In 1835 Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, a French Roman Catholic nun, founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. On 24th June 1863, four Good Shepherd Sisters- Bridget Doyle, Brigid Lalor, Helen Corbett and Anastasia Lacey arrived in Melbourne aboard the ship, “Forest Rights”, with an intention of establishing a convent to provide support and housing for marginalised girls and women. They purchased villa estates, Abbotsford house in 1863 and the adjoining St Heliers House in 1865, to setup the convent. The first girl to live with the Sisters at the Abbotsford Convent arrived on 26 September 1863 and soon the population grew. By the end of 1860, the convent included the Magdalen Asylum, which was essentially a women’s refuge, a reformatory for young offenders, and an industrial school complex for the care and training of children who were disadvantaged or neglected. A day school for children of the surrounding districts was opened in 1879.
The convent model established was that of self-supporting, self-sufficient community with farms, vegetable gardens, piggery and a commercial laundry to provide work for the inmates and to earn money for running the facility. The laundry was the primary source of income for the convent and it also turned out to be its worst nightmare in the convent’s later years, many accusing the convent of child labour. At its peak around 1000 women and children lived behind the walls of the convent, making it the largest charity complex in Southern hemisphere.
The Nuns sold the convent in 1975 and the Victorian Government purchased it recognising its significance and planned to turn it into a higher education campus. In 1979, the farmland was divided and became Collingwood Children’s farm. The School of Early Childhood Development and the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences moved into establish a joint campus. In 1989 La Trobe University took over the campus after the Lincoln Institute became a part of the University.
In 1997, the University departed and the redevelopment plan proposed included turning it into a residential complex. The locals resisted and formed Abbotsford Convent Coalition to fight the decision. Finally, the public won and in 2004, the Victorian Government gifted the site to the public. Abbotsford Convent Foundation was born as a custodian of the site to manage it on behalf of the people. The north-west part of the site including the chapel is retained by the order, the farm was turned into Collingwood Children’s farm in 1979 and the remainder of the land is controlled by the Foundation.
The Convent Today
Today, the Convent is home to over 100 studios, two galleries, cafes, a radio station, a school, and an abundance of green open space. Each week around 10,000 people from diverse backgrounds visit the site to enjoy the markets, food, performances and a host of other things. Two third of the space in convent’s eleven buildings are open to tenants after a Government funded renovation. The Convent also gained membership of the European Network of Cultural Centres, an achievement that will allow artists at the Convent to link with visiting international artists and global artistic programs. The condition put on by the Victorian Government states that the Convent would be self-sustaining. Which means the convent won’t be receiving any ongoing subsidy from the Government to meet its annual operating costs.
Abbotsford Convent is located 4km from the Melbourne CBD in the suburb of Abbotsford.
Address: 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford VIC 3067
Abbotsford Convent: 7 days, 7.30am – 10pm daily (open all public holidays)
ACF offices: 9am – 5.30pm, Monday – Friday (closed on public holidays)
How to reach
Nearest station is Victoria Park Station in the South Morang and the Hurstbridge Line. Catch bus 200 or 207 from Victoria Park Station.
There is a pay and use car park infront of the Convent
The Activities you can partake
1.Be a part of the guided social history or art tour.
2.Creative practitioners, organisations and businesses are eligible to apply for studio spaces.
3.Convent has Café’s and food outlets – Come with your family and friends to have some good time.
4.This 19th century landscape is filled with artists’ studios, cafes, galleries and markets – take a stroll
5.The convent garden is best for a having a family picnic or get together with friends.
6.You can hire a venue here for conferences, seminars, rehearsals, art performances, classes or markets
7.You can host a range of events from wedding ceremonies and receptions to corporate workshops, Christmas parties, special occasions, life celebrations and family fun days.
8.This is a perfect location for Wedding Photography
9.This is a great location for film shooting and photography. So far they have facilitated large film and television productions, advertisements, fashion shoots as well as many low budget student and artistic projects.
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