Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum

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Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum
Construction Began 1863
Opened 1865
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Goodna
Alternate Names
  • Goodna Asylum
  • Goodna Mental Hospital
  • Brisbane Mental Hospital
  • Wolston Park Hospital
  • Park Centre for Mental Health Treatment, Research & Education


Prior to 1859, mentally ill people in the colony of Queensland had been sent to Sydney. Following Separation, they were lodged instead at the Brisbane Gaol. In 1861 the government instructed Colonial Architect Charles Tiffin to report on a suitable site and draw up plans for a 400 bed asylum. Tiffin recommended an area of land on the banks of the Brisbane River halfway between Brisbane and Ipswich, which was rejected by the Government in favour of another site close by, at the junction of the Brisbane River and Woogaroo Creek.

Tenders for the first stage of construction were let in 1863 and by the end of 1864 sufficient buildings were completed for the asylum to begin operation. The Woogaroo Asylum opened on 10 January 1865. On 12 January, seven prison warders (two of them women) and ten police constables escorted 57 male and 12 female lunatics from Brisbane Gaol to Woogaroo, travelling by river on the steamer Settler. The 69 patients were accommodated in a two-storeyed brick building initially intended to be the administration block [no longer extant]. Male patients were accommodated on the first floor and part of the ground floor. Females occupied a section of the ground floor. A tall timber fence surrounded the building and timber outbuildings accommodated a kitchen, bathroom and staff areas. Dr Kersey Cannan was appointed as Superintendent and a residence was constructed for him on the site [no longer extant]. This first stage of the asylum was located at the southern end of the site between the Brisbane River and Woogaroo Creek, with the river providing access to the site. Plans of the site made c1869 and in 1878, indicate that a cemetery or graveyard was established at the far western end of the site, near the confluence of Woogaroo Creek and the Brisbane River.

In 1866 a ward for fee-paying patients was erected on an adjacent ridge about 400 metres to the east of the main buildings [later Female Wards 1&2]. The building was constructed from local sandstone extracted from a nearby sandstone quarry formerly owned by Joshua Jeays, which was also the source of stone for the construction of Parliament House in 1864. The superintendent Dr Canaan claimed responsibility for the building's design, based on principles recommended in the standard treatise on asylum construction, The Construction and Government of Lunatic Asylums of 1847 by John Conolly. The Woogaroo Asylum was not, however, in a position to receive fee-paying patients and the building was unoccupied for two years until alterations were made so that female patients could be transferred to this block. A second storeyedwas added, constructed to the design of Charles Tiffin in 1875, and other substantial alterations and additions were made to the building in both 1904 and 1923. This building accommodated female patients for over 100 years.

In 1867 the first of many Government inquiries into the operations of the asylum took place, with the Government appointing Dr Henry Challinor to investigate conditions there. Two further inquiries occurred in 1869 - the first inquiry was conducted by public servants, and the second by a select committee of members from both houses of Parliament. Dr Cannan was dismissed from his post as a result of the first inquiry. The second inquiry revealed a multitude of mistakes and incompetency and a number of its conclusions related to the inappropriate and insufficient accommodation on site and the improvement of cooking facilities and the provision of a decent water supply. On the recommendation of the select committee, the Queensland Government introduced the Lunacy Act of 1869, based on similar legislation in other Australian colonies and Britain.

It was not until a Royal Commission was established in 1877 to investigate Woogaroo Asylum and other reception houses in the colony that the Government was forced to take the continuing problems at the asylum more seriously. Despite the construction of two cottage wards in the early 1870s [no longer extant], overcrowding remained a chronic problem and the commission urged the construction of additional wards, improvements to existing cells, upgrading of services, the planting of shade trees, the establishment of recreation facilities and the provision of employment for patients. A modest building program began in 1878 with the construction of a cottage ward for 60 female patients and continued with a block of cells for troublesome female patients in 1879, two wards each for 35 patients in the male and female sections in 1880 as well as the construction of a kitchen and laundry building to service 500 patients [these buildings are no longer extant].

A boom in the Queensland economy and a major increase in expenditure on public works was the impetus for a more substantial building program at the asylum during the 1880s. At the same time, the population of the state was increasing rapidly and accompanying social changes brought greater numbers of admissions to the asylum. The hospital population doubled in the two decades from 1880. Two new cottage wards [one of which is now known as Bostock House, 1885] and a refractory ward were erected in the female section and a new refractory ward was constructed [no longer extant] and major additions to the existing No 1 ward were undertaken in the male section. Despite this new work, conditions for patients scarcely improved as the additional accommodation barely matched the growth in patient numbers. New legislation was introduced with the Insanity Act of 1884 replacing the Lunacy Act of 1869. It was modeled on New South Wales legislation and reflected the growing medicalisation of the treatment of madness. The term lunacy was replaced by insanity and the institution where such persons were treated became known as a hospital for the insane rather than an asylum. This Act consolidated the State's role in the treatment and regulation of insane people and remained in force for over fifty years.

In 1890 the asylum experienced severe flooding as the Brisbane River rose to a height of 40 feet, the highest level ever recorded. The entire male section was inundated, buildings, fences and other structures were seriously damaged and patients had to be re-located. The decision was made to abandon the low-lying area near the river where the main male section was located and consolidate it on higher ground where two wards had already been erected. The relocation brought the complex closer to the railway line [opened in 1875], which replaced the river as the primary means of access to the hospital. The Recreation Hall was erected in 1890 and was used as a sewing room by female patients during the days and was also available for dances, concerts and church services

In 1893 the male section was further damaged by a second serious flood that also inundated the main staff residences. In line with the decision to relocate the male section on higher ground, work began on an outdoor recreation area and Fleming House, a two storeyed brick building with accommodation for 50 male patients, was opened in 1898. Verandahs were located at ground level on the northern side of the building, overlooking the cricket oval that had been laid out by patient labour. The same year, a substantial brick residence [now Manor House], replacing a timber house badly damaged by the 1893 flood, was erected for the new medical superintendent, James Hogg, appointed in 1898. The residence was located on high ground but with its main elevation facing south-east, away from the asylum complex. Most of the other staff resided off the site. For many decades the hospital was serviced by employees who lived in the local area and there are now a number of staff who have a family history of employment at the complex going back generations. During Hogg's period in charge, the complex became known as the Goodna Hospital for the Insane.

20th Century[edit]

The most significant building project of the early 1900s involved extensive alterations and additions to the original female ward. A new level was built on the existing building that significantly increased accommodation. A large two-storeyed block, the male no. 4 ward [no longer extant] was also completed, bringing the male section to a well-defined group of eight buildings. A new morgue and two brick bathroom blocks were constructed in 1902. [Both bathroom blocks remain, one of which is now known as Dawson Annexe]. Following the sudden death of James Hogg in 1908, H Byram Ellerton was appointed to replace him as superintendent of Goodna and Chief Inspector of Hospitals for the Insane. Conscious of the need to find the very best possible candidate, the Queensland government had advertised widely for the position, including in Britain. Ellerton was chosen from a list of twenty-six applicants and had fourteen years experience in English asylums. He was an ardent advocate of 'moral treatment' or moral therapy.

Moral treatment marked a major turning point in an understanding of madness and insanity. Formerly regarded as the total absence or distortion of reason and incapable of cure, insanity came to be seen as a product of an immoral or defective social environment, thus mentally ill people could be improved in an appropriate and elevating environment. A critical aspect of moral treatment was the provision of a pleasant environment, with an emphasis on well-lit and ventilated buildings with adequate bathing facilities, reasonably sized rooms with sufficient openings and views to the landscape. Recreation and employment were also considered a vital part of the therapeutic process.

Ellerton was superintendent of the hospital for 28 years, retiring in 1936. In this period, Wolston Park acquired its modern form with the construction of the core of its buildings and the consolidation of the institutional environment. Ellerton's vision was to create an integrated and self-sufficient community, the grounds became gardens and wooden fences were replaced with less claustrophobic wire ones. A large bush house, 100 yards long and 20 yards wide, was established in 1911 to maintain a steady supply of pot plants for the wards and recreation hall and to provide seedlings and young plants for the gardens throughout the asylum [no longer extant]. The institution was opened up to visits from relatives and friends and recreational activities became integral to the asylum's operations. While aesthetically-pleasing gardens and views were considered parts of the therapeutic process, the grounds were also important to the public image of the institution. A pleasant landscaped environment with gardens, scrubs and open space suggested the asylum was a benign institution and belied its true character as a place where overcrowding was chronic and patients were strictly controlled and managed.

During Ellerton's reign, existing male wards were demolished and Lewis House, Noble House and McDonnell House were completed in 1915; a new bridge over Woogaroo Creek was completed in 1916; a female admission ward, Anderson House, the hospital, the administration block, the powerhouse, water reservoirs and pumping stations were completed in 1917; the laundry was completed in 1918; Osler House, a ward for difficult female patients was completed in 1929 and Pearce House, for difficult male patients was completed in 1934; and the male wards Gladstone House, Jenner House and Kelsey House were completed in 1936. Upon Ellerton's retirement, the male section comprised a total of 13 blocks, all constructed of brick and designed to accommodate between 20 and 120 patients. Despite the upgrading of facilities, overcrowding remained a chronic problem. The increase in beds from 1910 to 1936 failed to correspond to the increase in the number of patients.

Compared with the extensive building program in the male section between 1910 and 1936, improvements in the female section were extremely modest. Ellerton felt that the expansion of the female section was limited due to the topography of the Goodna site and advocated additional female wards at other institutions such as Ipswich Mental Hospital. In the period 1910-20, the number of female inmates decreased by 20%, falling from 491 to 389 patients and the 1910 female population level was not regained until 1929. Male patients increased by 30% during this period, rising from 779 to 1010.

During Ellerton's period in charge, the asylum had undergone considerable material improvement and a number of essential services such as electricity, water and a hospital had been established. Many of the buildings were well designed and are excellent examples of the output of the Queensland Department of Works during this time. Some of the buildings demonstrated a refinement in approaches to patient care, such as the small and domestic scale Anderson House that was designed to accommodate female patients when they were first admitted so they could be kept under observation and receive more individual treatment than was possible in a large ward.

Recreational facilities had vastly improved and the complex now had three tennis courts, a viewing pavilion and terraces and an oval considered one of the best cricket grounds in the state. A golf course had been constructed by patient labour in the 1920s, becoming the well-regarded Gailes Golf Course, which continued to be a source of employment for patients in the upkeep and maintenance of the greens. Patients were also employed in farming activities that aided the hospital's self-sufficiency. Farm activities included a piggery, dairy, a small cattle herd, vegetable and crop growing including oats, maize and lucerne. However no new techniques or methods of treatment had been introduced. Even the later male wards, Gladstone, Jenner and Kelsey, were still firmly based on the moral therapy model despite their new designs with unusual, crab-like plan forms. The institutionalisation of people with mental illness in Queensland had become an efficient system of control and regulation with an emphasis on confinement rather than treatment or care. More patients than ever were admitted to Goodna and no other solution to the treatment of mental illness was even considered possible.

Ellerton was succeeded as Medical Superintendent by Dr Basil Stafford, the former Superintendent of Ipswich Mental Hospital. Ellerton's retirement provided the opportunity to review the entire mental health system in Queensland and in particular, Ellerton's total commitment to 'moral therapy'. By the late 1930s psychiatry was a well-established specialty internationally, though still in its infancy in Australia and Stafford was alert to the changes psychiatry was bringing to the treatment of mental illness. In 1937 he was sent by the Queensland government to attend the 2nd International Congress on Mental Hygiene in Paris and on a study tour of hospitals, psychiatric clinics and universities in the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom

On his return, Stafford recommended various changes to the mental health system, including the implementation of new legislation. These recommendations led to the Mental Hygiene Act of 1938, which closely resembled the British Mental Treatment Act of 1930. The Mental Hygiene Act of 1938 brought a focus on prevention and cure through voluntary treatment. Until this time hospitals such as Goodna received only certified patients, most of whom were sent there under a Magistrate's order. However, the transition to a less coercive approach to treatment occurred slowly and in 1947 Stafford reported that only 34 of the total 570 patients had been admitted under the voluntary provisions of the Act.

The ideas of modern treatment introduced by Stafford emphasised the development of a comprehensive psychiatric approach with adequate numbers of qualified medical staff. Insanity was seen as a disease of the brain and like any other disease required hospitalisation of patients and treatment with drugs. 'Modern treatment' he noted 'demands exhaustive mental and clinical case histories, as well as completely thorough physical examination. This cannot be done by a skeleton staff, however willing'. This approach also brought degrees of specialisation among the staff and hospital procedures. Stafford advocated the separation of chronic wards from those dealing with admission, convalescence and hospital cases. He believed that mental illness 'demands active therapy, and treatment must not become merely custodial' and urged the use of new types of treatment such as insulin, cardiazol and electrotherapy.

The first building at Wolston Park to reflect Stafford's modern ideas was Dawson House, a new female building completed in 1944. It provided accommodation for 60 patients and was located on a sloping site close to the existing female wards. It was recognised that a building with a basement could be built on such topography, with the basement accommodating treatment rooms for cardiazol therapy, insulin therapy, malaria therapy, somnifaine or continuous narcosis therapy and other medical treatments. The most striking difference was that minimal attention was given to the outside environment - this building was inward-looking, signalling the demise of the significance placed on the environment in 'moral treatment' and the increasing medicalisation of the treatment of mental health.

Another important building project for female patients at this time was the construction of a special female recreation facility, which commenced in 1951 on an area of approximately 2.5 hectares on the western edge on the reserve, adjacent to the Brisbane River. The principal building within the area was the cafeteria with facilities to serve 500 patients [now Wolston Park Golf Clubhouse]. Patients could spend the whole day in the recreation area without needing to return to the wards for midday meals. Other facilities in the area included a sewing room, tennis court, bowling green, a large playing field, viewing shelters and storage sheds. By 1957 more than 200 patients were regularly using the facilities, highlighting the rigorous separation of patients according to gender that operated in all facets of the institution.

By January 1942, 110 returned soldiers were inmates of Goodna Mental Hospital and the Commonwealth government expressed concern about the growing numbers being admitted. War veterans had become a significant minority of the hospital population since the final years of the First World War and Ellerton had decided upon consideration, that using existing institutions was preferable to building new facilities. During the Second World War, however, the Commonwealth agreed to fund the construction of three special wards, with the State government agreeing to responsibility for the maintenance of the buildings and for staffing. Plans for a complete repatriation unit were prepared by the Works Department in consultation with Basil Stafford. Their design essentially resurrected the principles of 'moral treatment' - the buildings were designed to minimise the sense of confinement associated with mental hospitals and freedom was emphasised by wide verandahs and dining areas opening onto grassed courtyards and lawns. Construction of the wards began in 1946, and the Wacol Repatriation Pavilion was opened by Governor John Lavarack on 26 January 1948. It comprised three wards each with accommodation for 88 patients and a kitchen/canteen block. A recreation hall was erected in 1950 and a cricket oval in 1954.

In the late 1940s, planning began for a new farm ward complex. Farm wards at the hospital had traditionally operated as semi-independent units where patients enjoyed greater levels of freedom and autonomy, unlike the main wards where people were locked in their cells or wards. A new site on the summit of a hill adjacent to the existing farm wards was chosen and two large wards with accommodation for 175 patients and a dining/recreation block were erected between 1953 and 1957. Patients included both 'backward persons' and people who had responded well to treatment and had the potential for recovery and discharge. In 1958, part of the farm ward complex was set aside for patients regarded as 'subnormal' and in 1964 a five teacher school was established to teach the 160 children who lived there. Gradually, all of this block became occupied by intellectually disabled children and was renamed the Basil Stafford Centre.

In 1965 a new alcohol rehabilitation centre was also established, making use of the old farm ward buildings at the northern end of the site. Alcoholics had been patients at Wolston Park since the Inebriates Act of 1892 had allowed for their admission to designated institutions, however, there had been no specific facilities for them. New buildings were erected adjacent to the former farm ward including four wards, offices and an occupational therapy area. The new centre was known as the Wacol Rehabilitation Centre. Initially it served both male and female patients; later a separate complex was built for female patients requiring treatment for alcoholism (Melaleuca House and Poinciana House).

The hospital population peaked in the mid-1950s, with an average of approximately 2500 residents daily (not including Wacol Repatriation Pavilion patients) and 700 staff. By the late 1950s the efficacy of large-scale, all-purpose institutions for the treatment of mental illness began to be questioned. It was recognised that patients became institutionalised to the extent that living in large institutions perpetuated their mental disorders and did not assist them to recover. The Division of Mental Hygiene embarked on a program of expanding acute psychiatric beds in general hospitals and transferring elderly senile patients from mental hospitals to nursing homes. This resulted in a decline in the number of patients at Goodna and in 1960, Director Basil Stafford was able to report that, for the first time, the hospital had an excess of beds.

The complex began to develop a different role. No longer did it cater for every type of patient from every part of the State; instead the majority of inmates were long-term chronic patients. The new Mental Health Act of 1962 placed a greater emphasis on voluntary admission and the complex became known as the Brisbane Special Hospital. In 1969, it was re-named Wolston Park Hospital.

In 1976 the Minister for Health released a paper on the Care of the Intellectually Handicapped, which proved to be the catalyst for significant changes in the delivery of mental health services. A special Branch of Intellectually Handicapped Services was established within the Health Department in 1977, which took responsibility for the Basil Stafford Centre. Research into the long-term effects of institutionalisation and the lack of success in the treatment and care provided in institutional settings led to critical questioning of the institutional model for both mentally ill and intellectually and physically disabled people. In addition, the increasing criticism of conditions within mental hospitals and the abuse of patients' rights gave impetus to the development of alternative models, in particular, community-based mental health services. The community care model was adopted slowly in Queensland. Institutions were reformed, however, an emphasis on institutional care remained.

Short-term care with intensive treatment was the preferred model. Several major building projects, which reflected these changing ideas, were undertaken at Wolston Park during the 1970s, as well as extensive re-modelling of existing structures. In 1978, the Barrett Psychiatry Unit was established to provide acute care. It comprised eight separate buildings, a reception and admission block, three wards with 32 beds, two wards with 16 beds, cafeteria and medical officer's flat. In 1984 it expanded to include inpatients and specialised services for young people. A new medical centre opened in 1979 and in 1980 Nyunda Park was set up as an outdoor recreation area. The John Oxley Centre, a forensic psychiatric unit, was built at the eastern side of the site next to the Brisbane River in 1990. A number of the 19th century buildings were demolished in the 1970s and 1980s, with renovation and rehabilitation of other remaining 19th century buildings occurring in the late 1990s.

As part of the 1996 Ten Year Mental Health Plan for Queensland, the main hospital became known as The Park - Centre for Mental Health and has decentralised its extended care services with a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and recovery. The Park now provides clinical treatment and rehabilitation programs to patients from central and southern Queensland, including care for people with a chronic mental disorder and for people with a mental disorder who are also intellectually disabled, forensic care services and an extended treatment service for adolescents.

From 1999 to 2002 many new buildings were erected, including a large new maximum-security facility at the eastern edge of the site. Most of the new buildings are domestic in scale and character and include accommodation for patients and medical and administrative facilities. Some replace buildings erected during the 1970s, such as parts of the Barrett Psychiatric Centre.In 1989 the John Oxley Memorial Hospital, a special purpose secure psychiatric facility, was opened on the grounds of the Wolston Park Hospital; it has since been demolished.


In 2000 work began on the Wolston Park Hospital Redevelopment, and in 2001 the hospital was renamed again to The Park Centre for Mental Health Treatment, Research & Education. Although the new centre is designed to focus on rehabilitating patients, the hospital grounds still contain several prison-like abandoned structures which bear witness to the confinement of past patients within the institution. Some facilities of the asylum, such as the high-security John Oxley Memorial Hospital and the old water tower, have been demolished but several historic buildings have been redeveloped to cater for the latest reincarnation of the ex-asylum. For instance, the original Power House is now a reception building with a large industrial chimney sitting alongside. Some graffiti, small fires and criminal damage appears to have been inflicted on the old wooden, sandstone and red brick structures. In recent history, kangaroo guards, giant tree roots and undergrowth have also provided nature’s own imposition on some of the old insane asylum’s neglected heritage buildings. [1]