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History

06 Jun 2017

History Image

Military health in Southbank

The former Repatriation Commission clinic on the corner of St Kilda Rd and Coventry St, beautifully placed opposite the Botanic Gardens, has played a remarkable role in the health of war veterans in Victoria.

It was constructed in 1937, one of a number of excellent military facilities designed by Commonwealth Government architect George Hallandahl, who had a long and distinguished career with the Commonwealth Works Department from 1923 to 1966,

The design of the striking clinic, which replaced a galvanised iron building, can be termed as stripped classical and it is flanked by some stunning gates in geometric Art Deco style. Its understated manganese brown brick finish and decorative and cubic and geometric shapes above the entrance doors provided a contrast in architectural styling to the adjoining massive bluestone buildings of Victoria Barracks.

The interior featured the latest in styling and materials, such as terrazzo, jarrah floors and decorative mouldings, as well as a canteen in the basement.  

The clinic, a rare example of a purpose-built outpatient health facility, was important for the rehabilitation of veterans and provided a wide range of services to support injured soldiers with recovery and reintegration into civilian life.

The spacious and warmed waiting hall was a great boon to the patients, and improved conditions for medical and other staff was greatly appreciated.

The 1940s extension along Coventry St demonstrated the increased demand for such services as direct result of World War II.

However the former clinic eventually became redundant.  The Commonwealth vacated the building more than 20 years ago (there are still 1995 calendars on the walls!) and has now decided it is surplus to requirements.

Remarkably the interiors, whilst suffering some degradation, are in reasonably good condition.

Now it is ready for the next phase of its service to the community.

Following a three-year campaign led by a group of military veterans from the Australian National Veterans Museum, the building is now in the process of being transferred to the State Government and will serve as an art gallery (with studio spaces) for returned servicemen and women.

Australian veterans have produced some remarkable art work over the years and involvement in producing art works is regarded as a major part of therapy for those returning from war zones.  It is hard to think of a better outcome for the former clinic.

It has also been nominated to the Victorian Heritage Register so hopefully it will be protected in the future.

 

Robin Grow - President

Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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