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Magdalen Laundry Restoration Stage One

Built in the 1880s, the Magdalen Laundry had suffered from years of neglect after being decommissioned in the 1970s, with the building closed to the public for decades.

Stage 1 works in the Magdalen Laundry were generously supported by the Victorian Government through Heritage Victoria’s Living Heritage Program, and the John T Reid Charitable Trusts.

Following nine months of meticulous conservation and restoration works, the North Magdalen Laundry officially opened to the community in June 2019. Led by Williams Boag Architects, with building works by FDC Construction & Fitout, and overseen by Heritage Victoria, this initial stage of works saw the North Laundry transformed from a derelict space to a new venue ready for creative activation and ongoing heritage interpretation.

The Convent will continue to advocate for more funding and resources to complete the project – in particular, to fully restore the two spectacular rooms at the southern end of the Laundry. While these spaces have now been stabilised, significant work is still required to make them available for a wide range of events run for and by the community, and to enable rich interpretation of this national treasure for our community now and
for generations to come.

By reopening spaces like the Laundry for community use, we aim to share the architectural and social history of this nationally significant precinct, while creating new opportunities for creativity and collaboration. With the addition of this unique venue, Abbotsford Convent continues to grow as a hub for creative diversity and cultural exchange.

Background, History and Heritage

The Convent’s Lavandería Magdalen is noted for its architectural and historic significance.

Built in the 1880s by the original owners of the Convent, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Laundry was staffed by women who lived onsite at the Magdalen Asylum. The Laundry were a source of income for the Sisters, and operated commercially up until 1975.  These cavernous spaces – arguably the most visually striking spaces within the Convent precinct – have been dilapidated and completely out-of-bounds to the general public for almost 45 years.

The conservation, restoration, and retrofit of the Magdalen Laundry is one of the largest and most significant projects undertaken at the Convent to date. This is a significant undertaking by the ACF to bring these extraordinary spaces to life for community arts and cultural use.

Although the commencement of this project marks a significant milestone for the Convent, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation acknowledges the sad social history of these buildings, and the impact they had on the lives of the women who worked here, often in harsh and oppressive conditions.

The Convent’s National Heritage Listing states the Laundry and asylum buildings are an important physical record for those Australians and their families known as the Forgotten Australians. The Listing also states the harm of institutionalisation and the trauma experienced by many residents is acknowledged as part of the Convent’s heritage.

As with any development on the Convent precinct, it is our intention to respect this history and heritage, while working to develop this space in the future as one which creates positive stories and impact for the community through arts and culture. The ACF is currently working on a heritage interpretation project which will acknowledge the history of the women and girls who resided in the adjoining Sacred Heart building, and who worked in the Laundry.

You can learn more about the Convent’s past by joining one of our guided social history tours or by taking a self-guided walk (available via web browser and visitor app), which includes an oral history recording from Trish, a former resident who also worked in the Magdalen Laundry.