Save our school house: former Ballarat orphanage residents' plea

Deborah Findlay outside the building during a rally in 2012.

Deborah Findlay outside the building during a rally in 2012.

DISTRESSED former residents of the old Ballarat Orphanage have penned a letter to the City of Ballarat urging councillors to reject an application to demolish part of the site’s school house building.

The campaign is being spearheaded by former orphanage resident Deborah Findlay, who submitted a letter to council this week signed by six past residents.

The submission calls on councillors to reject rezoning the section of land where the former school house building sits and retain the facility in its entirety.

“It is a very important part of our history, it is who we are and where we are from,” Ms Findlay said.

“For many of us it’s our home and the only home we have ever known.”

A report is being tabled at Wednesday night’s council meeting recommending the city adopt the planning scheme amendment to rezone the former orphanage site into a combination of residential, mixed-use and commercial zones. 

It also recommends council demolish a large section of the former school building under the provision that at least the two front rooms of the building are kept. 

Debate has surfaced in the community since a developer purchased the site in 2011 for a residential subdivision with a medical centre and shopping complex. 

Last year, a former resident who was abused in the orphanage made a blood claim to the land and highlighted the possibility of human remains on the  site.

Adjoining residents have also expressed concerns about the risk of flooding and building heights overshadowing residential properties, while VicRoads suggested there would be implications for traffic.

“It will be a very sad day when that building is demolished because a part of us will be irreparably lost.” - Deborah Findlay

The application has been subject to a Victorian Civil Action Tribunal appeal and considered by an independent panel. 

Ms Findlay said of the 13 buildings on the site, the majority of the former orphans only wanted to obtain the school house building.

Ms Findlay was an orphan at the children’s home from 1969 to 1981 and said the building was of historical, cultural and social significance. 

“I don’t think the residents have asked for much,” she said.

“It will be a very sad day when that building is demolished because a part of us will be irreparably lost.”

She said former residents had battled for years to have their voices heard.

“We have made submissions and went to hearings in support of retaining the whole school,” she said.

“We are disappointed and shocked that after all this, the developers have done what they always wanted to do and only agreed to keep a minimum of two rooms.”

The former orphanage, which was later used by Damascus College as its junior school site, was built in Victoria Street in the mid-1860s and was home to more than 4000 children.

Under the application, the former toddlers’ block would be retained and converted into a medical centre. 

The site’s mature elm trees, the Stawell Street wall, the front memorial garden, a shade structure, several magnolia trees and the memorial Ludbrook seat will also be preserved. 

In in its report, the panel did not support an individual heritage overlay being placed on the school house building, but it did support including a citation which clearly outlined that the building had social significance. 

While council officers recommend the council support the suggestions of the panel, the agenda stated that if the council desired to retain the entire school building an alternative motion would need to be introduced.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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