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HomeLatest NewsMajor Development on Manly Beachfront almost underway: Royal Far West

Major Development on Manly Beachfront almost underway: Royal Far West

The multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the Royal Far West (RFW) beachfront site is a step closer with a new development application finally lodged with Northern Beaches Council.

The proposed development is significantly modified from the approved concept plan of 2013, which somewhat controversially had a 165-room hotel proposed for the site.  The new plans are for a five-storey and eight-storey building which includes 58 private apartments at the back and a mix of commercial and community space at the front.

The new Development Application (DA) for the demolition of the buildings and redevelopment of the site at the corner of Wentworth and South Steyne Manly was lodged with Northern Beaches Council in late June. The former polio wards and hospital/school are currently being utilised on a temporary basis by local businesses, community groups and WOTSO, which hosts flexible, shared working spaces for entrepreneurs and small businesses, including Manly Observer.

The former polio wards (occupied by WOTSO community workspace), viewed from Wentworth St, Manly. Photo: Alec Smart

Royal Far West was founded in 1924 by Methodist minister Stanley Drummond (1884-1943). It is a registered charity and non-governmental organisation that “provides health and disability services and accommodation facilities to children and families living in rural and remote Australia.”

The redevelopment will generate income to finalise the upgrade to Royal Far West’s adjacent medical and social facilities for children from rural regions. This includes historic Drummond House at 22 Wentworth St.

Architects’ impression of what the new apartments will look like from Wentworth St.

Site redevelopment in summary

The first phase of the redevelopment, stage one, was approved in 2013, and saw construction of a new Centre for Child Health and Learning – aka The Centre for Country Kids (CCK) building – to replace the old Medical Centre at 14-18 Wentworth St, near Manly Village Public School.

Opened in 2018, it was erected on the site of the existing Elsie Hill Building in Wentworth Street, adjacent to RFW’s guest accommodation Drummond House. (In 1928, Manly resident Elsie Hill converted her private guest house into accommodation for the RFW children coming to Manly for medical treatment).

Drummond House, Royal Far West children’s accommodation, today, with the 2018-opened Centre for Country Kids behind. Wentworth St, Manly. Photo: Alec Smart

The final phase covered in the new Development Application, known as ‘Our Place Vision’, envisages a public domain integrated with commercial premises and private residences – 58 seafront apartments.

You can read more about the history of Royal Far West at the end of this article.

Are the proposed new apartments high-rise?

A Royal Far West spokesperson told Manly Observer that the redevelopment proposes building 58 private apartments, of which RFW will retain some, and the remainder to be sold on a 99-year leasehold basis.

“RFW will retain the freehold ownership. The building fronting South Steyne will be five storeys high, and the building behind will be eight storeys high.”

“RFW will retain the freehold ownership. The building fronting South Steyne will be five storeys high, and the building behind will be eight storeys high. Both these buildings will be at lower heights than the two buildings on either side of them ie. The Peninsula to the north and the Sebel [Hotel] to the south, both of which are nine storeys high.”

Architects’ impression of what the new seafront apartments will look like from Wentworth St, Manly. Image: supplied

And the commercial properties that are integrated in the redevelopment scheme: are we expecting nightclubs and gyms or will there still be shared community space?

“Approximately 3,000sqm of commercial space will be available within the redevelopment to integrate retail and commercial activities that will serve the local site,” the spokesperson clarified. “The commercial area is on the ground floor and in levels one and two of the eight-storey building. RFW has a clear vision to find high-integrity commercial tenants who will add value to the local community and to RFW’s core values.

“Our redevelopment vision is to create a new public realm that will be activated on the ground plane,” the spokesperson continued, “with a central courtyard that is beautifully landscaped and contains public art, and is accessible by the community.

The former polio wards and children’s hospital, Royal Far West site, South Steyne, Manly. Photo: Alec Smart

“RFW has chosen to create a design that will sit “gently” on its waterfront land and allow all people to engage with the site. Wherever possible, the work of RFW will be reflected to remind people of the need to support rural Australians and First Nations people and seek good health and wellbeing for all.”

Speaking at a community information seminar late in 2021, RFW CEO Jacqui Emery stressed the development was not a ‘cash grab’ or commercially-focused venture, but an iconic and unique development to help meet the “unrelenting need for our services. The vision for this campus is all about the kids… the key development is going to meet a number of objectives for the kids.

“There are far few health services in country areas and right now they are doing it really tough as a lot of those health services that were limited to begin with have now been diverted to covid,” she said.

“This is about future proofing the charity for the next 100 years.”

Jacqui Emery (centre) with staff promoting a charity cycling event in 2021.

What’s next?

The modified plans exhibited in August last year and approved by the Department of Planning on the 20 April 2022.

The Development Application is now before Northern Beaches Council and will soon be available on Council’s website. Demolition and construction is expected to commence late 2022 and take about two years to complete.

RFW has set up a dedicated information portal for the project, you can view this www.rfwneighbourhood.com.au.

Site plans for the redevelopment of the RFW beach front site.

A bit of history

What is Royal Far West?

Royal Far West was founded in 1924 by Methodist minister Stanley Drummond (1884-1943). It is a registered charity and non-governmental organisation that “provides health and disability services and accommodation facilities to children and families living in rural and remote Australia.”

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Reverend Drummond, “Recuperating on Manly Beach from the removal of his gall bladder, had on 6 December [1924] what he described as an inspiration: ‘to bring from the Far West to the seaside, children of the kind who would otherwise never see the sea during their childhood’…

Reverend Drummond, founder of the Far West Children’s charity, recuperating on Manly Beach, Dec 1924.

“Drummond also learned that many children needed not so much a seaside holiday as medical, surgical and dental attention, and the original idea was changed to become the Far West Children’s Health Scheme.”

After a few summer beach camps with country kids, the far-sighted minister raised funds and purchased land in Wentworth St (alongside Elsie Hill’s converted guest house), on which was built Drummond Far West Children’s Home, which opened in 1935.

Thereafter he recruited a team of doctors and nurses and developed specialist medical care for children transported to Manly from remote areas – later adding long-term convalescence and outreach services. In time the operation expanded along the South Steyne seafront, taking up most of the block between Wentworth St and Victoria Pde east of Manly Village Public School, including construction of a school and polio wards.

A long history

In January 1925, Reverend Drummond organised the first seaside holiday camp in Manly for 58 children and six mothers from the outback, followed by a second camp with 128 participants.

The following year, Drummond was joined by Dr George Moncrieff Barron, who, realising the need for decent heath care for the rural youths – many of whom were afflicted with ailments attributable to poverty and poor diets – volunteered his services. Barron remained with Far West for another two decades, serving as Honorary Medical Superintendent.

Drummond House Royal Far West children’s accommodation, circa 1935. Wentworth St, Manly, Sydney, Australia.

In 1928 Elsie Hill joined the team, converting her Wentworth St guest house into accommodation for the Far West charity’s children holidaying and recovering from medical treatment.

In 1930, the Department of Education, realising that some of the long-term patients who required extended convalescence were missing out on schooling, provided a full-time teacher. In 1938 a school was built on the site of Elsie’s former guest house, because larger residential premises, in the form of the aforementioned Drummond House, was constructed on land purchased next door and opened in 1935.

The 1945 polio pandemic, at the end of the Second World War, necessitated a dedicated treatment and rehabilitation centre for the highly contagious disease. A range of walking aids, ranging from caliper orthoses to modified footwear, were made on site for the afflicted.

Thereafter, two further tracts of land were acquired by Far West, on the corner of Wentworth Avenue and South Steyne, which resulted in construction of the polio hospital at 19-21 South Steyne and a school building behind, both of which opened in 1959.

Children at the Far West Children’s Home in Manly, one of whom wears leg calipers caused by polio muscle deterioration.

Stolen Aboriginal children also sent to Manly 

From 1860, and between 1909-1969 in particular, Federal authorities oversaw the removal of Indigenous children from their families in a process of forced assimilation into European culture under the guise of ‘protection’. This led to the Stolen Generation.

Although Far West Children was not party to, nor participated in the removal of Indigenous children from their families, for decades many of those very children were sent to them for treatment for a variety of health reasons, usually by Bidura Orphanage and Children’s Court in Glebe.

According to the Healing Foundation, a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that addresses the ongoing trauma caused by actions like the forced removal of children from their families:

“Royal Far West [was] established to care for and provide specialist treatment for sick children including Aboriginal children sent here by The Aborigines Protection Board and Aborigines Welfare Board. Some Aboriginal children never returned to their parents…”

However, RFW retains a close relationship with Indigenous Australians and their ongoing participation in Aboriginal child welfare programs, such as the reduction of childhood trauma and their Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, continues their longstanding commitment to assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote and rural areas.

The RFW spokesperson told Manly Observer, “Wherever possible, the work of RFW will be reflected to remind people of the need to support rural Australians and First Nations people and seek good health and wellbeing for all.”

Queen Elizabeth visits Far West children’s hospital in 1970, Manly, Sydney, Australia.

Modern history

On Saturday 2 May 1970, Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Anne, paid a visit to the Far West Children’s Health Scheme facilities in Manly and thereafter the ‘Royal’ prefix was added, making them Royal Far West.

Today, Royal Far West provides a range of specialist medical treatments and integrated health and welfare programs for children from rural and remote areas of New South Wales, up to 12 years of age.

Learn more about them here: https://www.royalfarwest.org.au

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