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What’s behind the lights?

Push for an historic proposal

09 Nov 2017

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Federal Senator Derryn Hinch and the Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) have called on the Federal and State Governments to support a proposal that would breathe life back into the historic Repatriation Clinic on St Kilda Rd.

The Australian National Veterans Arts Museum (ANVAM) group has developed a proposal to repurpose the historic building into a cultural institution for veterans and the local community.

The former clinic at Victoria Barracks has sat idle for 20 years and the group’s proposal, which includes plans for a gallery, artist studios and a cafe, aims to honour the building’s legacy by supporting veterans through art.

While the proposal has widespread support, the Federal and State Governments are currently locked in ongoing negotiations over transferring ownership of the site.

Currently owned by the Department of Defence, it has been the subject of protracted negotiations for more than two years with the Federal Government attempting to offload it to the state in 2015. To date, the State Government is yet to provide an indication as to whether it plans to take ownership of the site.

With the building set to turn 80 on November 15, ANVAM chairman and director Mark Johnston said now was the time for both levels of government to resolve the issue.

“With the 80th anniversary of the opening of the former Repatriation Clinic there is no better time for governments of all persuasions to put on the table what they are able to contribute to ensure the right outcome for memory of veterans past and wellbeing of veterans present,” he said.

“This site is too important to veterans, Melbourne and Australia to sit empty while a practical investment in veterans and the arts is waiting for the go ahead.”

“More importantly, many veterans and families are suffering unnecessarily and innovative solutions to the crisis of mental health are required now. The mere act of handing control of the former Repatriation Clinic to ANVAM will send a wave of hope through much of the veteran community.”

Having received more than 13,000 signatures in an online petition in support of its proposal, ANVAM was joined by Senator Hinch and SRA president and veteran Tony Penna on November 3 to pressure both levels of government.

Senator Hinch told Southbank Local News he had put pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his government to take ownership for the building.

“After federal Labor had expressed interest in it suddenly at the start of this year, it was put on the market and the government announced plans to sell it by the end of 2017,” he said. “I helped to make sure it was taken off the market.”

“It’s the perfect spot and it’s a building with so much history as a rehab hospital. It’s near the Arts Precinct and it’s all about art and you can walk to the Shrine. It’s just like it was made for it.”

“I made this one of my major projects for my first term and I want to get on with it.”

In a recent letter addressed to Federal Senator James Paterson, National Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan said the building was surplus to Defence and Commonwealth requirements.

“In February 2017, the Victorian Government expressed a renewed interest in acquiring the property through an off-market sale process, after declining Defence’s initial approach in 2015,” he wrote.

“The Victorian Government has advised Defence that it expects to be in a position to make a formal offer for the site in early 2018.”

However, Member for Albert Park and Minister for the Creative Industries Martin Foley told Southbank Local News his government had not made any commitment to the building as it awaited further details about its condition.

“In very preliminary discussions the state is awaiting details from the commonwealth/defence forces about the clean up (asbestos and other material on site) before we would even consider its use in a planning sense let alone creative sense,” he said.

“Even more fundamentally we believe that if it is to be a genuinely national facility reflecting the work and service of our armed forces it needs to have a national focus.”

“The state can’t bring that. Only the commonwealth and the deuces forces can do that - especially if it is to have as I understand a overlay of support and recovery from trauma for our service personnel.”

“As that is clearly a responsibility of the commonwealth we stand ready to work with the commonwealth to facilitate their clean up of the site, resolution of its purpose and the delivery of the exciting ideas around a veterans museum.”

Constructed in 1937, the clinic 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.

Heritage Victoria completed a heritage review of the building this year, providing a recommendation to the Heritage Council pending the property’s transfer to State jurisdiction.

To add your name to the petition and show your support for ANVAM’s proposal visit


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