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Abbotsford Convent

Architect: Thomas Kelly 1879, Reed Smart & Tappin 190, JB Denny 1889, Kerstin Thompson Architects 2018, and WIlliams Boag 2019

East | E03

Building Description

Today an engine room of creativity and home to more than 150 artists, writers, thinkers, makers and creators, the Abbotsford Convent was once one of the largest Catholic complexes in Australia. Founded by The Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1863, the Abbotsford Convent operated as a monastic site until 1975, providing refuge, education and shelter for thousands of women and girls, many of whom lived in the Sacred Heart building and worked in the Magdalen Laundry. Inscribed on the National Heritage List in 2017, the Convent is recognised for demonstrating Australia’s social and welfare history through the lens of a religious and charitable institution. The architectural style of the Convent’s 11 buildings range from French Gothic/Medieval and European Baroque Revival, to the utilitarian early colonial architecture of the original Industrial School. Most buildings were constructed between 1868 and 1908. Whilst the Convent is today a thriving arts and cultural precinct, the Convent’s Magdalen Laundry and asylum buildings are an important physical record for those Australians and their families known as the Forgotten Australians. This year the Laundry has been partly restored and features in the Open House program for the first time.

What's On

Join an architects talk by Peter Williams (OAM) Founding Director of Williams Boag Architects in the Magdalen Laundry or a tour of our recently restored and AIA award winning Sacred Heart building by Senior Architect and project leader Erica Diakoff of Kerstin Thompson Architects.  Take part in our Convent Made tour of Sacred Heart and Mercator studios, with the opportunity to meet artists or purchase wares. Explore the Convent’s galleries, with talks by featured artists at St Heliers Gallery.  Book in for a Conservator’s talk by artist Penny Byrne focusing on our recent restoration of the Convent Building’s heritage tiles. A number of studios will be open all day, along with our cafes and sprawling heritage gardens.

11am – Artist talk with Claire Robertson- St Heliers Gallery

11.30am – Convent Building Studio Tour

1pm – Conservators talk: Restoration of the Convent Building’s Heritage Tiles – Penny Byrne (booking required)

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1.45pm – Artist talk with Penny Byrne – St Heliers Gallery

2pm – Convent Made tour of Sacred Heart and Mercator studios

2.30pm – Architects tour: Kerstin Thompson Architects, Award winning Sacred Heart Restoration Project

3pm – Architects talk: Restoration of the Magdalen Laundry with Peter Williams (OAM) Founding Director, Williams Boag Architects (bookings required)

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Polyglot Theatre’s office in the Abbotsford Convent will also be open. The main space will be open with architects, Rob Nerlich and Kate McMahon, from Mcmahon and Nerlich on site to take informal walk-throughs and answer questions. Read more.


1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford 3067, Abbotsford VIC


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