Westmead Precinct

Westmead Teachers College was formed in 1969, and became a College of Advanced Education within the Department of Education on 1 September 1971. Kingswood College of Advanced Education (CAE) comprised the operations of the older Westmead Teachers College on 1 July 1973, and was renamed the Nepean College of Advanced Education on 2 November 1973.  This institution thus sat at either end of the main axis for Greater Western Sydney, and was viewed favourably by the NSW Higher Education Board (and, by default, the Commonwealth) for the expansion of higher education options in the region.  The original Westmead site, previously Westmead Public School (WPS) and a junior technical college (WPS, founded 1917, opened on the current site 1920), however, only had 1.4 ha of space, the buildings were ageing and not purpose built, and was restricted in terms of future growth. With no space large enough to graduate students, the ceremonial space at the King’s School (Futter Hall) was used for graduations. (1970-1975). As offerings expanded, Business program staff often preferred to hold meetings (and indeed work) at Wentworthville Leagues Club further West. Despite some new buildings (now Buildings J and L on the WPS site) in 1974, by the beginning of Ellice Swinbourne’s incumbency as Principal (1980) the constraints on the site had led to preferential development at Kingswood, and sporadic efforts by the College Council to find more space. Westmead received additional funding on the back of Nepean CAE representations to CTEC that provision was well under demand, leading to $1.8 million of new  capital funding, and a new academic (mixed teaching, library and staff) building which opened in 1983.

The advent of Nursing education in 1984 led to a rapid establishment of a School of Nursing and Health Studies. Private information led the Nepean CAE Council in 1985 to negotiate the purchase of the St Vincent's Boys' home opposite Westmead station, rendering the old school site ‘Westmead South’ and the Boy’s Home ‘Westmead North’.  As the only College/ future UWS campus in close proximity to a railway station, it rapidly became a favourite of the nursing students who had their classes there. Built in 1896 as the first of the major Marist youth care institutions in Australia, the building combined the orphanage/boarding school model with the Industrial School model. The ‘appeal’ plaques, by which the Order raised the necessary finances from Sydney’s Catholic great and good, still stand prominently around the front of the major block, and the rear of the former St Vincent’s site remained the home for Sydney’s oldest Catholic high school. In 1986, additional land (‘the northern oval’) was bought from the Marist Brothers. Westmead South was then sold back to the Department of Education for expanded use by Westmead Public School.  UWS staff were not unhappy to go. Some had been occupying older buildings given the stay from demolition only by delays in the move to Parramatta campus, including one which featured a human sized hole in the floor.

Located close to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest health precinct, Westmead North (the old St Vincent’s site) was a logical place to train for allied health, develop health-based research initiatives and to, eventually, locate elements of a medical school.  It seemed to be heading in this direction when, on formally handing over the St Vincent’s site in 1987, the Minister for Health (Peter Anderson) announced a $4.9 million grant for the building of anew multi-purpose teaching and laboratory building on the site. The political barriers, however, were formidable – the University of Sydney’s involvement with Westmead Hospital,  traditionalism and concentrated interest within the health professions, the underfunding of medical, capital and research development at most Dawkins era universities, the unsettlement of the UWS Nepean and systemic unification towards the end of the 1990s – all have contributed to Westmead’s under-utilisation. Responsible heads have sought for alternative uses – under Chris Duke, for example, Police Training and Business programs were among the options explored to deal with the consequences of the rapid expansion of the nearby Parramatta campus at Rydalmere.  The majority of the site was at the time leased to external parties, or used for short courses and graduate management programs. After lengthy discussions as to campus numbers and viability, and in the light of the University’s need for investment capital, in 2006 the University called for expressions of interest for the redevelopment of the ‘former campus’ as a ‘vibrant town centre’, much-needed by local residents since the development of Parramatta Westfields had drawn away much of the commercial trade. A partner, Lend Lease, was chosen in 2007, but the crash of the world economy shortly thereafter put development on hold. The continued growth of the University’s reconfigured Sydney West International College (renamed UWSCollege) offered the opportunity to use the site for pathway programs, English language testing and training, and sub-degree programs. A new IELTS testing location was opened there in 2009. In a sense, UWSCollege was doing in 2010 what the Nepean CAE Business school had attempted to do with its ‘Link’ courses (1982-4) with Western Suburbs schools, but which it had to discontinue due to lack of space and staff.