By Virginia Ward, Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management student
The Willow Court Barracks building is iconic for this large and varied site, which spreads over both sides of the Lachlan River in New Norfolk Tasmania. It has survived when others have been demolished in phases of rebuilding. It is beautiful. The current work to stabilise the structure and renovate rooms in the south wing has removed protective boards, restoring all the windows—the building’s eyes.
The New Norfolk Invalid Hospital and Lunatic Asylum opened in 1830 with remains of an earlier wooden building thought to be under the Barracks square. The plan below by Roger Kelsall includes the proposed additions of 1836.
In 1885 after a Royal Commission, the name was changed to the Hospital for Mental Diseases, with further name changes to reflect changing attitudes until its final incarnation, the Royal Derwent Hospital.
After progressive moves to community integration Willow Court closed in 2000. Many buildings were sold to private enterprise for redevelopment, but some were retained by the Derwent Valley Council, including the Barracks. Major theft and vandalism, along with the ravages of time and weather, left the Barracks in a sad state, with its eyes closed by protective boards.
Willow Court has many friends and captivating stories. In 2012 the Council gained funding to repair the precinct and breathe new life into the area.
‘Eyes so transparent, that through them one sees the soul.’ Theophile Gautier
It is the site of tragedy and deep sadness but also of fierce activism on behalf of residents, for example when units were being closed down. Once touched by this place, it never leaves you. If you get a chance to see it, or work there, go.
Susan Piddock 2007 A Space of Their Own. The Archaeology of Nineteenth Century Lunatic Asylums in Britain, South Australia and Tasmania. Springer: New York.