A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
13 February 2013
On the outskirts of Melbourne, the former Larundel Mental Asylum casts a sombre shadow over the surrounding housing developments. Only a few buildings remain out of a complex which once housed hundreds of patients; and with a whole repertoire of supernatural reports attached to the site, these last, gloomy wards are a popular destination for both urban explorers and paranormal investigators alike.
Larundel Mental Asylum
The last remains of the Larundel Mental Asylum currently await demolition, amidst plans for a new plot of residential developments. It was once a thriving facility however, and at its peak was able to accommodate as many as 750 patients.
The initial foundations for the Larundel Hospital were laid in 1938, but the outbreak of WWII placed all plans on hold. Over the next five years the half-finished site would be put to a number of different uses; it served as a hospital for the RAAF and US military, as well as providing a training depot for WAAF operations. During the post-war years of 1946-48, the buildings were used as temporary emergency housing.
It wasn’t until 15 years after construction began, that Larundel Asylum began admitting its first psychiatric patients in 1953. This particular site was closely tied with other contemporary facilities in the city of Melbourne; namely the Mont Park Asylum, and the Plenty Valley Repatriation Psychiatric Hospital. I investigated both of these sites, but sadly they are no more; the remains of the Mont Park Asylum have been turned into student housing for La Trobe University, while the Plenty Valley Repatriation Psychiatric Hospital is now an art gallery.
During its heyday, Larundel dealt with patients including those suffering from acute psychiatric, psychotic and schizophrenic disorders. As pharmaceutical treatments began to replace traditional, institutional care for psychiatric patients in the late 1990s, the Larundel Mental Asylum was one of the many Victoria mental hospitals to be closed down.
In the 15 years since closure, 550 new dwellings have sprung up in the former grounds of the asylum. A cluster of the old wards still remain, however – clinging onto memories as their final demise draws inevitably closer.
Into the Asylum
I visited this site along with a fellow travelling photographer, who I had met online. Getting inside the Larundel Asylum was easy enough – the site lies just off a main road, tucked into the corner of a residential estate. We made our way first towards the main building. From a distance, every ground floor door and window appeared to have been sealed with metal plating. Soon enough however, we spotted a bent corner on the barrier over a side door to the asylum. Waiting for a passing car to disappear out of sight, we made a dash for it, scrambling through the gap and into the stale space beyond.
The small chamber was bare, other than a flight of stairs leading up to a higher level. The first thing to strike me was the amount of traffic this site apparently received; there were beer bottles and plastic bags strewn across the floor, while every conceivable surface had been tagged in graffiti scrawls. The effect was like the aftermath of an explosion in a paint factory.
Reaching the first floor we passed through a series of dilapidated rooms, before finding ourselves in a long corridor that seemed to connect the length of the building. The asylum had seriously deteriorated over its years of disuse, and parts of the ceiling hung low enough to brush against the soiled carpets. Watching my step carefully, I took a turn-off to investigate a long balcony that extended across the back of the building.
From here it was possible to gaze out across the other buildings which constituted the site of the former hospital, and the parkland beyond them. Here are there, I was able to spot gangs of youths and the occasional dog walker – I didn’t linger here though, in case they in turn had seen me.
Back in the maze of first floor corridors, I came across a wooden cabinet laying in the middle of the passage, and trailing a long electrical cable; beneath it hid the petrified body of a large bat.
The main building of the Larundel Mental Asylum was constructed around a central courtyard, with a raised walkway running from one side to the other. The courtyard itself was heavily overgrown, its undergrowth rustling occasionally with the movement of birds, mammals or perhaps even marsupials.
I met with my fellow explorer again on the far side of the building – we had taken different routes as we scouted around the corridors which flanked the central courtyard. Here on the corner several passages fed into one large hall. An entire section of graffitied wall had fallen away, allowing a cascade of bright sunshine into the room. The juxtaposition of green treetops against these dim, musty corridors made for a striking contrast.
For the most part, the Larundel Asylum had been entirely stripped of its furnishings: nothing remained to even hint at its former use as a psychiatric facility. A few room contained upturned bookcases or wardrobes, whilst another held the rusted remains of a boiler.
Then we found the bathroom.
Most of the graffiti around the site did little to benefit the atmosphere – the asylum serving rather as a blank canvas for would-be artists to let off steam. Here though, the painted images and words created a startling effect. High above the earth-filled bathtub, the words “Help me” were daubed in red paint; to one side, what appeared to be a figure in a straightjacket was wrapped in the embrace of some kind of demon. Even the mess of tags and scribbles that filled the other walls seemed to add to the general malaise of chaos and insanity.
“Jump in me,” invited a laundry chute on the next corridor. I declined, after peering inside the vent and shining a torch towards the basement level two floors beneath.
We headed down to the ground floor next by way of a large double stair. This opened onto a concrete path, cutting from one side of the courtyard to the other. Careful to avoid the dense undergrowth and its mystery inhabitants, we made back towards our initial point of entry; this time to make the same circuit at ground level.
In the corner of the building we found a large foyer area, where a capsized vending machine had been beaten apart to expose its cargo of decade-old soft drinks. One door led off to a side chamber, open to the sky, an entrancing mural of two lifelike eyes painted onto its far wall.
From here a corridor led off to the right, following the circumference of the building in a counter-clockwise manner. Various cells in this section featured just a narrow observation window at the top of the door.
The decay here was the worst we had yet seen. A fire had left walls and ceilings blackened, while molten light fittings hung from the ceilings like the dirty fruit of some dark, blasphemous tree. In some parts of the corridor, the fire had burnt through the carpet and the wooden floorboards beneath; exposing blackened beams and basements. I took a look through one of the larger holes. Tempted as I was to climb down and investigate, there seemed to be no easy way back out.
By the time we made it back out of the main asylum building, it was already dark. We crossed the road by streetlight, and headed towards the next.
Exploring the Compound
In the increasing darkness, it was almost hard to tell which buildings were part of the hospital complex – and which constituted the surrounding residences. It’s strange to see a sprawling abandoned site in such harmony with its surroundings. Joggers and dog walkers follow the paths formerly reserved for patients, while the buildings themselves have become play areas for daredevil youths from the estate.
Our second building stood next to a smart suburban bungalow, and so we had to be discrete as we slipped in through the open door at the side. Something stirred as we passed under the lintel. A lithe, furry creature leapt from a first floor windowsill, disappearing inside the building. Its eyes caught the light as it moved, and in any other place I would have said it was a small cat. Here though, it could just as easily have been a possum.
We soon discovered that this second, smaller building was not as exciting as the first. The vandalism was more severe, and the first floor hall we soon found ourselves in was almost completely obscured beneath broken fragments of its own ceiling. A large stairwell descended on the opposite side, where a floor-to-ceiling art deco window opened onto the purple sky beyond. While the top of the window remained intact, every pane of glass within reach of the stairs had been smashed; their remains jutted out from the frame like broken teeth in a square mouth.
The third building proved more interesting. We had to pass a wilted perimeter fence to reach this long, one-storey structure – although the site was so easily accessible, that by now it was hard to tell whether we were entering or leaving the restricted area. Here we split up, and took different routes through the building. The entrance to the main foyer was covered with a thick wire mesh; scouting along the veranda though, I soon found access through the broken wooden panels of a back door.
This building seemed to have served as an administrative centre for Larundel Mental Asylum. A series of office-sized rooms were clustered around the first hallway, in one of which I discovered a rusted old safe. After this came a large hall divided into wooden booths. These had originally been screened with a row of curtains, but now the pole itself lay trailing cloth on the dusty carpet.
It was here that I found my first venomous spider, building its web across the gap between two wooden pillars. The Australian black house spider isn’t considered particularly dangerous… but it’s a giant compared to the majority of spiders back home in England. Supposedly its bite is liable to be “excruciatingly painful and cause local swelling,” while possible symptoms include “nausea, vomiting, sweating and giddiness”. I decided to give it a wide berth.
I ran into my accomplice in the room next door, where a lone chair stood sentry over the junction between two corridors. We returned around the other side of the building, past a boiler room and out into the night. Stepping over the trailing security fence we headed back to the main road, and waited for a tram to the city.
The Ghosts of Larundel Asylum
At the time of my visit to the Larundel Mental Asylum, I was naïve to many of the stories attached to it. It was only when I later researched the history of the site, that I began stumbling across mentions of the asylum at Bundoora, scattered across a range of websites dedicated to ghosts and paranormal investigation. In the fifteen years or so since the asylum closed its doors, it seems that many visitors have reported strange phenomena inside this increasingly dilapidated building. The most common accounts refer to loud crashes and banging sounds coming through the walls, as well as strange smells and even the sound of children or babies crying.
The Larundel complex certainly is a noisy place. Situated on the edge of a park, the buildings are often hit by strong gusts of wind. The metal sheets riveted over every ground floor window and door have a habit of rattling and groaning – often with unsettling results. There were numerous moments during my exploration of the asylum, that I almost became convinced we were not alone in the building. The voices and occasional laughter from passing pedestrians have a habit of getting caught inside the walls, their echoes bouncing down the still corridors. My concerns, however, were primarily related to getting caught inside; the possibility of a supernatural presence didn’t even cross my mind.
Much of the graffiti around the asylum seems to be aimed at perpetuating this sense of paranormal unease. Phrases like, “save yourselves” or “I can hear them through the walls” appear everywhere, usually painted in neat, joined-up handwriting.
The most prevailing myth linked to Melbourne’s Larundel Asylum however, tells the story of a young girl who died on the third floor. This girl used to play with a music box, so the story goes, and apparently now you can sometimes hear it playing in the asylum at night. I even found a Youtube video which seems to have captured the thin strains of distant music within the Larundel Mental Asylum.
I always appreciate a good story, and would be the first in line for an up-close experience of the supernatural kind… but I feel my own sentiments can be summed up with a quote from the urban explorer, Ninjalicious:
“I’m not suggesting that you actively refuse to believe in anything supernatural, merely that you take an agnostic approach and don’t believe it ’til you see it. There’s no real down side to doing this, since ghosts, unlike gods, aren’t known for punishing people for their lack of faith.”