Inner West Independent

Callan Park’s convictions under consideration

The future of the historic Callan Park is still in question. Photo: Eva Baxter


2020 may be the beginning of the end for Callan Park as a shabby hub for artists and mental health services.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) released a draft Landscape Structure Plan (LSP) in July announcing Callan Park’s potential as a large urban parkland comparable to other iconic parks across Sydney.

It found 29.4% of buildings in the park are intrusive, “initially a therapeutic landscape, the site requires remediation and better connections to feel like one unified park.” It concluded a diversity of uses has become increasingly important and mental health is no longer a top priority.

Friends of Callan Park (FOCP), a volunteer group formed 22 years ago to keep the park in public hands, would see it maintained as a place where mild psychiatric services are provided such as Step Up, Step Down.

The Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002 (CPA) restricts use outside of health, community and education, along with rules for the aesthetics of spaces and buildings.

The CPA is “restrictive if you’re a developer and you want to slice off a piece of Callan Park to develop,” said Roslyn Burge, historian on the executive of FOCP.

Various agencies and government entities have responsibility for different aspects of care and control of the park and progress is typically hindered by their lack of shared vision. Only 62% of the park is included in the Greater Sydney Parklands, a new 50-year-vision for greater Sydney’s open space and parklands.

The LSP does not have responsibility for the historic Kirkbride precinct.


Early this year, Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) vacated Kirkbride after 30 years.

Arrietty Wachsmann, a first-year student in 2016 when news broke that the college was moving campus still has a sticker, ‘LET SCA STAY,’ a token from the protest that lasted until her graduation.

“That campus meant so much to so many people and we just knew in the campus moving it would be downgraded and everything would be smaller, you’d be sharing facilities,” said Arrietty.

Landowner NSW Health is looking after Kirkbride while it’s toured by interested parties. One tour breached the CPA, a representative of Doltone House, a for-profit venue business. FOCP questioned the government and were told expressions of interest were being accepted from anybody.

Callan Park’s original building, the Garry Owen House, was repurposed into a facility for writers in 1991. Writing NSW is now at risk of closure due to funding cuts.

Sarah Luke, author of Callan Park: Hospital for the Insane, was inspired to write her book after visiting the park for a course at Writing NSW. She would be disappointed to see the park’s interesting history erased.

“Today, in the twenty-first century, I would suggest that citizens’ mental health is still being supported by the site but simply as a park open to all,” she said.

Community feedback of the LSP is under consideration by the DPIE.

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