A police investigation is underway after emergency services were called to a fire at a heritage-listed building in Goulburn on Saturday afternoon.
Fire and Rescue NSW received a phone call at 4:30 pm about a fire in one of the buildings at the old Kenmore Hospital (also known as the Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital) on Taralga Road.
Upon arrival, an FRNSW spokesperson said one of the buildings was “totally engulfed” by a fire measuring around 30 by 50 metres.
Rural Fire Service Southern Tablelands operational officer Mitchell Butler said the two-storey structure was already well alight when they arrived. Both crews worked for five hours to extinguish the blaze.
The building was destroyed, with damage estimated at more than $500,000.
An eyewitness at the scene said it was the former female section of the psychiatric hospital known as Ward 15.
A resident on Wollondilly Avenue said they heard a “boom” at around 4 pm before coming outside and seeing the fire.
Both said vandalism was a regular occurrence in the Kenmore area.
Investigators were on the scene on Saturday and into Sunday morning and have ruled the cause of fire “undetermined”. The matter has been referred to NSW Police.
Officers from the Hume Police District established a crime scene and have commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fire.
As inquiries continue, police are appealing for anyone with information, including dash-cam or CCTV footage from the area, to come forward.
A few days earlier, on 11 October, fire crews were called out to the old St John’s Orphanage on Mundy Street. Smoke and flames were pouring out of the western side of the building.
Officers from the Hume Police District also attended to inspect the scene.
It isn’t the first time either building has been set alight.
Kenmore started life in 1895 as an asylum, with 19 wards capable of housing 700 patients. The buildings are the largest example of work by Australia’s first government architect, Walter Vernon.
In March 1941, the NSW Government offered Kenmore to the Australian Army for use as a military hospital. The patients were then moved to various institutions in Sydney.
The Commonwealth Department of Health sold the property in 2003. It was added to the NSW State Heritage Register on 1 April 2005.
Chinese investor company Australia China International bought it in 2015. In November 2016, the company announced it would be known as ‘Kenmore Gardens’.
The new owners pledged to revive the 70-hectare of grounds, buildings and sporting fields, touching base with the Goulburn community every step of the way.
However, nothing more was heard, and the property continued to degrade at the hands of nature and vandals. By 2020, community dissatisfaction was boiling over.
By then, a fire had been started in the old chapel, the rare Australian cedar doors and stain-glass windows were smashed, the slate tiles on the roofs were broken, cracked and letting in rain. Marble fireplace surrounds had either been stolen or removed.
St John’s Orphanage was home to more than 2500 children between 1912 and 1978. There have been numerous fires on the site, the most significant in 2016.
Property owner John Ferrara (who also owns Goulburn Airport) placed fences around the old orphanage in an attempt to curb vandalism, but these have failed to prevent trespassers sneaking in under cover of darkness.
Two fires at the orphanage have left it damaged beyond repair, and St John’s Orphanage is now set to be demolished.
This will make way for 150 retirement units, but Mayor Bob Kirk has previously said there will be a number of conditions imposed with regards to heritage conservation.
Many locals are equally upset by the news that Kenmore Hospital may be on the same path.
“I started my first day of duty in Ward 15 in 1960,” says one. “What beautiful memories I have, especially the experience of the great work and love we shared with our patients. How devastating and horrific for the history of Goulburn.”
“So sad to see the terrible fire and the state of the other beautiful old buildings, hoping something can be done to save the others,” wrote another.
Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. The public is reminded not to report information via NSW Police social media pages.