Phil Leighton-Daly can hardly hide his anger as he stands outside what is arguably one of the state's finest collection of historic health buildings.
"Kenmore Hospital is a hidden gem - a collection of moldering treasures - but this grand eloquence is being destroyed by looters," he tells The Post.
The historian and ex-teacher says he's even more disappointed that the new owners of the former psychiatric hospital, Australia China International Pty Ltd, are "denying" the community access to a World War One memorial in the grounds. It was built in 1924 and honours 50 staff who served in the defence forces.
Mr Leighton-Daly has just completed a two-volume history of the complex titled Moldering Treasures of a Psychiatric Hospital. The second volume is a potted history while the third is a photographic collection.
The books build on his 2014 volume one work, the 300-page Wednesday's Child.
The site was declared State Significant in 2003 for its fine collection of Walter Liberty Vernon designed architecture and history as a working village. The architect started work at Kenmore in 1895.
Mr Leighton Daly said he was always fascinated by the architecture but the property had another element.
"It was always a mysterious place," he said.
"I used to play cricket there when I was young and people (including patients) used to come and watch us."
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His mother was also a nurse serving with the 114th General Hospital when part of Kenmore was used for injured soldiers' repatriation during World War Two.
As the son of a World War Two veteran, he tells the stories of workers who signed up for WW1 service and never came home. One of these was Harold Britton Stephens, of Larbert, near Braidwood, who drowned when the hospital ship, The Centaur was sunk in 1943.
Delving into State archives, old newspapers and Kenmore documents, Mr Leighton-Daly also details the facility's development but also the stories that brought it to life.
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Kenmore had a working farm, including a dairy, piggery, orchard, vegetable gardens and more across its wide expanse. That and sporting facilities such as a cricket ground and bowling green were welcome distractions for both patients and the community who visited the site. The Kenmore Pleasure Ground along the nearby Wollondilly River was also a popular spot in earlier days.
Medical superintendents like Dr Charles Moffitt (1921-1937) encouraged entertainment such as musicals, dances, plays and talking movies for staff and patients. Mr Leighton-Daly has sourced some of these old photos.
"Dr Moffitt also thought meat made patients more aggressive and cut down on the amount that was served," Mr Leighton-Daly said.
A later superintendent, Dr David Morgan, is described as strict but fair, with an occasional penchant for employing staff with cricketing prowess.
Mr Leighton-Daly spoke to former nurse manager Bob Seaman, Bob Smith and Kerry Williams (before his death in 2020) about their working days and prowess for the Kenmore Cricket team that sometimes went on tour.
The book covers darker tales like the spate of suicides and drownings in the Wollondilly, particularly at the end of World War Two, and the accidental shooting of Nurse Elizabeth Naughton by an ex-soldier in 1922.
The author uncovers stories of the 'sly grog trade' operated by patients, an SP bookie ring, ex-residents' humpies in the nearby Cookbundoon ranges and a council inquiry into night-soil contamination in the Wollondilly River.
At its peak, the hospital housed about 1300 patients and was described by one 1935 visitor as "a delightful little village nestled in the hills."
The state government sold it in 2005 to Longreach Capital Pty Ltd for $3 million. It has passed through several private interests, including the latest company in 2016. All have promised redevelopment but little has eventuated.
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In November, 2020, Heritage NSW started a compliance investigation and ordered Australia China International to undertake "minimum standard maintenance" on the buildings.
Mr Leighton-Daly despairs the damage and disrepair inflicted by vandals and successive owners.
"When I see it being wrecked it's like turning a dagger in a wound," he said.
"I see people profiteering from the stealing...I think there should be more security cameras around there and police should be involved.
"...I suggested to the owners that they make the war memorial available to the public. There are men's names on it and the Australian flag is flying there. We should at least be able to pay our respects to those who died."
- Mr Leighton-Daly's books are available at Goulburn and District Historical Society, Marulan and District Historical Society, Goulburn Visitors Information Centre, Goulburn Book Emporium or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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