Heritage in peril

The Save Thornleigh Hospital House Campaign Campaign leader Phil Buckley with relative of original owner Tara Ormsby and tenant Emily Hegarty
The Save Thornleigh Hospital House Campaign Campaign leader Phil Buckley with relative of original owner Tara Ormsby and tenant Emily Hegarty
Jenny Barlass

Future of former hospital in Thornleigh & grand old home in Turramurra in question


A passionate archive search to unearth the past of a former hospital facing demolition in Thornleigh, may save this piece of local history.

The site at 22 Bellevue Street opposite Thornleigh shopping centre was once a hospital built by local nurse Jane Starkey in the 1930s, with her own money. Now her great, great niece Tara Ormsby, a family history researcher, is trying to save it from the bulldozer.

Currently the cottage has a Development Application before Hornsby Council to build a five storey block of flats which is permitted use (subject to development consent) in an R4 High Density zone. When the DA was lodged in 2016, there was no heritage listing on the property, and the application is currently having aspects of the design reviewed before it progresses to the local IHAPS for consideration.

The DA is facing local opposition and residents have set up the Save the Thornleigh Hospital House Campaign, including Tara Ormsby. She is hurriedly researching the hospital’s past to secure a heritage listing on it.

“I will be pulling together every scrap of information on its past and putting it under the noses of the Council officers involved in the DA so they can give this their best consideration possible,” said Tara.

Tara’s Trove researches so far show that in the 1930s, nurses were running smaller hospitals for people to go for minor procedures and ailments. “My relative Jane Starkey donated the premises to the Health Week Executive so that elderly women of the era could reside in a safe place.

“I have a real passion for the past – without it we have no direction for the future. This is an opportunity to preserve our history for future generations.”

Council’s list of heritage items created in 1991, has been reviewed five times since then, and this property has never been nominated or suggested as a potential heritage item. “Council staff have hit the pause button to allow them to investigate the heritage status further,” said Councillor Janelle McIntosh, co-chair of the Council’s Heritage Committee.

“Sister Starkey did a lot for the community at the time. Yet her legacy was relatively unknown till now. So we need to do the right thing and get to the bottom of whether the house is of historical significance.”

A spokesman said: “Council has taken note of community concerns about the historical significance of the building and this will be a factor in the assessment. Heritage planners and the local studies coordinator will be consulted as part of the assessment before a recommendation is made to IHAP.”

It’s unclear when it will go before the IHAP, as the investigation of the heritage potential of the site has affected the timeline.

Save the Thornleigh Hospital House Campaign spokesman Phil Buckley said: “We want to see the property turned into a local Thornleigh history museum to honour the nurse who donated it to the area.”

Tenant Emily Hegarty has rented the property for the last six months with her partner. A tour of the property revealed intricate original plaster mouldings on ceilings and many other heritage features. “This is a beautiful house with lots of character and we love living here,” she said.

Councillor Janelle McIntosh added that “new heritage studies are going on while we review the Local Environment Plan so this is the time for anyone in the community to be asking the council to consider their home if they believe it has heritage potential.

“We don’t want to get to the stage with other houses the way we are with this one, that it’s the 11th hour and we don’t have all the information to decide.”


Hillview, a collection of historic buildings bordering Kissing Point Road, the Pacific Highway and Boyd Street, is also facing an uncertain future.

Currently owned by the Northern Sydney Local Health District, this collection of buildings, garden, stables, wall and gates is one of Ku-ring-gai’s most important historic sites.

Once used as a guesthouse for people escaping the city in the late 19th century for health respites and later a boarding house, today it’s used for a range of healthcare services including speech and occupational therapies.

Kathy Cowley from Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment (FOKE) has spoken to neighbours bordering the Hillview site who said they had spoken to surveyors working on the site a few months ago.

“This sparked our concerns due to the current policy of the State Government selling off and rationalising so many public assets,” said Kathy.

FOKE asked local MP Alister Henskens to investigate if a sell-off was planned. He said: “I am informed that it is incorrect for FOKE to assert that a decision has been made by the Local Health District to sell the Hillview property.”

Further, a statement by owners NSLHD said: “NSLHD is considering a number of short and long-term options to ensure the Hillview property is able to provide health services from appropriate facilities, and the building is properly maintained. As the options are being considered, no decision has been made.”

Yet FOKE is not convinced the future of the buildings is safe. “They may not be immediately earmarked for demolition but what were the surveyors doing there?” she asks. In the meantime, neighbours and FOKE are concerned about the state of disrepair of some of the buildings.

“We will still be pursuing the matter of Hillview’s upkeep and remain concerned that there are not enough funds being provided to ensure Hillview’s historic heritage listed buildings are receiving adequate funds to keep them in working order,” said Kathy Cowley.

“We understand the stables/garages and another building have been closed due to disrepair.  We were told by a worker that $1million is needed to restore the buildings.”

The National Trust last week told FOKE that its Built Heritage and Landscape Conservation Committee will look at whether the properties meet the criteria for State Significance.

There are 24 properties in the Ku-ring-gai Council area on the State Heritage Register that have a State Significance, including the former home of the famous artist Grace Cossington-Smith.


  1. Good luck with your involvement in Jane Starkey’s historical home application with Council Xx

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