The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was constructed of brick and sandstone with elaborate carvings, marble fireplaces and fine masonry. Italian masons were brought to Australia specifically to work on the building.
It was officially opened on 21st September 1893 exclusively for convalescent patients in need of rest and recuperation, who stayed at the hospital for up to four weeks.
Patients paid nothing for their stay at the Hospital and all services were free. Running costs were met from the interest on part of Thomas Walker’s endowment.
The Hospital is a symmetrical building with a central section to house the administrative area of vestibule, offices, boardroom and library. (Still used today for this purpose by the Rivendell Adolescent Unit).
Over the entrance stands a three-storev clock tower. At the rear of this area is the chapel (or Hall) which can seat approximately 200 people and features a platform stage and rear gallery, accessible from the first floor. It features nine stained glass windows (six of which depict Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance, Justice and Prudence). Around the room at ceiling height in gold lettering is the legend: “This Hospital For Convalescents was Founded by the Late Thomas Walker of Yaralla In The Hope That Many Sufferers Would be Restored to Health Within It”. This was used extensively in 2001 as the courtroom setting for Billy Connolly’s film, “The Man Who Sued God”.
The Jon Plapp Lecture Room, originally one of the dining rooms, adjacent to the East Wing Courtyard provides a popular venue for many Department of Education & Communities as well as Department of Health in-services. Since its refurbishment, regular requests are made for the use of this facility for meetings and seminars.
On each side of the main complex are square courtyards with covered walkways leading to the “ward” buildings which housed men in the West Wing and women in the East Wing. Today the East Wing houses the classrooms and offices of Rivendell School.
In 1894, the Joanna Walker Memorial Children’s Convalescent Hospital, now the Yaralla program, was opened in a separate building in the grounds. It was also designed by John Sulman and was built around a central glassed in courtyard featuring a Doulton fountain. A feature of the building is the lead-light panels above the central windows with eight verses typical of Victorian times. Today it houses the Rivendell Yaralla program for adolescents with psychotic illness and features classrooms and rooms for nurses and other staff.
The original laundry building was renovated and modernised in 1996 and now houses the Rivendell School Paterson Program, a day program for young people with emotional disturbance issues.
Other buildings include the old mortuary, stables and Matron’s cottage and West Wing. Originally ward rooms for men, the West Wing provides accommodation for students in therapy.
At the river’s edge stands the Dutch Water Tower or Boathouse which is a well-known landmark to travellers on the Parramatta River and was once the first building entered by many convalescents who arrived by ferry from Sydney. It contained a waiting room, storeroom, lounge and smoking room for male visitors.
Until 1979 the hospital was administered by the Perpetual Trustee Company but it was evident that funds were dwindling and provision of a free convalescent hospital was no longer feasible. As a result, the hospital was transferred to the NSW Health Department. The first Director of Rivendell Adolescent & Family Unit was Prof. Marie Bashir, previous to becoming Governor of New South Wales. In 1999, the original “ward” buildings underwent extensive restoration.