Melbourne's Abbotsford Convent Receives National Heritage Status

Courtesy of Abbotsford Convent
Courtesy of Abbotsford Convent
On the 31st August 2017, the Abbotsford Convent was recognised on the National Heritage List for demonstrating “Australia’s social and welfare history.” The Convent became the 111th site to be granted Australia’s highest level of heritage recognition joining iconic landmarks such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Great Barrier Reef, and the Sydney Opera House.

Founded in 1863 by The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Abbotsford Convent provided refuge for thousands of girls and women affected by the rise and fall of Victoria’s gold rush, the Great Depression and two world wars over the course of a century. By 1901, the Convent had developed into the largest charitable institution operating in the southern hemisphere.

The Good Shepherd Convent Herald ca.1910 Courtesy of Abbotsford Convent

The National Heritage Listing also recognises the value of the Abbotsford Convent’s Magdalen Laundries and the associated significance these rare buildings have with the children known as Forgotten Australians. The Department of Environment and Energy addresses their lived experience stating “the harm of institutionalisation and the trauma often experienced by residents is acknowledged as being part of the Convent’s heritage” In 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a formal apology to Forgotten Australians who lived in institutional care during the 20th century.

Abbotsford Convent Laundries Courtesy of Abbotsford Convent

The Abbotsford Convent occupies 16 acres containing 11 historic buildings including the Industrial School built in 1868, Magdalen Asylum, Sacred Heart Building and the main Convent Building. Throughout the Convent’s long history these buildings have served various purposes, housing St Euphrasia Catholic primary school, St Mary’s Boarding School and St Anne’s as well as a number of dormitory complexes, a finishing school and kitchen annex.

After much deliberation, The Sisters of the Good Shepherd sold the Convent in 1975 to the Victorian Government who divided and repurposed the facility. In 1989 La Trobe University set up a campus on the site. Following the closure of the campus in 1997 a property developer proposed residential plans for the Convent which would see many of the original buildings demolished, much to the dismay of locals who proceeded to form the Abbotsford Convent Coalition. After tirelessly campaigning for seven years, the Victorian Government gifted the site to the people.

Nuns in the Garden 1963 Courtesy of Abbotsford Convent

Today, the Abbotsford Convent is a not-for-profit multidisciplinary arts precinct owned and operated by the Abbotsford Convent Foundation. The site features more than 100 studios, two galleries, a community classical music radio station (3MBS), cafés and restaurants including Lentil as Anything, and the Sophia Mundi Steiner School. The Convent also hosts music events, markets and festivals as well as tours, exhibitions and workshops.

The National Heritage Listing also acknowledges the Good Shepherd Chapel and not-for-profit Collingwood Children’s Farm.

To read the full statement visit the Abbotsford Convent listing.