By Amber Parrington, Master of Archaeology and Heritage Management student
Walking in and around the buildings of the Royal Derwent Hospital, the oldest continuously used mental hospital in Australia, is an experience all to itself. Just by entering the site, one can feel the history, the presence of people long since gone, shifting and settling like a cloak on your shoulders. It pulls you in, invites you to walk the halls so many walked before, to share in their story.
Their story is visible too in the scattered remains of beds, doors, objects of various shapes and sizes all telling us something of this place. Objects large and small, broken and whole, all contributing in their own way.
The Willow Court Barracks too, compel you to look and think back to what it must have been like during its operational years. In the right hand corner of the veranda that frames the Barracks lies the writing on the wall, which intrigued me as soon as I saw it.
Hundreds of numbers and scratches resembling writing flow across the walls, overlapping and surrounding each other. Some written in pencil, others carved into the very walls of the building. Questions filter through my mind, who wrote these? What were they trying to say? Why numbers? Was it an attempt to copy the way builders do their calculations all over the walls? A form of expression or art? One after the other the questions come, leaving my mind swirling.
The preservation of these numbers really hit home the fact that this site has history that isn’t just nearly 200 years old, but it also has a recent history which is just as important and significant. Archaeology looks to the past, be that 14 years ago or 1400 years, and all it can take for that journey to begin is something seemingly unimportant or uninteresting as some writing on the wall.