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  • Writer's pictureJack Ward

Book explores Aradale’s rise to global recognition

Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's local weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.

The Aradale Lunatic Asylum has long been a prominent fixture in the Ararat landscape and a new book will explore why the historic landmark has become known globally as ‘Australia’s most haunted building.’

David Waldron is a historian and anthropologist based at Federation University in Ballarat with a keen interest in folklore. He has joined forces with psychologist Sharn Waldron and Eerie Tours manager Nathaniel Buchanan, to write Aradale: The Making of a Haunted Asylum.

It is the first book to be professionally published that focuses on Ararat’s asylum which will be available in bookshops across the country next month.

This is Mr Waldron’s fifth book, having looked at the legacy of the witch trials in Britain, black dog legends, Victoria’s big cat legends and dark elements of the gold rush in past titles.

Aradale: The Making of a Haunted Asylum was born several years ago when Mr Waldron was looking at the site and the sheer enormity of the stories it was home to.

“It is something you find people talking about in the United States, Britain and all over the world. I was finding parallels in my research in Britain and that sort of led me to think, I need to do something about this history,” he said.

“I then began looking for additional expertise to supplement areas I didn't have specific training in such as psychology, and the ins and outs of constructing an industry based on dark tourism.”

He wanted to know why the place has become perceived as haunted in the public imagination, why it has now become recognised globally and what forces have come together to create that kind of public impression.

“It's a really unique site, there's a really unique tension. The model I use for this is research by Dr. Kelly George in the United States on Pennhurst Asylum, which has a very similar history and structure,” he said.

“In her case, and the same in Ararat, you have a problem where you have institutions being the centre of the community’s economy, culture and daily life.”

“Often very personal stories get turned into a way of generating money through tourism and it creates a really unique kind of tension.”

PHOTO: Supplied (Ararat Advocate)

He said the site has become a focal point of tensions for how people perceive, think and deal with mental illness.

Mr Waldron says he is not interested in ghosts and whether people believe in them. He is interested in the way in which those stories serve a role in helping people come to terms with traumatic histories, influenced by pop culture and consumerism.

“My hope of producing a book like this is that it will generate interest, but in particular, generate discourse,” he said.

“We've got a unique site there which gives you 130 years of history of Australian psychiatry. That's international level… a site that deserves more attention and public discourse.”

Aradale: The Making of a Haunted Asylum will be available in bookshops and online at from July 1.

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