The National Trust of Western Australia commenced a major conservation and adaptive reuse project on The Public Health & Medical Department Offices (former) at 57 Murray Street in Perth in March 2013.
Concurrent with the introduction of a new Public Health Act in 1911, the State Government constructed this two storey brick and stone building primarily to house the Medical and Health Department and Colonial Secretary’s Office.
The Former Public Health and Medical Department building at 57 Murray St was home to a range of government departments which operated from1912 to the 1990s, including the Public Health and Medical Department and Department of Aborigines and Fisheries.
Many of 57 Murray Street’s exceptional cultural heritage values reflect the State’s control over and surveillance of stigmatised bodies, and the State’s intervention with individual lives, whether Aboriginal or diseased, for most part of twentieth century.
Public Health theories, policies and practices evolved in this place: from ‘miasma’ theory to bacteriology, ‘germ’ control and personal hygiene through to the State’s attempts to control venereal disease, Tuberculosis, Poliomyelitis and a range of infectious diseases from 1912 to 1974.
Also represented here is the systemic oppression of Aboriginal people by successive State government ministers, departments and individuals – most notably AO Neville – with key policy directions such as absorption and assimilation that saw the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families and influenced the national stage. These policies were developed by Neville through his 23 year administration at 57 Murray St (1922 – 1945).
A number of historically prominent figures were accommodated in the building including the first and second Commissioners of Public Health Dr James Hope and Dr C Everitt Atkinson; the Hon John Michael Drew MCL; Undersecretary Hubert Charles Trethowan; and AO Neville.
The building’s fine architectural detailing and Donneybrook stonework are prominent components of the Murray St east precinct; an exemplar of the work of Chief Architect Hillson Beasley and prominent builder SB Alexander. The place is representative of the workings of Government, the policies and policy makers which shaped the development of the State and influenced the nation’s history.