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.”
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.”
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.