As readers of The MALESTROM will well know, we’re partial to things that go bump in the night and can’t help be fascinated by the most haunted of haunted houses. Generally we look to our own isles for all things spooky, but today we’re setting our sites further afield on the altogether more antipodean location of Australia and a vast facility that used to house the criminally insane and now, if all the talk around it is to be believed, is home to the restless souls of former inmates.
Aradale Asylum in Victoria, Australia is Oz’s largest abandoned lunatic asylum. As large as a town the huge Victorian complex made up of over sixty buildings on a hundred acre site, first opened it’s doors in 1865. The self-sufficient location had its own chapel, fire station, dairy, orchard, vineyards, animal stock and of course a morgue. Over 13,000 people are estimated to have died there over it’s almost 130 year history, no surprise then that the facility is considered one of the most haunted places in Australia.
It was commissioned to help empty jails and accommodate the growing number of ‘lunatics’ and ‘insane’ in the colony of Victoria. Anyone in those days not considered ‘normal’ such as those with down syndrome, epilepsy and autism could find themselves contained there, even women suffering post-natal depression. Apparently if a man wanted rid of his wife he just needed the signatures of two compliant doctors to have her locked away, yet for her release eight signatures were required! At its height, Aradale had up to 900 patients yearly, dealt with by 500 staff.
The structure of the asylum was more akin to a prison than a hospital. This was in part due to the walls, which were known as ‘Ha-Ha walls.’ They consisted of a trench, one side of which was vertical and faced with bricks, the other side sloped and turfed. Designed to give the illusion of freedom, from the inside the walls presented a tall face patients couldn’t climb over, preventing them from escaping, while from the outside the walls looked low and didn’t suggest any real form of imprisonment.
Many years before Sigmund Freud ushered in the use of modern therapy, the place was host to some of the most controversial psychiatric treatments in Australia such as the frontal lobotomy, without anaesthetic of course. The worst cases in the country were sent to Aradale Asylum (formerly Ararat Lunatic Asylum), many of them ending up in one of the hubs of purported supernatural activity on the site, J Ward. Formerly a prison building it was acquired in the 1880s by the Lunacy Department as a temporary housing for the criminally insane, it housed the most depraved and most dangerous men in horrific conditions under the highest security.
It’s purpose was less about treatment and more about containing and isolating these people (in isolation cages), it was notorious for violence whether inmates fighting or staff doling out severe punishment. There were hangings and many cases of other suicides with bodies often buried in unmarked graves. It may have been meant as temporary housing yet J Ward remained the same in terms of function right up until its decommission in the 90s. Suffering and death were commonplace here and it seems many of the poor souls here still aren’t able to rest.
Currently the eerie abandoned location hosts ghost tours to those eager to find out firsthand why Aradale is described as the most haunted of sites. Visitors often speak of unexpected sensations, such as being pushed on to stop their entry to a room, feeling pains and being touched by people, especially in what was the men’s wing surgery. There’s often complaints of feeling cold drafts of wind running through the old office of the facility director and in the back area of the men’s wing isolation cells, banging can often be heard on the walls, even though no one else is in the building. In the documentary The Aradale Asylum, volunteer tour guide Doug Koschel speaks about his experiences,
“I was the biggest sceptic you’d ever find when I started doing the ghost tours, I’ve changed my mind completely. I’ve seen things in here, heard things in here, felt things in here and even smelt things in here I can’t explain.”
He goes on to tell a story about a visit from a group of ghost hunters.
“A paranormal group came here, I think it was the last time they visited here, they’d been about eight times and the two ring leaders wanted to try on the restraining jackets, we stopped at the top to see what was going to happen. They went right down to the door at the far end and one of the guys suddenly went down, you would swear that someone had actually jumped on his shoulders, he was screaming ‘get off me, get off me you bastard, get off me, get off me.’ They went over and pulled his shirt down at the back and there was a bite mark on his neck, so they took him into the dining room where the lights were on, pulled his shirt down and there was nothing there. So how do you explain a bite mark that’s there, then it’s not there? That’s one of the things I can’t explain in this place.”
One of the most famed spirits around these parts is that of Nurse Kerry. She’s supposed to haunt the women’s wing, notorious as having been one of the cruelest members of staff in the Asylum, she’s said to fix her eyes on visitors till they feel compelled to leave. Another of the ghostly inhabitants is that of Old Margaret, supposedly one of the numerous patients kicked out of Aradale in the late 90s when the institution closed. Having been home for her entire life it’s believed she wanders the complex where she feels she belongs.
Most haunted or not with the amount of pain and suffering that took place in the confines of this labyrinthine complex it wouldn’t be a stretch to think some poor lost souls still reside here. An overwhelming amount of visitors report some kind of supernatural activity, one thing’s for sure we wouldn’t be overly keen to walk those halls alone in the dead of night, although from the sounds of it you’re unlikely to be alone for long.
What’s the most haunted place you’ve been to? Let us know in the comments.