Dhulwa Mental Health Unit

About Dhulwa

After months of construction and years of planning, Dhulwa, the ACT’s new secure mental health facility at Symonston, was officially opened by Shane Rattenbury MLA, Minister for Mental Health on 22 November 2016. Read Minister Rattenbury's media release.

Dhulwa, provides 24-hour treatment and care for adults with complex mental health needs that are not met by existing mental health facilities in the Canberra region.

Dhulwa has 10 acute care beds and 15 rehabilitation beds.

The facility is a high-tech security complex, with 24-hour monitoring. Security features have been well integrated to provide a safe environment, without compromising therapeutic elements.

Dhulwa provides opportunities for people to develop their skills and interests, playing a vital part in their rehabilitation. These include gardening, exercise, social activities, cultural activities, arts and music, hobbies and vocational activities.

Construction of the $43.5 million facility began in May 2015.

Further information about Dhulwa can be found in three fact sheets:

Latest News

Official Opening  of Dhulwa Mental Health Unit

Dhulwa Community Tours

On 11, 12 and 13 November 2016, members of the public were invited to take a one-off guided tour through parts of the purpose-built unit, including patient bedrooms, recreational facilities and rehabilitation areas.

Four tours were scheduled, with a capacity of 60 people per tour. 

Photos of the facility will be uploaded to this page from 1 December 2016, for those people who missed out on taking a tour of Dhulwa.

Artwork for the yarning circle

Local indigenous artist, Lynnice Keane, was commissioned to create a concrete design of a bogong moth which will be the centrepiece of the visitor’s courtyard yarning circle. A number of different techniques to imprint the concrete were tested and the production of rubber stamp has proven to be the most effective way of transferring the intricate design into the concrete. The bogong moth stamps have been produced in a range of sizes to add depth and variety to the layout of the artwork. A commemorative plaque acknowledging Lynnice’s work will be positioned near the yarning circle.

A special cultural acknowledgement

The Cassia Wing (Rehabilitation Wing) yarning circle has also been crafted with a special acknowledgement of the cultural sensitivity and history of the site. The original smoking ceremony ashes kept after the demolition of the former Quamby site have been respectfully placed by Terry Sutherland, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer, under the centre concrete base of the yarning circle.

Acknowledgement of Country Rock Garden

Members of the United Ngunnawal Elders Council organised for rocks from the site to be selected to create a Welcome to Country bush garden, located at the entrance to the Unit. Below are images of Terry Sutherland, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Officer, selecting the rocks for the garden, as well as Head Contractors, Subcontractor and the Landscape Architect installing the Acknowledgement of Country rocks at the entrance to the unit.


August 2016 - Naming of the facility

Minister for Health Simon Corbell attended the site in late August 2016 and announced the name of the facility as Dhulwa Mental Health Unit which was gifted by the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. Dhulwa is a Ngunnawal term meaning ‘honeysuckle’, the name of a native plant.

The three wings of the facility have also been named after native plants that align with primary design colours. These are Lomandra (green) which is commonly known as spiky-head mat-rush, Mallee (purple) which is a eucalypt that has several stems rather than a single trunk and Cassia (yellow) which produces an abundance of yellow flowers in winter and spring.

Below is an artists' impression of the facility.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who will use Dhulwa?

Dhulwa will provide mental health care for people who are, or are likely to become, involved with the criminal justice system. It will be a safe and structured environment for people who cannot be safely cared for in a less restrictive environment and whose complex care needs are not met in the current system. Only a small number of people will require this level of care at any one time. A detailed multidisciplinary mental health assessment will take place before a person enters Dhulwa to determine whether they specifically require that level of care. 

What services will Dhulwa provide?

Dhulwa will provide mental health treatment and care and it is important that each person receives this care without discrimination. Although Dhulwa may provide care for people who are involved with the correctional system, it will be a health facility; not a correctional facility. People will not be segregated into various classifications such as sentenced or remand, unless required for security reasons. Everyone who comes to Dhulwa will first be observed, assessed and stabilised in the Acute area. Depending on the person’s needs and care requirements, they may then leave the unit or move into the Rehabilitation area.

What types of activities will be available?

Dhulwa will provide people with opportunities to develop skills and interests that can play a vital part in their recovery. In both Acute and Rehabilitative care, there will be opportunities for people to participate in meaningful group and individual activities such as therapeutic work, gardening, exercise, social activities, cultural activities, arts and music, hobbies and vocational activities. 

How many people will it accommodate?

Dhulwa will have 10 acute care beds and 15 rehabilitation beds. These will be opened progressively, with 10 beds available when the unit first opens. The full complement of 25 beds allows for growth in the need for secure care in the ACT.

What kind of security will there be?

Security at Dhulwa will be integrated with safety and clinical practice. It will include physical and procedural components; however, the most important component will be the skill of the clinical staff. The therapeutic relationships they form with the people in the facility will build trust and understanding, allowing staff to provide interventions to prevent potential security breaches and manage situations. 

Will Dhulwa cater for those with high security needs?

No, Dhulwa will be a low to medium security facility. 

Will there be emergency medical care at Dhulwa?

Dhulwa will be located close to Canberra Hospital so in the event of an emergency, care is close by.

What ages will be catered for?

Dhulwa will provide services for people from 18 to 65 years of age.

When will Dhulwa open?

Construction of Dhulwa began in May 2015 and is expected to be completed in late 2016. Dhulwa is expected to begin services in late 2016.

Who has been involved in the design of Dhulwa?

A wide range of experts have been involved in developing the design of Dhulwa to ensure it provides a safe and secure environment for mental health care and treatment. Input from clinical staff and mental health consumer and carer organisations has significantly influence the design of the facility.

Further Information

For further information about this project, email the Health Infrastructure Program: HIP@act.gov.au


Results of the Preliminary Sketch Plans Consultation

An artist's impression of the outside of the new facility Following community consultation on the draft Model of Care (see results below), the design of the facility was set out in the Preliminary Sketch Plan.

A Preliminary Sketch Plan is a progressive illustration of what a building will look like. The Plan becomes more detailed as it is developed in consultation with stakeholders.

The Plan was released for community and stakeholder comment in May 2014 and June 2014.

Some parts of the Preliminary Sketch Plan were not available for public viewing. These include details of internal layout and anything that might compromise the secure nature of the facility.

All aspects of the Plan have been designed in close consultation with user groups, including mental health care professionals, consumers and other stakeholders who may be directly affected by the project. Feedback received during the community consultation period was taken into account in the finalisation of the PSP design. A Record of Consultation has been prepared and is available below.

Secure Mental Health Unit Preliminary Sketch Plans - Record of Consultation (November 2014)

Results of the Model of Care Consultation

The Model of Care describes how the facility will operate. It was developed with input from consumers and carers, mental health professionals, other governments and community organisations.

At the end of 2013, ACT Health asked the community to comment on the draft Model of Care. Feedback was received through formal submissions, focus groups and a public information session.

Overall, the Model of Care received positive feedback. It showed that the community as a whole wants to see a more therapeutic environment for people with moderate to severe mental illness. A copy of the Feedback Themes Register from the consultation is provided for information.

A Frequently Asked Questions document has also been produced. This document responds to many of the questions that came up during the consultation.

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care Consultation Feedback Themes Register

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care Consultation Feedback Themes Register

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care Frequently Asked Questions

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care Frequently Asked Questions

Final Model of Care

After considering the feedback from the consultation ACT Health has worked to finalise the Model of Care. The final version is provided for information.

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care - Final Version

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care - Final Version

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care - Summary

Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care - Summary