In 1899, John Matthew Vincent Smith, a prominent identity in the horse breeding and racing industry, acquired the property known as ‘Bundoora Park’. Situated in an area reputedly named by the first European settlers after the Aboriginal word ‘Bundoora’, meaning: the favourite haunt of the kangaroo, the property consisted of 606 acres (245 hectares) of land, and is part of the territory of the Wurundjeri-william clan.
In that same year, Smith organised a public architectural competition for the design of a new homestead. The first prize of $50 pounds was awarded to the winning design submitted by Sydney Herbert Wilson for a double storey asymmetrical plan; red brick mansion with dominant hipped roofs, protruding strapped gables and tall brick and stucco chimneys. Wilson, a leading Melbourne architect, who also designed the Malvern Town Hall, was chosen to lead the project. Bundoora Homestead remains one of Sydney Wilson’s most distinguished works and a prominent example of the English Queen Anne Style as adapted to the Australian environment.
The Homestead & Estate
Built in 1900, by J.B. Sewell & Co, the fourteen room mansion, subsequently known as “Bundoora”, comprised an entrance hall, a central stair hall, a drawing room (probably converted to a billiard room by 1910), a parlour, a dining room, a morning room, a butler’s pantry, a servery, a servant’s hall, a kitchen, scullery and larders, a laundry, and household water closet. Upstairs accommodated eight bedrooms with the principal bedroom serviced by an ensuite bathroom and dressing room, two additional bathrooms and a linen room. From the balconies, the city of Melbourne could be seen in the distance, along with sweeping vistas from the Dandenong Ranges to the south-east across to Mt. Macedon to the north-west. Under the supervision of James Upham, former curator of the Bendigo Botanical Gardens, significant horticultural developments were made to the estate. A spreading ornamental garden encircled the mansion with plantings of rhododendron, azalea and beds of roses, while beyond lay an orchard and extensive vegetable garden. A large conservatory filled with profuse ferns and exotic flowering plants was also constructed. Besides seasonal nursery hands, three full-time staff were required year round to maintain the lavish gardens which stretched to Plenty Road. JMV Smith and his family (wife, Helen Mary Smith, sons and daughters, John, Dorothy, Dudley and Alice) lived at Bundoora Park, which operated primarily as a horse and cattle stud, for 20 years.
The Horse – Wallace
Wallace, son of the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner, Carbine, was destined to become Bundoora Park’s best known resident. A majestic galloper, Wallace had won the Caulfield Guineas, Victoria Derby and Sydney Cup by the time he was three years old. It was his 22 years at stud however, for which he is most renowned – the progeny of Wallace competed in a total of 949 races, winning $246,000 pounds in prize money. In 1917, aged 25, Wallace died and was buried close to the Bundoora Park stables where his grave was originally marked by a flat stone cairn inscribed with his name. Legend claims that Wallace is watched over by a ghost horse. Late at night, if you walk close to his grave and hear the clip clop of hooves, it is thought to be his stable mate, a mare called Lurline, coming to see who goes near him.
Bundoora Convalescent Farm
In December 1920, JVM Smith sold Bundoora Park to the Commonwealth Government for $28,000 pounds. In purchasing the property, the Government aimed to provide suitable accommodation for the rehabilitation of WW1 veterans suffering mental disorders as a result of their military service. Bundoora Convalescent Farm, as it became known, was the first psychiatric facility established in Victoria to meet the specific needs of returned servicemen. The property, chosen for its isolated location, reflecting the prevailing official and public attitudes to the mentally ill at that time, was initially used for farming activities, associated with the Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital located on the opposite side of Plenty Road. Designated as Ward A, Bundoora Homestead initially housed approximately 30 patients as well as nursing and domestic staff and, by 1922, the same year that John Matthew Vincent Smith died, accommodated some 60 patients.
Mental Repatriation Hospital, Victoria Police Stud
In 1923 the Convalescent Farm was renamed the Mental Repatriation Hospital and in May 1924 control of the facility was transferred to the Victorian State Government. In 1930, 456 acres (184.5 hectares) of the property, including the original thoroughbred stables, stud master’s brick cottage, and a small timber hut (used as accommodation for Aboriginal trackers)was allocated for use by the Victoria Mounted Police. The Victoria Police stud and stables operated from Bundoora Park until 1952.
Mental Repatriation Hospital, Dr John Cade
Australian psychiatrist, Dr John Cade’s discovery of the efficacy of lithium carbonate in the treatment of mental illness was estimated by the American National Institute of Mental Health to have saved the world at least $17.5 billion in medical costs over a fifteen year period between 1970-1985. Dr Cade’s discovery, a major breakthrough in psychiatric medicine, has been acclaimed in psychiatric circles around the globe. A POW for three and a half years in Changi, Dr Cade resumed his medical career upon returning to Australia in 1945. The following year, at the age of thirty-four, he was appointed Psychiatry Superintendent at Bundoora (Mental) Repatriation Hospital in Victoria. Believing that some mental illnesses were caused by an underlying metabolic disturbance, the identification of which could lead to rational and effective treatment, he set about investigating his theory in the disused kitchen of an old ward that served as his research laboratory. Dr Cade soon found that the urine of manic patients was more toxic than normal urine. With his subsequent discovery, by trial and error, that a lithium extract had a marked protective effect against this toxicity, he knew he was on the verge of a major breakthrough. In 1948, after testing it safely on himself, he experimented with the extract in the treatment of a greatly disturbed patient who had been confined to the high dependency ward at Bundoora for the previous five years. Within a week, the patient became calm and was transferred to an open rehabilitation ward where his improved condition remained stable. A month after treatment began, the patient was able to return home to his family and former job. A further nine patients responded in a similar manner to the experimental treatment. Dr Cade published his findings in ‘the Medical Journal of Australia’ in September 1949.
Bundoora Repatriation Hospital
The hospital continued to expand its facilities and services and, in 1965, the sprawling campus on the slopes of Mount Cooper came to be known as the Repatriation Hospital, Bundoora. The hospital campus had grown to a total of eight wards with a maximum capacity of 291 beds and employed almost 200 staff including 90 nursing and 75 artisan staff. It was also at this time that the Homestead (by then known as Ward 2) was renovated and adapted as a Day Hospital caring for up to 40 patients per day. An official report from1968 states: “The aim of the hospital is complete rehabilitation and return to the community for all patients capable of this progression and for the others, psychiatric and medical care and an active therapeutic programme.”
Incorporated into the rehabilitation process were a number of recreational and leisure pursuits including: sporting days on the cricket oval, golf course and tennis court, two small swimming pools, a bowling green, a putting green and volleyball facility. Indoor activities consisted of card games, billiards; three picture shows a week and two dances per month!
Concerning repatriation patients, the report concluded: “Admissions and discharges are fairly constant at approximately 200 in both categories each year. Deaths average between 30 and 40 for each twelve months and are mainly World War 1 veterans.”
The Repatriation Hospital at Bundoora was de-commissioned in 1993 and ownership of the total site was transferred from Commonwealth to State instrumentalities in 1995. By December 1996, the majority of the buildings, covered ways, paths and other features that had formed the hospital complex were demolished, leaving the former JMV Smith mansion standing alone and unoccupied. The former Bundoora Park stables, stud master’s cottage and blacksmith’s shop and sheds, which stand well to the west of the mansion, survive in the custody of the Preston Historical Society and are used for historical museum purposes.
Bundoora Homestead Art Centre
With the assistance of La Trobe University and the Commonwealth Government through the Federation fund, Darebin City Council restored Bundoora Homestead and opened it to the community, in September 2001, as a heritage and cultural space. Bundoora Homestead is registered by Heritage Victoria and certified by the National Trust.