An important piece of Broken Hill’s early history, the former St Joseph’s Convent of Mercy, is on the market with price expectations of more than $1 million.
The convent’s elaborate main sandstone building dates back to 1890, when Broken Hill was a small settlement, but emerging as an important mining town in NSW.
It was built in three stages for the Catholic Sisters of Mercy, who had been living in a mining house after arriving from Singleton, in the state’s Hunter Valley, to start primary schools.
In its heyday the convent was home to more than 70 nuns, and the ground floor was where classes were held.
Jenny Camilleri, from the Broken Hill Family History Group, said the nuns were an important presence in the town and were involved in many school activities.
“A lot of the students in the 1960s got on really well with the nuns and loved them,” she said.
”[Although] I could understand why they used to say they were cranky old nuns, because if you could imagine the summers in Broken Hill and the thickness of all the old dresses and undergarments they used to wear, it would have been extremely hot going up and down the stairs all day.”
An article in The Barrier Miner newspaper in 1899 estimated that the convent cost £16,000 to build.
The main convent building has been added to the NSW State Heritage Register, due to being “architecturally significant for its fine Free Classical styling which displays some elements of Romanesque architecture”.
The Sister of Mercy nuns sold the convent to a group of property developers in 1979, after a fire in the main building damaged the roof.
The Church of Christ bought it in 1982 but has now decided to sell the property because it is too big for its needs.
The L-shaped property comprises six buildings that include 11 residential units, a function room, auditorium and a commercial-grade kitchen.
In recent years it has been used for afternoon teas, historical tours and had rooms rented out to guests travelling through Broken Hill.
The convent has been well-maintained and had a new roof installed six months ago.
Agent Nick Estephen of Colliers International, who is selling the old convent with his colleague Clarence Chan, said the property could be used for a variety of purposes.
“It does have some heritage restrictions, but there’s a lot of things you could use the property for, potentially a hotel, bed and breakfast, an aged care and retirement facility, Airbnb or just for residential accommodation,” he said.
“It’s a prime location in the town, it’s only a kilometre away from Argent Street, the main retail strip…and it’s also close to the station”.
The 6350-square-metre property also has a 35-space car park and dual street-frontage.
According to Jenny Camilleri there are no orders of nuns remaining in Broken Hill.
The sale of the convent follows the closure of a number of Catholic schools and churches in the town, which at one point had seven Catholic schools but now has only one.
The convent goes to auction in Sydney on May 9.
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