Art & Design


The Secret Past of Yarra Bend

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East of Clifton Hill, North of Abbotsford lies Yarra Bend Park and Golf Course.   Today it is a picturesque place full of people walking dogs, jogging and playing golf.  The Collingwood Children’s farm with its cute baby goats is a stone’s throw away. 100 years ago was a slightly different story.  Just above Dights Fall from 1848, 620 acres was occupied by the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum.  By 1870, the Asylum housed 1043 patients and was one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The Asylum was largely self sufficient, farming its own food, and making its own boots and clothes.  In terms of carbon emissions it was great. Water conservation was achieved by forcing up to 28 patients at a time to share the same bath water.  They buried more than 1000 people, or at least bits of them, on site on the banks of the Yarra in an area which is now occupied by a practice fairway. That’s about as far as the positives go.

Multiple investigations over the decades repeatedly found the place to be one of the worst institutions in the world.  Overcrowding, corruption, physical and sexual abuse were rife.  Staff were immoral drunkards, at whose hands the patients suffered all kinds of coercion and punishment.  The first superintendent was rumoured to have a collection of the skulls of those who had died in his care.  And many patients (and staff) died, gruesome deaths, at the hands of other patients, staff and in horrible accidents. Buildings were literally dungeons and patients where often keep chained up. With no sewage all the drainage from the institution and morgue would go straight into the river.

The Asylum remained in operation until 1925. Parts of it would eventually became become the Fairlea Women’s Prison another site of infamy that remained open until 1996 and the inspired TV’s “Prisoner”.

All that now remains is this pillar.


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