Student Life

The Jewel of the Inner West

The Good News Story

By Karina Horvath

Photography by Tina Reid

If you play up, we’re taking you to Callan Park…

As a child, Tina was often threatened with the fear of being taken to Callan Park as punishment for being naughty. “If you play up, we’re taking you to Callan Park…” joked her parents. But Callan Park wasn’t just a place for empty threats. With many reported ghost sightings and its somewhat sinister history as a mental health treatment facility, threats of Callan Park were actually quite terrifying to children over the last few decades.

Known as the “Jewell of the Inner West”, Callan Park boasts over 60 hectares of beautiful garden landscapes, harbour views, heritage-listed buildings, and parklands with more tree varieties than New York’s Central Park.

The grounds, however, were originally an Aboriginal Settlement—settled by the Wangal people of the Eora nation. They resided throughout Rozelle up until 1789-1790 when half the population of the Aboriginal people was lost to a smallpox outbreak.

The grounds first changes hands in 1839 and were then purchased in 1874 by Sir Henry Parkes. Despite local protests, the development of the site proceeded. By 1876, Garry Owen House was transformed into the first hospital, fully equipped with a cricket pitch, farm, orchard, and zoo. It earned itself the title of “The Jewel in the Crown of New South Wales’ Mental Healthcare”.

Many years later, the facility would be home to soldiers returning from the war effort, experiencing what was then commonly known as “shell-shock”—we now refer to this as PTSD. Despite the beauty of the pleasure grounds and its architectural masterwork, the history of Callan Park was often, in fact, a sad one.

Many who were admitted to Callan Park were left to be forgotten about. Service tunnels built between buildings were also used to keep patients out of view of the public eye. Mental health issues weren’t something that was openly discussed and were considered shameful for the families involved.

Driving past one day as a child, Tina—a current resident at Callan Park—recalls seeing a patient from the hospital being chased by men in white lab coats. The scene resembled an escape attempt from a horror movie.

Moving on to the present day, the grounds are now home to multiple rehabilitation facilities including Foundation House, an addiction treatment centre, and WHOS, a drug and alcohol residential rehab. There is also Rozelle Hospital. The rehab facilities are now at maximum capacity during COVID and are not only saving lives but allowing successful recovery for many of its patients. In light of its history, Callan Park offers the possibility for new and positive memories to come out of a place that was once troublesome for many with its shadowy past. Such progress is only made possible by how far we have come as a society and the growth we have experienced in building further awareness towards mental health issues. It is not something to shy away from as many as 1 in 5 Australians is affected every year.

Callan Park Gallery

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