Old Kyneton Hospital

Because apparently empty buildings are the best way to conserve the ‘vibe’.

The Old Kyneton Hospital was founded in 1857. It has been abandoned since 2005 boarded up and fenced off on the top of the hill overlooking the Campaspe river.

To the left of picture is the small red brick infectious diseases ward. Not picture, behind this building, is the small blue stone mortuary building.

There has been interest in developing the old hospital into housing but it has been met with resistance by residents amidst fears the heritage facade will be compromised. This is hardly surprising considering how garish the original planing proposals were. There is an interest group that is calling for it to continue to be used as a public space. The inside of

morgue
The mortuary behind the main building. Credit: realestate.com.au

the property has been gutted so this move would require a large investment to make it a viable working site of any kind.

Development seems to be the best option for the site but allowing such poorly fitting plans to be proposed have understandably worried residents. If the development plan had been more fitting for the area it may not have seemed to prohibitive to residents. That said, the reluctance to renovate the hospital is perhaps representative of a growing conflict in the Macedon ranges area. The population and housing prices are increasing as people look to move outside of Melbourne’s overcrowded suburbs.

It is hard to know if there is any rhyme or reason as to which groups are conservative and who are progressive in terms of development. Anecdotally it seems the more senior long term residents and new residents are interested in conserving the old and quiet feel to the town. In the case of senior residents who may be retired there is no incentive to allow growth of any kind in the area. Similarly newer residents may who have moved from Melbourne are likely to work and socialize in the city. They may not need increased business in their new country homes and, potentially, not wish to see development in the hope that property prices will continue to rise and offer them capital appreciations.

Longer-term residents of the area who are younger or middle-aged, who have lived longer, worked and socialise in the area are potentially more interested in seeing sites such as this be utilised. In addition to the hospital also contains several abandoned pubs and factories.

This difference becomes stark when there are new and senior residents who organise Facebook groups and events to save the old Kyneton hospital building. Meanwhile long-term residents who were actually patients at the hospital shudder at the memory of being treated inside those blue stone walls in its latter years. Again this is anecdotal rather than necessarily representative but seems to reflect the growing tension between residents and traders to towns opening up to cater for growing populations.

 

This isn’t a new situation. For decades the changes in primary industry and retail have led to downswings in country towns throughout Australia and probably throughout the world. Small towns are usually prone to high youth unemployment and above average general unemployment rates. A new study also shows the prevalence of homelessness among these small regional areas.

The old Kyneton hospital is a an empty shell growing ever closer to collapse through sheer lack of action. Some of the blame lies with developers because, well some of the blame always lies with developers who, as always, were greedy in their proposal. It is understandable that residents have sought to preserve the heritage facade of the building. It is inexcusable that so much land, and potential housing, in this and the many other buildings in the area have been allowed to languish while there is homelessness and rising property prices.

The Kyneton hospital is an example of why interest groups, council members and politicians should hesitate to so quickly bemoan the lack of jobs, rising property prices or the exodus of the youth from regional areas. Large buildings like this and the steel casting factory have stood vacant for decades. Half the businesses in town are empty or for sale and many are reluctant to stay open late lest slow trade cuts into their daily profits. In situations like this where the lack of action seems almost an act of self-sabotage its often hard to know if the councils, red tape, indecision or indecisiveness is representative of sheer incompetence or a weak form of corruption.

olderhospitalphoto
The Hospital site approximately twenty years ago. Adjacent buildings have since been demolished. Credit: Victoria Heritage Database

 

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