Over the weekend of 3-5 October, I took part in a Creative Retreat at the Aradale Lunatic Asylum, and oh, what fun! But is the place haunted, that’s the big question…
The weekend was brilliantly organised by my pal, Geoff Brown, with equally brilliant help from his wonderful family. Along with a couple of presentations (one on death and dying by one of the coolest undertakers I’ve ever met, and another on the ‘new science’ of quantum mechanics, which was quite fascinating), we had the Australian Paranormal Society there, running investigations. Bill and his team were great, beyond great, extending every warm welcome to those of use who where attending the weekend retreat, letting us take part in their investigations, use their equipment, and answer any and all questions we had. We also had an insightful, and horrible, tour by the awesome Eerie Nate.
Some of the things that have happened at Aradale in the past were truly horrific. An asylum was supposed to have been a place of comfort, but not even 100 years ago, our knowledge of mental health was in its infancy. We knew nothing, and unfortunately, it was only because of what happened at places like Aradale that we have the knowledge that we do now. Even still… Leaving incontinent, severely retarded, patients naked in their cells, where they would defecate wherever they wanted, only for them and their cells to be hosed down at the end of each day. Surgical operations and human experimentation, performed without anesthetic (while the waiting patient can hear it all unfold in the small waiting cell connected to the operating room, and worse, watch it all through the peep hole in the door). Rapes and an abortion chair that got regular use. Day pens in which the patients there thrown every day, regardless of weather, where they would die of hypothermia or heat stroke. A morgue that wasn’t fit for a pig, with heads left outside in the sun so the skin would dry and peel away, limbs tied to the branches of trees in order to drain… Lobotomies performed to ‘cure’ patients of any and all affliction (the youngest patient lobotomized was a 12 year old boy). The list of atrocities goes on.
And it’s no wonder, with such a history, that the place is reportedly haunted.
Aradale is huge, comprised of numerous buildings (the men’s ward, woman’s ward, staff quarters, admin offices, hospital, morgue, chapel, forensics unit, the incontinence ward (aptly nicknamed the ‘shitty-six’), plus a sewing room, electrician’s area, a carpenter’s…) spread out over a huge area, too. The asylum is isolated from the nearby town or Ararat, and when you’re there, you feel separate from the world. You feel isolated.
Scientist Brain Comment: from the start, the environment imposes itself upon you; you’re at an abandoned asylum for the insane, with a terrible history, and numerous reports of paranormal activity. Already, your senses are going to be more heightened, especially at night. It is very easy to work yourself up in such an environment.
That’s all fine and good, says the other side of me, but that doesn’t explain a lot of what happened, which was recorded on several devices and had multiple witnesses (myself included)…
The Australian Paranormal Society ran investigations across the two nights, and we were allowed to take part in these. This was fascinating, and something I am very interested in and hope to do more of in the future. I learned a lot about how one might go about performing an investigation, and what equipment to use, and Bill and his team were just wonderful. A brilliant and professional group, passionate about what they do, and more than willing to chat and explain things.
Okay then, so what took place that left me scratching my scientific brain?
On the first night, I went off with a large group for a tour and history lesson of the asylum, led by the cool Nate. Highly recommended. The history of mental health is staggering in its horror. Nate also recounted several anecdotes from his time there, some of which were pretty creepy (going through the woman’s ward locking up one night, only to hear footsteps rushing towards him, and then someone banging on the other side of the door that divided the hall, hard enough to make the partitioned wall shake).
Scientist Brain Comment: Here-say, secondhand information. No way to confirm anything…
Yes, I know, I can’t use that in any court of law. But let me finish. Anyway, one of the APS guys (Lionel) was outside at a different part of the asylum from us, having a smoke, when he saw Bill’s wife (Amanda) waving to him, indicating for him to follow her into the men’s ward (this is a highly active ward, so I’ve been told). Then Bill himself came into view, calling out to him, saying he needed help. The problem was, Lionel knew Bill and Amanda were elsewhere, Bill talking to a group of people on the other side of the main hall area, and Amanda inside the hall.
The APS went into the ward to investigate, and ended up recording vile comments and threats on their equipment from something was called itself ‘The Beast’ (apparently, the APS have had dealing with this entity in the past, and they don’t believe it to be human). Probably most shocking of all (although those visual manifestations were quite something), was Rick (the medium) having his arm grabbed when they were inside the ward conducting an investigation, and him being jerked back towards one of the cells. He managed to put his hands out and grab the doorway to stop himself was being forced inside. This was all captured on film, and I have seen this film. It’s quite something.
Scientist Brain Comment: Could he have grown dizzy and lost his balance, stumbling in a way that made it look like he was pulled towards the cell?
Unlikely, as those with him, who saw it happen, said it was as if someone (or something) had grabbed and jerked him backwards. The video seems to support this, too. I don’t know Rick that well, as I didn’t really get the chance to speak to him, but he struck me as a honest and open man, not a prankster who would do something like this. Rick, Bill, and the rest of the APS take what they do far too seriously for any kind of carry-on like this.
So, that whole episode was very weird, and hard to explain in any simple way. Visual manifestations, audio experiences, and physical violence.
But I wasn’t there to see any of it first hand.
Later that night, I was with Chris and Tracy, two writer pals, and we had at first wanted to join the APS with their experiments in the men’s ward, but they had locked themselves in so as not to have interruptions. So we decided to go for a wander through the woman’s ward. We hadn’t gone far before something happened that was kind of cool. I was at the back talking about something, with Chris up front and Tracy in the middle. I heard someone tell me to shh! I thought it was Chris, but he turned around, thinking Tracy had said it, but she hadn’t, and hadn’t even heard it. Only Chris and I heard it, clear, and unmistakable, and right between us.
Scientist Brain Comment: You don’t know how the acoustics of the building work, so this could have been someone else speaking, someone in a nearby room, and only sounding like it came from within your group.
This is true, and I don’t have a good argument against this, other than to simply say that it sounded like it had come from ahead of me, and behind Chris, but right there with us, telling us to shut up.
Nearing 2am, I was with a group of four others, and while they were not willing to venture into the first level of the men’s ward where all of the earlier activity took place, we did go upstairs, and that was fucking frightening. I was at the back of the group (again!), and part way through, could not shake the feeling that someone (or something?) was following us, walking right behind me, almost touching me. The others in our group felt uncomfortable, their skin prickling, and after a few minutes, I had to walk backwards, keeping the torch shining behind be. It was utterly terrifying – I cannot express just how terrifying it was.
Scientist Brain Comment: You are a wuss, easily freaked out, y’know. Too many horror movies, plus you read and write horror…
Yes, true, and perhaps it was the result of the environment, plus hearing the encounters from earlier in the night that caused me to freak out, I don’t know. All I know is how I felt, and it wasn’t like anything I’ve felt before. I felt immensely uncomfortable.
There have been times in the past where I’ve freaked myself out, but at those times, I will giggle almost uncontrollably, knowing I’m freaking myself out. At Aradale, there was no way in hell that I could giggle. I was more scared than I’ve been before.
(An interesting side note; I found out once I was home again that the St. Christopher’s necklace I wear (it used to be my mother’s, the medallion and the chain, but I broke the chain one day and lost the medallion. My wife Tanya brought me a new medallion for my 40th, and had my mom’s chain fixed at the same time) had been blessed by a priest before Tanya gave it to me. I was being protected without even knowing it – although, another interesting side note; I had planned to take my necklace off before the investigations, curious to know if that would cause me to be more open to things around me, but I couldn’t take it off. I didn’t have the courage to do so. Not bad for a skeptic, huh?)
On the second night, I was part of a large group doing investigations, and at the start of the night, in the woman’s ward, we were all inside a large room, calling out hello as loud as we could in order to stir up activity. We did this three times, going dead silent in-between in order to listen for any replies (banging on walls, doors opening or closing, etc). We heard or saw nothing, so decided to move on, and right at that moment, the small bell next to the main door rang. It was a solid ring, lasting a second or two, and as clear as day. We checked outside, and there was no one around. No one inside was in any position to ring the bell, either.
Scientist Brain Comment: Fascinating, but without base parameters detailing wind flow through the old building, plus structural reports covering settling, and things like day and night expansion and contraction, how can you be sure it wasn’t something natural that caused this?
I can’t. It’s a valid point. All investigations of this nature need to have base parameters covering such things, also covering magnetic fields that can be picked up around the location from man-made sources etc. But there was no wind, no one was opening or closing the door, or moving near the bell. I don’t think air currents caused the bell to ring because it would have been a fair gust and we would have felt that, wouldn’t we? The truth is, I don’t know what caused the ringing. We were calling out the any spirits to make themselves known, and then the bell rang. Make of that what you will. I’m still not sure what to make of it.
We then broke into small groups of about 4, and went off to various locations. There, we would call out to any spirits in the area, while recording the experience using voice recorders, cameras, and EMF readers. At one stage, my group was located on a stairwell, with me (again! C’mon, man…) near the top of the stairs and the rest of my group below me. We were asking questions (“Is anyone there? Make a noise if you can hear us? Were you happy here? Were you a staff member? That kind of thing), and then our EMF reader went crazy. Right then, I had the same feeling I’d had the night before, that something really unhappy, angry, evil, I don’t know, was standing near me, just out of my sight. It freaked me out again, big time. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the top of the stairs, knowing that the moment I did, something would rush down them and grab me. Or shove me.
A moment later, Rick the medium called out to us all, asking us to gather in one of the large nearby rooms. Going down the stairs, I had to walk backwards again, terrified, absolutely fucking terrified, my skin crawling, my torch shining up the stairs, always up the stairs. Something was there, I knew that without doubt, and it was waiting for me to look away. When we got back into the big room, Rick told us that he had felt the presence of The Beast, the entity from the night before. It wasn’t safe for us to be in small groups, we were told, because it was following us around, and it really wasn’t a nice thing, very likely not even human.
Scientist Brain Comment: Did you see anything, though? Or hear anything? Remember, you were in a spooky building on a paranormal investigation, with all the knowledge of the asylum’s history, plus incidences that had taken place the night before. How can you not be susceptible to thinking everything was ghosts and demons?
I didn’t see anything, and I didn’t hear anything, either. But to tell the truth, despite other people in the group claiming to see or feel or hear things, I was a little disappointed that there were so many of us involved in the investigation. Too many people making noises. I wanted to be with only a handful of folks, but that wasn’t to be. So no, I don’t think I was feeling the oppressive weight of the environment and situation.
My group had also just come from another room, where nothing had happened. The room had felt empty. There was another group near us, too, so it just felt like too many people around. I felt crowded when I didn’t want to be. So my group went in search of a different location, went upstairs, but all of the rooms up there were locked, so we sat on the stairwell. I was feeling despondent by then, thinking too many people, nothing was going to happen, too much of the asylum had been locked up and was now inaccessible.
So no, the situation wasn’t getting to me.
Scientist Brain Comment: You said the EMF meter went crazy while you were on the stairs, right? And you’re accustomed to believing that this indicates increase spirit activity. So, standing on a dark stairwell, the EMF meter going off, and with the history, location, etc, could all of this have affected you?
Look, I don’t know, maybe, but there must come a point when you stop looking for excuses and say, shit, that was strange, that wasn’t normal. Yes, this should only be once all other possible causes and explanations have been exhausted, but EMF meters had been going off before that, too, and I didn’t get that frightening sensation then.
On the stairs, the feeling that came over me was immediately terrifying, and exactly the same as the one I’d had the night before, walking through the upper level of the men’s ward. And then for Rick to say the same entity they’d encountered the night before in the men’s ward was here with us, that just freaked me out completely. It felt like the same thing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t experience anything else after that, and we had to call our investigation off when most of the other buildings were locked. I really wanted to investigate – to properly investigate – the men’s ward again, only this time with a full appreciation of how dangerous this game could be. Perhaps next time.
So, to wrap up this long rambling piece, do I think Aradale Lunatic Asylum is haunted? I don’t know, but I do know that I take it all far more seriously than I did before. Things happened over the weekend that I can’t happily explain – but then I don’t have any base parameters for the location to use as a benchmark to know when things were changing. I do know how our minds can become susceptible when under stress, but I don’t know how the winds funnels through the place, or where the air is naturally colder. I don’t know how the structure settles at night, or what subsidence (if any) is affecting it. Are there magnetic fields about that could be causing audible and visual hallucinations? I don’t know. I’m certain the APS know. They have done a lot of solid research and they believe the place is haunted.
Could Aradale Lunatic Asylum be haunted? My scientist brain says that it very well could be.
One other thing I do know is that I hope to be back, to do some more investigations.