We arrived at Aradale just after 8pm, driving up the long driveway, past the old gatehouse and the modern building belonging to NMIT. Even though it’s still daylight you feel a chill. It could be the breeze, or simply just the place in the lengthening shadows. It’s creepy.
Having discovered we’ve arrived a bit too early, (we’re on the second tour at 9pm) we take a look around, peering over walls, and sitting by the disused fountain. Looking over a brick wall (what we discovered to be a ha ha wall) we’re amazed to discover an old see-saw. Were children here? Sadly we are to find out, yes.
Finally it’s our time to enter. Our tour guide, a thoroughly entertaining gentleman, ushers us inside, away from the freshening breeze, and hands us lanterns. With the exception of some outside lighting, and the foyer, this is our only light sources as we move around the asylum. (Except of course for the flash of cameras).
When you first come out into the courtyard you are amazed by the sheer size. The buildings cover an area of 5 acres and the asylum once sat upon 150 acres of land. It was one of the largest asylums built and opened up in 1867. The buildings were built to last, with walls triple-bricked and quadruple bricks in many places to lessen noise from the patients
A lot of asylums were built on top of hills as the bracing wind was supposed to be cleansing and good for your health. Aradale was no exception to this, and the top of the hill became known as Madman’s Hill. It was built away from the general populace due to the prevailing theory that madness was infectious , as well as hereditary.
The hospital was self-sufficient, with gardens, paddocks and livestock, and water collected from the roof space. Not only did patients reside here, but so did the staff!
The tour takes in the administration block, including the superintendent’s office, the women’s ward, the ballroom, kitchens, surgery, morgue and men’s ward. As you move through the tour, you are told stories of some of the inhabitants, and staff, but mainly the history of mental health treatment in Victoria.
You could be incarcerated by a husband who had tired of you, under the guise of hysteria, if you suffered a physical deformity, were promiscuous (which primarily applied to women, apparently), alcoholic, syphilitic, and epileptic. Treatment was virtually non-existent, and the practice of exercising in the bracing air wearing inadequate clothing saw many inmates not survive their first winter. Children were held there, mixing with violent and dangerous individuals.
With changing treatments, such as medication, and psychiatry, there came the view that institutions such as Aradale had outlived their purpose, and the hospital was decommissioned. It’s a sad tale, made all the sadder that when Aradale was closed in 1993, some residents who had lived their entire lives there did not want to leave.
The ghost tour takes two hours, but with the size of the group and our tour guide Andrew’s storytelling it was nearly 11.30 when we finally left.
Did we experience anything weird? Occasionally there was a strange smell, like alcoholic bad breath, which I noticed in the women’s ward, and which Mr BG also noticed. Andrew also insisted on leaving a light on in the surgery when he told us the history of medical treatment in the infirmary, and he led us through the men’s ward at a cracking pace, so we just got a brief impression of deserted nurses’ stations and old bathrooms as we whizzed by. We thought it may have been to do with the fact we were running over time, but there may have been another reason.
In the back part of the men’s ward, where the most violent and dangerous patients were incarcerated, Andrew was relating tales of activity which had accompanied the start of the ghost tours, and how methodical banging sounds had been heard in parts of the men’s ward. And then on cue we heard a bang.