Australia’s Ghosts of Ararat Asylum in Victoria


This post began as a standard Top 10 Haunted Places for Halloween post, but as the first haunted place I looked at was so interesting I thought I’d do something a bit more in-depth.

First, the ghosts

The Ararat Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Aradale Mental Hospital is Australia’s ‘largest abandoned mental institution in Australia,’ according to Aradale Ghost Tours who run tours in the building (and entertainingly provide the use of night vision glasses, infrared cameras and the like as part of the tour.)

Ararat Mental Asylum

Ararat Mental Asylum in 1880 (Wikipedia)

It’s located in Victoria, Australia, was built between 1864 and 1867 and the design of it was based on Colney Hatch Mental Hospital in Friern Barnet, London (which is actually just ten minutes on the bus from where I live – you really needed to know that, didn’t you?). Its role in life was to take in those from jails, reformatory or industrial school who were considered ‘lunatic’ ‘retarded’ and ‘insane’.

13,000 people died in Aradale in just 130 years so there’s scope for a large number of ghosts to be living in and around the building complex that was basically the size of a small town. The complex consisted of 63 buildings and employed 500 staff. Among the spirits reportedly wandering its corridors have been seen nurses in white uniforms and dark figures. Crying, moaning and footsteps have been heard, and there’s one room with an overwhelmingly strange atmosphere.

Now, the rest

J Ward is a part of the complex with particularly gruesome stories attached to it. Three men were hanged on the site when it was in use as a goldfields jail (for a while Victoria was producing more gold than any country in the world except for the US and its Californian gold fields). The site was taken over by the Lunacy Department, according to J Ward when the gold ran out.

The hanged men were buried in unmarked graves by the authorities, but the inmates did a bit of DIY remembrance-making by marking the graves with an arrow pointing upwards – the mark of a convict (this tidbit came from a very detailed post about a visit to J Ward on GhostPlace). It’s thought that the prisoners were buried upright and facing towards the jail wall so that their spirits would forever be confined within the wall. The Friends of J Ward have since placed plaques above these burial sites.

J Ward was deemed a ‘temporary ward’ when it opened in 1887 (according to Deidre N Grieg in her book “Neither Mad Nor Bad”) and its end was finally in site when an infamous self-harming inmate called Garry David (also known as Webb) pulled off bricks and slates from the outside of the building to reveal a crumbling interior, in 1990 – it could therefore no longer be regarded as secure, so the end was nigh.

It’s now a museum run by the Friends of J Ward, and rooms like the operating theatre where controversial treatments such as lobotomies and ECT were carried out.

The last patients in the complex were removed as late as 1993 and there’s now a wine-making college, vineyard, an olive grove and olive pressing plant on site.


Aradale underground bathroom

Aradale underground bathroom [www.

Address Details

Ararat is located between Ballarat and the Grampians, 2.5 hours from Melbourne. As well as daylight and evening tours around J Ward run by the volunteers Friends of J Ward and the aforementioned ghost tours a group called Spirit Seekers who hold monthly spirit-seeking experiences in J Ward.

Julie McNamee
Born in Belfast and now living in London, Julie McNamee is involved in internet marketing as a day job and blogging as a hobby. She's interested in all things quirky and Fortean, as well as art, photography and theatre. Her blog Quirky Travel, specializes in London and Paris top tips and off the beaten path information with subjects such as London film locations and unusual Paris museums.
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