Bleak Scenes

Abandoned places, lesser-known attractions, and assorted oddities

St. John's Orphanage 2016

I first visited St. John's Orphanage in 2015, as I described here. Only one month later, the building was heavily damaged by a fire. I didn't learn about the fire until mid-2016, but when I did, I made another visit to the orphanage at the earliest opportunity to document the damage. This time I started my drive early in the morning, and arrived at the orphanage at around 10:00 AM.

The fire damage was obvious even from a distance. The roof over the central part of the building was gone, revealing the charred remains of joists. The building appeared to be intact below the roof line, however.

Despite the fire, the site was still completely unsecured, so I just walked in through the open front gate. The fire damage hadn't made the place less popular with tourists - I saw even more people there than I had during my first visit. At times it seemed almost crowded.

Most of the roof had been destroyed, and some of the rooms that I had explored the previous year were now open to the sky. The attic room which I had photographed the previous year no longer existed, and another room had been completely burnt out. In most rooms the fire had not burned below the level of the ceiling, however. Some of the rooms were littered with charred timbers, broken tiles, and ash from the collapsed roof, but the floor itself only appeared to be seriously damaged in a few places.

The structure appeared to be in no danger of collapsing, but some roof tiles balanced precariously on the charred remains of joists posed a real danger. I wore a hard hat and tried to avoid standing underneath unstable tiles in an attempt to minimize the risk.

The ground floor had been almost completely unaffected by the fire. I saw only some minor damage where the fire had managed to burn through the floor above.

Although I had returned primarily to photograph the fire damage, I had another look around the undamaged areas too. I reshot some scenes with different lighting and camera angles, and documented a few places that I'd missed the first time. I stayed overnight in Goulburn, but I had thoroughly photographed the orphanage on the first day, so I decided not to return for a second day's shooting. I thought that another visit to the Tooth and Co. Maltings would be a more productive use of my time.

At this stage I estimated that it would still have been possible, but probably not economical, to restore the building. Even before the fire, the owner claimed that restoring the building was not economically viable, and the fire damage would have made the job even more expensive. With the roof gone, I knew that the building would not last for many more years if left unrepaired. Exposed to the elements, the timber would soon rot beyond the point of repair, as I've seen happen to many other buildings.

In the end this turned out to be a moot point. The orphanage suffered a series of further fires in late 2016, which left it in ruins.. I haven't yet had time to return to Goulburn to see the damage for myself, and haven't been able to learn the ultimate fate of the building. I found a good album on flickr which includes photographs of the ruins of the orphanage in 2017, but I don't know if it is still standing, or has finally been demolished. The site is said to have been belatedly secured, so it's probably too risky to enter in any case.