among the finest corporate architectural expression of the Edwardian (later Federation) Free style in Australia, according to NSW Heritage.

Kenmore’s buildings include the three-story, 101-room nurses accommodation, and 19 wards. In November 2016, Chinese investor company Australia China International announced Kenmore Gardens as the new name of the old psychiatric care hospital and grounds.

In 2016, Australia Chinese International’s chief executive Eddie Yau said the new owners, Xiao Liang Wen and his children, believed in involving the community to find a way to revive the site.

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