Headfort House at Killara began life as a boys school but later became Australia’s first army training centre for women and then a hospital run by nuns.
Located on the site of the Lourdes Retirement Village in Stanhope Road Killara, Headfort House was built between 1917 and 1921. The historic building began life as part of a boys school originally called Headfort School and subsequently Milton Grammar School. Former Prime Minister John Gorton attended Headfort School in the early 1920s.
But it is its association with a significant wartime milestone that Headfort House is most noted for. After Japan entered World War II, the Australian Army requisitioned the former school as a base for housing and training women, making it the first training school in NSW for the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).
Recruits began arriving in January 1942 for a training course lasting 23 days. Living conditions were primitive and the women lived a strict military regime, practicing putting up tents, air raid and fire drills, marching in parades and attending lectures. In December 1942, the site was turned into a training school for AWAS NCOs until 1944 when the AWAS left Killara.
In 1946 the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary opened a tuberculosis hospital at Headfort House, staffed by the sisters. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the sisters planned a new hospital with 250 beds but this plan never came to fruition. By 1967 the hospital closed as cases of tuberculosis had significantly declined. Headfort House then reopened as an acute after-care facility for patients from the Mater Hospital North Sydney and eventually was made part of the present day Lourdes Retirement Village complex.
Ku-ring-gai Council sought a heritage listing for Headfort House in 2022 to protect its historic significance with the planned expansion of Lourdes Retirement Village. Following community consultation, the Council was formally advised by the state government that the listing had been approved this year.
Mayor Jeff Pettett said Headfort House had an important association with significant changes in the role of women in Australian society.
“The heritage listing helps secure a future for this historic building and its setting, as the next phase of the site’s development is planned”.