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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 283


Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (19:20): On 24 September this year 2013, 200 years to the day after the building's foundation was laid by New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia officially reopened the Female Orphan School building at the University of Western Sydney Parramatta campus after the completion of the third and final stage of its restoration. Later that day, the newly installed permanent exhibition for the Whitlam Institute, the Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection, the institute's education facilities and a new display on the building's history were also opened to the public.

The Whitlam Institute of the University of Western Sydney unites the two great passions of Gough Whitlam: education and the delivery and development of services to the suburbs of Western Sydney, which he represented as the member for Werriwa for more than a quarter of a century. Gough Whitlam has gone down in our history as a great reforming prime minister of the 20th century and a leader of lofty ideas and wide-ranging vision. But his vision and his passion were not abstract. They were made concrete in Western Sydney. They were made concrete through his and Margaret Whitlam's experience of raising a young family in Werriwa when there was neither a single high school in the electorate nor even a single sewer line and through seeing the lives and hearing the stories of the men and women in his electorate whose horizons were narrowed and whose talents were stifled through a lack of opportunities that others took for granted.

The Whitlam Institute's association and integration with the University of Western Sydney is a fitting symbol of the concerns and causes to which Gough Whitlam dedicated his life and the continuation of them. The institute collects and preserves a significant part of our national history through the Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection, but it also, perhaps more importantly, cultivates and fosters a crucial part of our national future through programs of civic engagement and policy discussion. Gough Whitlam's legacy is not only the iconic policy reforms of his government but also the example he has set of a lifetime's engagement in political and civic life—a dedication to cause and change.

It is entirely fitting that the institute should now find its permanent home in the nation's oldest public institutional building. The history of the Female Orphan School tells its own story of Australian administrators and governments grappling with responsibility for and solutions to disadvantage and distress. It reminds us of our own responsibility to act. It reminds us too that the obvious and popular solutions may look very different a few decades later. The building is an extraordinary piece of our early European history. It is the oldest three-storey building in Australia and one of the very few buildings of its size still standing from the early colonial period. From 1813 to 1850 the building served, as I mentioned, as the Female Orphan School, which was an institution where orphaned girls could be raised in an environment of religion and morality, I might say, away from the corrupt and immoral influences of Sydney Town.

Since 1850, the building served as the Protestant orphan school and later the Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital, with many extensions and new buildings constructed over the years. In the 1980s in response to the Richmond report and new methods of treating those who were afflicted with mental illness, the Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital closed. The old Female Orphan School and the surrounding buildings fell into disrepair and disuse.

The restoration of this historic building was an immense and ambitious project completed over 13 years in three separate stages. The third and final stage was made possible last year by a generous $7 million grant by the then federal government with additional funding provided by the University of Western Sydney. The achievement of saving the Female Orphan School for future generations is in no small part due to the University of Western Sydney's vice-chancellor, Professor Jan Reid, who has had an unwavering commitment to the restoration of the building. I believe that it will stand as a great legacy of Jan's time as vice-chancellor of the University of Western Sydney.

Tonight, I certainly want to acknowledge all who were involved in this project, and there were far too many to mention. It goes from the director and board members of the Whitlam Institute through to the construction workers who did the hard work on the ground of making the restoration a reality. It is thanks to all of those efforts that this magnificent building has been restored to its former glory and that Gough Whitlam's continuing legacy now has a fitting, permanent home.

If you, Mr Acting Deputy President, or any other senator or anyone who might be listening to this broadcast or reading the Hansard should find themselves in the vicinity of the University of Western Sydney Parramatta campus, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this significant and historic building and also, of course, the Whitlam Institute's permanent exhibition called A Changing Australia: The Time of Gough Whitlam, which, as you would appreciate, highlights the legacy of former Prime Minister Whitlam to the nation. I can assure the Senate that a visit is a most worthwhile experience for anyone and I would commend it to any interested senator.