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Open Day at Z Ward Glenside

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
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Your last chance to see inside this iconic building
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An Aerial View of Z Ward Glenside, Once Home to the Criminally Insane

The Z Ward at Glenside Hospital was for nearly 100 years the most secure mental health institution in Adelaide. Its interior is not dissimilar to parts of the old Adelaide Gaol, and it was originally part of the Parkside Lunatic Asylum.

Until it closed in the 1970's, people who were found to be criminally insane were detained in Z Ward until the governor's pleasure is known under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Z Ward is a state heritage listed building and the heritage record states: There are few examples of large polychrome brick and stone buildings in South Australia, and this is an excellent example of the type. Its design and construction under the direction of Edward J Woods, Government Architect, and the degree to which it reveals his hand, add to its architectural significance, which is further reinforced by the aesthetic quality and technical importance of its detailing.

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See Inside a Z Ward Cell at the National Trust SA Open Day

But the interior of the building is a stark contrast from the rich polychromatic exterior. Simple stone walls define small cells, the floors are of slate, it must have been freezing in winter, and the facilities were rather primitive even when it closed. These minor facts are glossed over in the heritage record.

Z Ward has never been open to the public, and the government took advantage of this to offer it for sale using a short term tender - with a proviso that the building was to be used for mining related purposes. This was despite proposals to productively use the building as a museum, or for tours such as are extremely popular at Adelaide Gaol.

A Facebook group was set up to protest about the sale, and to raise public awareness about the history of Z Ward and the Glenside Hospital campus. However it wasn't long before the sale was concluded and Beach Energy became the new owner of the property. Two attempts to rename the group from "Say NO to Selling Z Ward" to something more appropriate have been refused by Facebook.

To their credit Beach Energy soon announced they would work with the National Trust SA to adaptively reuse Z Ward as their new offices in a sensitive manner. However that in itself may be a contradiction of terms.

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Visiting Z Ward Glenside - Perhaps One of the Most Unusual Free Things to Do in Adelaide

While architects may marvel at the polychromatic brickwork of this beautiful 19th century building, and others ponder how it reveals the hand of the government architect, it was after all an asylum for the criminally insane. That was its principal function, and that function is defined by characteristics such as the cells, and the unbroken ha-ha wall - possibly the only one left intact in Australia.

If the cell walls are demolished (they are too small for offices), then does that not take away a significant part of the building's soul? A 2005 Conservation Management Plan by Bruce Harry & Associates notes The simple layout of cells and wide mustering halls demonstrate the prison-like design and conditions prevalent at the time.

The report suggests "Subject to structural considerations walls at one level could be removed between the cells and in sections between cells and the central hallway to create larger open areas". While this partial preservation is a compromise position, it will forever destroy the unique character of Z Ward.

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Inside the Day Room of Z Ward Glenside Hospital

Adding new entrances in the ha-ha wall will permanently change memories of how inmates were confined and isolated in this institution. The monolithic looming walls were imposing, and doubtless created a mindset among inmates - something that new openings in the wall will cause to be lost forever.

On Sunday November 2 Beach Energy have allowed the National Trust SA to hold an Open Day from 9am until 12 noon at Z Ward Glenside, with the last admission at 11.30. For safety reasons the number of visitors at one time will be limited. It's one of the rarest free things to do in Adelaide, so don't miss the opportunity.

You can find out much more about Z Ward in this article, and see photos and stories of other buildings in the Glenside Hospital campus here. The hospital grounds are open to the public to explore, another of the free things to do in Adelaide.

Unfortunately like many other buildings at Glenside Hospital, the magnificent Art Deco Eastwood Lodge Nurses Home was demolished by the Weatherill government last year.

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Why? Visit Z Ward, a former institution for the criminally insane.
When: 9am - 12 noon, last admission at 11.30
Where: 25 Conyngham St Glenside
Cost: Free
Your Comment
I'll be there, thanks so much for the article Dave
by Paula McManus (score: 3|3620) 2122 days ago
Would love to go to this , I have worked there many times but not in that building . Hope I am not working that weekend .
by sylvi (score: 2|295) 2123 days ago
They let you out Dave??? What do you think they should do with it now they own it Dave? Hey, and how did you get the ariel shot?
by glenop (score: 2|823) 2122 days ago
This is a piece of history, but I don't see the advantage in leaving a building to rot. Giving buildings a new life can still 'honour' its original use. See the Adelaide School of Art and the Glenside film studios as examples.
I realise this article states this is the last chance to visit Z Ward, but the open times are very restrictive and impossible for me. If you have any connections, am hoping for another opening time? Thanks for a well researched article.
by Jenny Esots (score: 3|1399) 2117 days ago
I think since an increase in the patient load and clinics at Glenside, the grounds are not as open as they were. The gardens around Fullarton rd are open, but within the complex is now secure fron the public for patient privacy and safety.
by mehid (score: 2|131) 2117 days ago
If you missed seeing Z Ward today, you can sign up for news of future open days by clicking on "Get updates"
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 2107 days ago
As usual Dave, you've written a great article highlighting the historical significance of one of the lesser known 'attractions' of Adelaide. I will definitely put this on my weekend calendar to visit. Thanks for passing on the info.
by jellybean (score: 1|50) 2116 days ago
Sounds great. Am gonna try and get there!
by krisj (score: 0|5) 2117 days ago
Hi do u need 2 book this??
by d.max (score: 0|5) 2121 days ago
Maybe Dave is to blame for writing such a great article that so many people turned up. Keep up the good work. Thanks
by tanya (score: 1|29) 2107 days ago
Does anyone know of someone I can contact to book a spot for the open day? I'm very interested in coming but I live 8 hours away and would really hate to travel all that way just to hear that I can't go in the building. Thanks
by six_s (score: 0|5) 2116 days ago
OMG ! ! ! Decided to go today. We arrived about 10am. The queue was incredible. People who had been in said they waited about 1.5 hours to get in. Knowing it was only open till 12 and last entry was 11.30 we decided not to take the chance of queuing all that time only to be turned away. I only hope and wish that the owners see how many people are interested and open again.
by tanya (score: 1|29) 2107 days ago
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