Whitby Falls Farm
Whitby Falls has been associated with the farming history of the Serpentine-Jarrahdale Shire since the 1840s and subsequently functioned, from 1897 – 2006, as the longest operating facility in Western Australia for the care and treatment of people with mental illness. The place is significant for its potential to reveal information about colonial farming; for its representation of the changing attitudes and practices relating to mental health care; and for the involvement of patients in agriculture and horticulture through improvements in farm production, diversification of produce and building improvements.
‘Whitby Falls Estate’ was granted in 1848 to early European settler Henry Mead for pastoral and farming purposes. This use has continued to the present through succeeding ownerships, including local politicians and businessmen John Wellard and William Paterson, as part of Whitby Falls Hostel itself, and for a brief period as a prison farm.
Though not the oldest facility, Whitby Falls Hostel was the longest operating facility in Western Australia for the care and treatment of people with mental illness, particularly long-term care for men in a rural setting, offering such services from 1897 to 2006. The place was established to replace the asylum at Fremantle and later became an annex to Fremantle and Claremont Hospital for the Insane and Graylands Hospital. During its time as a hostel, it supplied other institutions in the mental health system with farm produce, particularly eggs, and provided for much of its own needs.
The heritage values of Whitby Falls were recognised in the Shire Town Planning Scheme in 1989 and by its inclusion on the State Register of Heritage Places in 2008.
Following closure of the site for mental health care purposes in 2006, there was extensive vandalism to the buildings at Whitby Falls Farm and many had deteriorated. Although structurally sound, some of the 1950s brick buildings and the 1930s stone constructions were in a very poor state.
The former Hostel is a single storey brick building with corrugated asbestos sheet roofing and timber sash windows. The Nursers’ Quarters is a smaller single storey brick building with tiled roof. The buildings were accessible to feral animals and most of the glass windows were broken, with rubbish and debris scattered inside and outside the verandahs.
The National Trust of Australia (WA) was granted a management order over the site in 2010 some years after it was vacated by the Health Department.
A partnership offer was declined by the Department of Corrective Services, who were leasing the land for farming purposes, following which the National Trust sought a strategic partnership with Murdoch University. Conceptual approval was given by the Trust Council in May 2012 for a partnership that would see the conservation and interpretation of the cultural heritage values of the site, including its Aboriginal heritage values, while delineating appropriate development zones. The lease agreement with Murdoch University commenced in 2013.
In 2014 the National Trust commenced a program with the Department of Corrective Services, offering accredited training of prisoners in conservation work. At Whitby Falls, this project commenced with the conservation of the significant and fragile stone farm buildings dating from the early 1930s.
Cleaning out and securing the 1950s brick hostel and nurses’ quarters, which have suffered from extensive vandalism, remains a priority and the National Trust hope to continue to explore a viable future use for these structures.