Spend time in one of Victoria’s spookiest places

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On a quiet night in Ballarat, outside a Gold Rush-era building, a man wearing a centuries-old outfit appears suddenly. Is he a ghost?

Victoria’s most haunted places

No, but he knows plenty about ghosts. He is Nathaniel Buchanan, owner of Eerie Tours, which for nearly a decade has been taking people through Ballarat and Aradale Asylum in Ararat, regarded as two of Victoria’s most haunted places. The tours are a mixture of grim history and ghost stories. While there’s no guarantee of a supernatural encounter, some people have had odd experiences.

“I have seen many hardened sceptics leave Aradale, particularly on our investigation tours where customers use a range of sensors to search for paranormal activity, scratching their heads,” Nathaniel says. “Weird stuff happens up there, and I don’t have an explanation for a lot of it.”

Supernatural encounter

Nathaniel himself has been spooked in the past, and one experience lingers.

“I was locking up the asylum one night by myself, wandering through the men’s ward. That’s a very long, dark labyrinthine corridor with lots of cells. I was the only staff on that night, and the only one with the key. Everything was locked as usual [but] 20 minutes later every cell door was open. Still to this day I believe that to be naturally impossible.”

If a tour of a former asylum sounds scary, spare a thought for the people who live in them. Michael Earp has lived in Willsmere – the former Kew Lunatic Asylum, said to be haunted by its patients – for three years. Set on a hill overlooking the Yarra, the grand buildings operated as an asylum from 1871 to 1988 before being converted to apartments.

Saw a ghost

“It has a mysterious vibe,” says Michael. “Quite often we will have dark clouds raining on us, when we can see it is sunny in much of Melbourne.”

Michael’s neighbour claims two ghosts walk around her apartment, and although Michael says he’s yet to see one, a friend believes she saw a ghost in Michael’s lounge room.

“The history of this place is fascinating and sad, but I don’t feel affected by it just by living here,” he says.

And those dark clouds? “This is most likely due to the local topography, being on a hill and all,” he says. Or perhaps some people are simply more in tune with the spirit world than others.

Melbourne undertaker and celebrant Chris Winer first encountered a ghost when he was seven. While staying with relatives in England, he awoke to see a man, “looking intently but calmly at me. One of his arms was missing and his sleeve was pinned.” Chris described what he’d seen to his mother, who said it was his great uncle. “He lost the arm during World War II and died while recovering in the bed on which I slept.”

Benign presence

Chris has had other encounters and says there’s always been a “benign presence” in his Brunswick house. “One of the original owners passed away here. Unexpected noises occur and things are found contrary to where they were left.” On three occasions, both he and his wife have seen a ghost in their house.

And given his line of work, Chris has heard a few supernatural stories. One grieving family said they were hoping for a sign their loved one was now at peace – and the deceased’s radio “switched itself on with his favourite Johnny Cash song playing”.

A spirited encounter, indeed.

Our spookiest places

Aradale Asylum, Ararat

Nurse Kerry watches over the women’s wing; there’s a banging sound coming from an isolation cell. It’s what you’d expect from a facility for the mentally ill – except that it closed in the 1990s. Many people died at this sprawling, 100ha place, built as a self-sustaining village in the 1860s and originally called Ararat Lunatic Asylum.

For details of spine-tingling ghost tours, visit eerietours.com.au. RACV members receive 10% off all Eerie Tours as part of the Show Your Card & Save program.

 

Old Melbourne Gaol

Despite being the site of Ned Kelly’s hanging, the bushranger’s ghost does not haunt this bluestone building, used as a gaol from 1842 to 1929. But it’s said that some of the other 132 people who were executed here, including Elizabeth Scott (the first woman hanged in Victoria), can still be heard crying out in the night. Listen for Scott’s disembodied voice during a night tour; for details, visit oldmelbournegaol.com.au/night-tours.

RACV members save on general admission tickets to Old Melbourne Gaol. See tickets.racv.com.au for more information.

Beechworth Asylum

Originally called Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, it was scarily easy to be admitted to this foreboding institution – only two signatures were required – but much harder to get out. Many patients died there during its 128 years of operation, including a woman who was thrown to her death from a third-storey window. Visitors say her ghost – along with others, such as the kindly Matron Sharpe – haunts the asylum, which closed in 1995.

For details of tours and only-for-the-brave overnight stays, visit asylumghosttours.com

Geelong Gaol

The old Geelong Gaol housed murderers and other hardened prisoners from 1853 to 1991 – and, with reports of unexplainable cries, sudden temperature fluctuations and swirling mists, some say they’re still there.

Even if you don’t see the ghosts of inmates, you’ll be haunted by their stories during a tour.

For details, visit twistedhistory.net.au

Craig’s Royal Hotel, Ballarat

The former owner of this 1850s building, Walter Craig, told friends he’d dreamt his horse Nimblefoot won the 1870 Melbourne Cup but that the jockey was wearing a black armband. Craig died before the race but, as he’d predicted, Nimblefoot won, with the jockey wearing a black armband in Craig’s honour.

If that’s not spooky enough, visit the hotel and watch out for a man in Victorian dress – it’s the ghost of Walter Craig.
 

Princess Theatre, Melbourne

In 1888, opera singer Frederick Federici died off-stage just after performing his last lines in Faust – yet his co-stars, un­aware of his death, swore he was on stage taking his final bows with them.

To this day, theatre staff report seeing him; perhaps he’s hoping for a role in The Phantom of the Opera. The bar at the theatre is named for him.

Written by Luna Soo, Photos Anne Morley, Peter Weaving and Alamy
June 01, 2016