The former Convent of the Good Shepherd, the most important Catholic institutional complex constructed in Victoria, is notable for its scale and extent, the architectural qualities of the buildings and its range of building types. Some outstanding features are the medieval French ecclesiastic architectural character, the historical importance of the Industrial School and the Magdalen Asylum, the scale and grandeur of the main convent building and formal gardens, and the aesthetic qualities of the surrounding farmland and rural setting.
The precinct surrounding the convent is the most intact site associated with the first documented European inland contact in Victoria. In 1803 Charles Grimes, New South Wales Surveyor general, explored the Yarra by boat as far as Dights Falls. This bend of the river has been subject to less change than any other section of the river.
The surrounding river valley has exceptional attributes that were enjoyed for thousands of years by the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri, for whom the nearby junction of the Yarra river and Merri creek was an important meeting point.
Land at this bend of the river has been used for farming since the first land sales in 1838. The Collingwood Children's Farm continues the farming tradition and is probably the oldest freehold farm land in Victoria. From 1863 to 1975 the Sisters of the Good Shepherd were remarkable custodians of this unique place. The valley has changed little since early days of settlement.
For a century from the 1860s the Sisters of the Good Shepherd provided shelter, food and work for thousands of vulnerable and poor women and girls. They provided a refuge for orphans, wards of the State and girls considered to be in moral danger. The Convent was able to care for up to 1,000 and was self-sufficient through its farming, Industrial School and laundry activities.
The earliest industrial developments in Melbourne were along the banks of the Yarra River, and Collingwood became one of the most important industrial regions in Australia until World War Two. The area suffered major social problems as a result of poverty and poor housing, particularly during the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s. The Convent played an important role during these difficult periods.
It is the most impressive Catholic institutional complex in Victoria and Australia.
Motivated by his passion for the Yarra, Charles La Trobe set aside land for parklands, now Yarra Bend Park, and for Government House (a concept abandoned in 1842), opposite what later became the Abbotsford Convent precinct. Edward Curr lived on the site from 1842-1850 at his estate St Heliers.
GHOSTS OF ABBOTSFORD CONVENT