Australia, as a settled country, isn’t that old. Sydney and Melbourne are the two largest and oldest cities on the continent, yet we can only look back to the late 1700s for a Western history of the country. With such a short time-frame to work with, Australia has more than its fair share of reputedly-haunted locations. As a result of that, this column, which was to be based around the most terrifying places in Australia, has been narrowed down to a series of articles, one for each state of Australia.
Here are some of the more renowned locations for paranormal activity and alleged hauntings. I’ll give you the facts and the rumours, and you can go on to make up your own mind.
Larundel was first imagined in 1938, a way for the state government to replace the outdated Kew Mental Hospital. Two years later, it was under construction when WWII intervened. For the next five years various uses were planned for the buildings, but in 1946 Larundel was given to the Victorian Department of Housing for emergency accommodation. The wards were hastily converted to flats.
It continued as housing until 1949, but over the next four years, Larundel was slowly populated with patients from Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, which experienced fire-damage at the time. In 1953 Larundel was officially declared a hospital for the mentally ill. By that stage, it had 387 patients, a quarter of which were women. Two years later, eight additional wards opened, allowing for another 360 patients (270 of which were female).
It continued to operate through until the 90s when the government moved away from incarcerating such patients and tried to integrate them back into society. The remaining buildings are currently derelict and there is no access to the general public. It sits, the old buildings boarded up, waiting for the government to do something with it.
For the past fifteen or so years, the abandoned buildings have been a playground for those fascinated with thrill-seeking, as well as paranormal investigators. It is said by some that loud banging on the walls can be heard; odd smells and the sound of children crying have also been experienced on occasion.
There is a rumour that a little girl who died on the third floor loved her music box, and to this day, there are claims on the internet that random explorers have heard music playing on some nights, just before or at midnight. There are many accounts of supernatural phenomena occurring at Larundel, and the complex itself is vast and spooky enough to scare the most intrepid explorer, even without phantoms and unexplained occurrences.
Old Geelong Gaol
The gaol was operated as a high security prison until it was decommissioned in July, 1991. Little has changed at Geelong Gaol since its closure. Some exhibits of its past history have been added, in the style of a museum, but the gaol itself is still an imposing and dread-inspiring building.
Prisoners were held in small, unheated cells, with no sewerage facilities at all, for up to fourteen hours each day.
Past inmates have reported hearing female cries at night, especially in the east wing, the site of the Industrial School for Girls for the late 1860s. Tour guides have reported witnessing several occurrences, including swirling mists, general weird feelings and people being struck.
The site has been visited by various paranormal research teams, who have reported strange mists, sounds, EMF disturbances and orbs. Mediums and other ‘sensitive’ people have been employed by some, and they have reported the presence of various spirits in the gaol. The old infirmary, cell 45, the gallows, and the external shower block are reportedly the sites with the most activity.
The gaol is now operated by the Rotary Club of Geelong, who run guided tours on weekends and holidays. Ghost tours run at night every weekend, and it has become a place that many claim is haunted by its own dark past.
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum
Originally known as Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, Beechworth is a decommissioned psychiatric hospital. Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum was the fourth such hospital to be built in Victoria, and is one of the three largest. Mayday Hills Hospital closed in 1995 after 128 years of operation.
Foreboding is the only way anyone could describe the buildings situated at the top of a hill outside Beechworth in northern Victoria.
Beechworth Lunatic Asylum is currently owned by La Trobe University. Nightly Ghost tours are held at the hospital, allowing public access to the most historic buildings in the complex.
There are plenty of stories told about Mayday Hills Asylum: many have spoken of the figure of a man who appears near the cellar, and then completely vanishes within a second. Matron Sharpe, who spent most of her life there, has been spotted on more than one occasion, a grey, hooded figure in period costume. Doors swing open by themselves, and at other times, mysterious screams are heard. Some say that a glance out of the cottage windows around dusk may reveal an old man in a green jacket, maybe an old ground-keeper, wandering around in the gardens. Also, a woman has been, on occasion, photographed standing at the window from which she was reputedly thrown by other inmates. Whether these tales are true or not, the entire place has a certain eeriness about it that sends chills down the spine.
Willsmere (Kew) Mental Asylum
Willsmere is a decommissioned psychiatric hospital in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria. Operational for over a hundred years, Willsmere was one of the largest asylums ever built in Australia. First known as Kew Lunatic Asylum, the complex of buildings was constructed between 1864 and 1872 to house the growing number of ‘lunatics’, ‘unrepentant drunks’, ‘constant masturbators’ and ‘idiots’ in the Colony of Victoria.
Willsmere was the very first asylum built for that purpose in Victoria, and was the largest to exist in the state. It operated in conjunction with the asylums built in Ararat and Beechworth, but housed the less-dangerous and confronting patients. The asylum’s buildings are typical examples of the French Second Empire style which was popular in Victorian Melbourne. The use of low ha-ha walls and extensively landscaped grounds added to the decadent beauty of the complex. Long considered of cultural and historic significance to Melbourne, Kew Asylum and its complex of buildings were registered on the Register of the National Estate in March 1978.
Not as beautiful on the inside as the outside, the asylum was criticised heavily during the first fifty years of operation for issues including overcrowding, mismanagement, lack of resources, poor sanitation and disease.
Kew continued to operate throughout the 20th century as a psychiatric hospital, treating acute, long-term and geriatric patients until it closed in December 1988. The main building and surrounding grounds were sold by the State Government, and were then redeveloped as residential properties, with the stipulation that all redesign must fall within regulations for preservation of the original façade.
Not somewhere I’d want to live, but each to their own. At this point, there are no reports of residents dying from paranormal phenomena, but time will tell.
Aradale Mental Hospital
Aradale is Australia’s largest abandoned lunatic asylum. Comprised of over sixty buildings and placed in over hundred acres on the top of a hill near Ararat, Victoria, Aradale (formerly known as Ararat Lunatic Asylum) is a most-impressive facility.
Opened in 1867, the complex housed, in its approximately 130 year history, tens of thousands of people described as ‘lunatics’, ‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’ – some of them described as the worst lunatics in the British Empire. As it was far from the prying eyes of the Melbourne population, the very worst cases were sent to Ararat, where no one cared what became of them.
Completed forty years before Freud, this building saw some of the most controversial psychiatric treatments in Australia. Around 13,000 people died there in its 130 years. As a result, Aradale is considered one of the most haunted locations in Australia.
Over the last year, for the first time in its long history, Aradale’s doors have opened for evening explorations. I recently went on a Ghost Tour of this massive place, and believe me, it’s pretty damn scary.
My immediate thoughts on arrival at the front of the facility were, “wow, that’s massive”. Then I realised that the front is just a minute part of the place. Just as it was getting dark, our guide, dressed in top-hat and tails, brought us in through the front doors and armed us with small, battery-operated lanterns. I had a high-lumen head-torch, so I considered myself lucky. Throughout the tour, we heard many stories about the place; of the torturous ‘treatments’ the patients were subjected to, of the long and sometimes sordid history of the place, and, of course, of the hauntings that have allegedly taken place within the facility.
There are many reports of paranormal activity within the boundaries of Aradale: tales of Nurse Kerry, who allegedly haunts the women’s wing and watches the ghost tour groups from one room in particular; the unexplained pains and sense of being touched by people in the old men’s wing surgery; the unexplained cold winds emanating from the old office of the facility director (we felt that one ourselves); and the back area of the men’s wing isolation cells, where banging can be heard on the walls, even though no one else is in the building. Finally, there are tales of Old Margaret, supposedly one of the many patients who were kicked out in the late 90s, when Aradale closed, who still hangs around the facility because it was her home for her entire life.
The best of the rest
The Old Melbourne Gaol is a museum and former prison located in Russell Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It consists of a bluestone building and courtyard, and is located next to the old City Police Watch House and City Courts buildings. The three-storey museum displays information and memorabilia of the prisoners and staff, including death masks of the executed criminals. At one time the museum displayed Ned Kelly’s skull, before it was stolen in 1978, as well as the pencil used by wrongly convicted Colin Campbell Ross to protest his innocence in writing, before being executed. Paranormal enthusiasts claim the museum is haunted, with claims of ghostly apparitions and unexplained voices near cells.
Fortuna Villa is a mansion near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. It was first built in 1855, during the gold rush, and went from being a large but modest house to the mansion that is seen today. In WWII, the house was used by the Australian Army as a mapping survey centre, and after this it was declared the property of the Victorian Parliament and became a listed Commonwealth Heritage site. There are many reported ghosts of Fortuna Villa: the ghost of George Lansell, one of owners and a founder of Bendigo, appears as a bearded figure; the ghost of a teenage girl reportedly appears as a spectre asking people to leave; footsteps can sometimes be heard at night, as well as the tapping of a cane, and in some rooms cold spots can be felt. In 1986, a witness saw a dark shape, a head and torso without legs, passing through the bannister of the main staircase, and finally, some claim to have heard the voice of a woman, supposed to be Bedilia, Lansell’s first wife, who died in uncertain circumstances. Some military personnel, stationed in the mapping survey centre, have reported that previously locked doors are found open, and a boy in a sailor suit appeared to a female soldier, disappearing when she called out for help. Tellingly, members of the Australian Army wrote a letter to their superiors asking for relocation out of the property due to ongoing hauntings. It was, of course, denied.
As you can see, the number of haunted locations in Australia seems to far outweigh our population and relative age, and this article barely touches the tip of the iceberg in that regard. Welcome to Terror Australis.
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