Climb the tree-lined hill that leads to the beautiful Ararat Lunatic Asylum and you would be forgiven for thinking that you were approaching an elegant Italian villa.
Renamed Aradale in the last century, the sweeping drive invites you into the imposingly elegant main building. Stunning in its design it could be mistaken for a luxury hotel or a Hollywood mansion.
Sadly, it is all a façade. Consider that the hill you have just climbed has been nicknamed ‘Madman’s Hill’, the town of Ararat behind you is now a ghost town and the history of the asylum is stained by horrendous acts of cruelty and violence.
Few with any sense would care to spend any length of time in this abandoned building.
Desolate and isolated, its only occupants now are the restless souls of former inmates, phantoms of a past era doomed forever to haunt the empty wards and corridors of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum.
A Brief History
Built in 1864, Ararat was built to house the lunatics, imbeciles and idiots of Victoria, Australia. Built high on a hill overlooking the small settlement after which it was named, it comprised over 63 separate buildings.
Isolated and self-supporting, with its own farm and vegetable plots, it successfully separated its occupants from the outside world.
Those that entered Ararat could easily be forgotten. In December 1886, the jail at Ararat was renamed J Ward and became part of the asylum, housing the criminally insane.
Left to its own devices terrible acts of cruelty were perpetrated. In reality, patients were committed on the flimsiest of reasons and rarely left once they entered.
It was common practice to perform lobotomies without anesthetic as well as electric shock and other experimental treatments.
With a bewildering mortality rate, it was clear that death was the only release its patients could look forward to. Later renamed the Aradale Mental hospital, it eventually closed in 1998.
The Main Asylum
Enter the main building today and you begin to get a sense of what the future held for those that entered the Ararat Lunatic Asylum.
The impressive frontage behind you, a maze of long dark corridors, locked rooms and shadowy corners, lies ahead. Scream in this massive building and your cries would likely go unheard.
In its heyday just two signatures could commit you to a lifetime in Ararat for irritating your husband or reading novels, it took eight to get you out.
Small wonder then that many of the sane who entered were soon driven mad. Routinely lobotomized and cruelly operated upon, many were driven to suicide.
Once notorious for its inhumanity towards its patients, the Ararat or Aradale Lunatic Asylum is now infamous for being one of the most haunted buildings in Australia.
Visitors to Ararat have reported many paranormal experiences…
Walk through the Women’s Wing where young mothers were routinely committed for suffering from post-natal depression and other female illnesses and you may feel someone or something stroke your hand or touch your face.
If you sense that you are being watched, you could be right.
The ghost of a particularly harsh and wicked nurse, Nurse Kerry, is said to fix her icy stare on visitors until they are compelled to leave. She clearly doesn’t want anyone to see what happens on her ward.
Cross the covered bridge to the Men’s Ward and icy hands reach out to clasp unsuspecting visitors in a steely grip. Known as the suicide walk, it offered a way out for those desperate enough to take it.
Do these poor souls now regret their acts and reach out desperately for human contact or are they trying to take others with them?
Enter the abandoned ward and doors slam, disembodied voices whisper and shadow people dart from corner to corner.
Shockingly, even the staff were not immune from the misery of this ghastly building. Pass by the Superintendent’s office and you may experience a bitter taste.
Standing on the spot where a former Superintendent killed himself by ingesting Prussic Acid, many have reported a foul taste in their mouth and an overwhelming sense of nausea.
The saddest ghost in this eerie building though must be Old Margaret. A patient for most of her life, she eventually escaped Ararat when the building closed in the nineties.
Institutionalized and knowing no other home, her ghost returned after her death to haunt the place where she felt safest.
One of the many buildings in this sprawling complex, J Ward was originally built in 1859 as the county jail for Victoria.
Designed to accommodate the burgeoning criminal population attracted to the gold mines in the area, it closed 30 years later when the gold ran out.
Renamed J Ward, it became a secure unit housing the criminally insane. Until it closed a hundred years later some of the most depraved and notorious criminals in Australia lived and died here.
J Ward now operates as a museum offering visitors a taste of history with an added twist; many of the inmates refuse to leave and linger on to terrify those who dare to enter their territory.
Sadly, J Ward holds a number of dubious records. Incarcerated within its walls were both the youngest and oldest criminals in Australian history.
Boys as young as twelve were sent to endure the horrific conditions J Ward had to offer while the unfortunate Bill Wallace lived to the ripe age of 108, serving a true life sentence for his crimes.
During its years as the county jail, three prisoners were hung at J Ward. Their bodies were buried without ceremony in the exercise area.
As convicted murderers, they were not entitled to a Christian burial. Instead, three small marks scratched into the prison wall provide the only indication that their bodies were ever interred.
Rumored to be buried vertically like many murderers, their souls can never rest but haunt the prison where they spent their final days.
Enter the former jail today and like many visitors, you may feel yourself being shoved and bitten by unseen entities.
Disembodied voices shriek in terror, clocks tick where there are no clocks and electricity charges the air interfering with cameras and other equipment.
Those that dare to enter the cell of one prisoner, Gary Webb, have been told to ‘get out’. Webb a very disturbed individual, mutilated his own body over seventy times whilst in his cell and clearly doesn’t appreciate visitors invading his privacy.
Another cell is said to have a strange influence on those who enter. These effects range from feelings of nausea, terror and trance-like states, which don’t fade until the sufferer has left the building.
Make your way downstairs to visit the underground kitchen and you may encounter the spirit of a young boy called Stuart.
Said to haunt the kitchen area along with a former cook, it is not known whether the young boy is a former inmate or former employee of the asylum.
The most notorious area of J Ward is the Governor’s bathroom. Many staff and visitors refuse to enter, sensing the palpable evil that is present within.
Said to be possessed by a demonic force, at least one prisoner is rumored to have been murdered and dismembered in the bath. Enter at your peril.
The phrase ‘beauty is only skin deep’ certainly applies to the horror that was Ararat. What at first appears to be the epitome of style and elegance is merely a façade that masks a miserable and terrifying past.
Boasting that it housed ‘the worst lunatics of the British Empire’, in reality, many who entered the asylum were suffering from minor mental illnesses, disabilities or were an inconvenience to their families.
Behind closed doors, terrible treatments were inflicted upon patients, often without anesthetic. Many who entered sanely were driven mad.
Today its doors are thankfully closed to the mentally ill. Despite this, the shrieks and sobs of distressed patients still reverberate around its walls and ghostly hands reach out imploring visitors to help them.
Bound forever to this dreadful place and destined to endure its tortures forever, even death failed to release some poor souls from the hellish misery of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum.
Obsessed by ghost hunting and all things paranormal. Chris spends a lot of time (some would say too much time) investigating ghosts and spirits and documenting stories and paranormal communication. He teaches aspiring ghost hunters in the Paranormal Academy.