We are a grass roots Advocacy Group over three hundred people strong from various places, such as the Disability Sector, Students studying Community Services, People living with disabilities and People with a general interest in an ethical and sensitive re-use of Willow Court Tasmania.
Asylums that once segregated and housed people with disabilities have lain empty and often unused for the last decade. As the Social Model was rolled out the vacating of these institutions began. Tasmania was the first state in Australia to de-institutionalise all of the people it housed. This wild social experiment was watched by other states, which also had started their own journey of de-institutionalisation. Communities were left with large complexes and equally large maintenance bills, often too much for small municipal councils to bear through their rate payers. Theft, arson and vandalism all added to already growing problems.
This is the story of Willow Court in New Norfolk a peaceful township on the banks of the Derwent River 30 km from Hobart. People have debated and argued for “sensitive reuse” of the area, parts of it was sold off to developers and private business, but the original Barracks building, the oldest Asylum in Australia that has continually run on the same site, remains in Council ownership and now has a planned reuse. What was meant by “sensitive reuse” and who are we being “sensitive” too? These questions have interesting answers, some people just don’t want to talk about it and others simply don’t know.
The plan of use highlights the Barracks reuse as an interpretation site that housed “invalid convicts” which was older than Port Arthur. While this is important it ignores the rich history of people with disabilities who called this place home. “Sensitive reuse” appears to be ignoring the history which there is a stigma or shame surrounding and yet this is also our rich and valuable “people heritage”. A call to become “a Site of Conscience” through the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience asks us to remember the well documented history and the troubled times that Willow Court and its people had throughout its history. Its motto is “Past to Present, Memory to Action” and has encouraged us as a community to use our history to enlighten our future.
We are independent from the local, State and Federal politics, although we will engage with these groups if we can further Willow Court becoming an institutional listed site of conscience. We have a number of short films about the “people heritage” that can be found on the ”multi-media” tab and we are linked to the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance in the United States, which has already become a site of conscience. The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience has set out what a “sensitive re-use” means and assists interested sites through its global network and vast experience.
Please join our group or page on facebook and add your voice to the “people power” that is available to us, help us to make this national and international site a museum that sensitively interprets the history of people living with a disability that called Willow Court home.
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