Fancy yourself to be a bit of a ghost hunter? Regional Victoria is home to a range of spooky sites, where ghostly apparitions and paranormal personalities linger on, long after their time on earth has passed.
The state's most haunted buildings tend to be sites with a tragic past. Explore abandoned asylums and ghostly gaols, haunted by former prisoners and patients. Take a walk through creepy cemeteries, dating back to the 1850s. Spend a night in a haunted hotel, and explore historic mining towns, once bustling epicentres of the Victorian gold rush era, now almost-ghost towns in more ways than one.
Some sites are only available to the public via organised tours. A visit during late-autumn or on a chilly-winter's day (or night!) will certainly help set a more macabre mood.
Ghostly gaols and abandoned asylums
Operating until 1998, Aradale Lunatic Asylum is Australia's biggest abandoned mental institution. 13,000 patients and staff are said to have died over its 140 year history, some whom are reported to have never left the site. Today, tours are available within the historic buildings of the asylum. Thrill seekers can tour the J Ward, where the criminally insane were housed in often horrific conditions.
Formerly known as the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, the decommissioned Beechworth Asylum is reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in Australia. Founded in 1867 and closing its doors as recently as 1995, thousands of patients are thought to have perished within its walls. The ghosts of past patients, a male doctor and a kind matron have been spotted haunting its halls. The building can only be accessed through guided tours, with occasional overnight events.
The asylum isn't Beechworth's only supernatural site. Old Beechworth Gaol was open and operating from 1864 to as recently as 2004. It played a significant role in the chain of events leading to Ned Kelly's execution, housing not only the famous bushranger, but his mother Ellen, brother Dan and the rest of the Kelly clan, shortly after their famous showdown. Jump on a guided tour to learn more about the building's history and the colourful characters imprisoned within its walls.
The notorious Geelong Gaol closed its doors to visitors in 1991, reopening as a museum shortly after. Scores of both prisoners and staff lost their lives during its years of operation, and a total of six executions were held onsite. Those who visit the gaol for ghost tours and paranormal investigations have reportedly heard strange noises and experienced 'odd' vibes.
Built as the Criterion Hotel in 1861, Dunolly's Railway Hotel is said to be haunted by the spirit of an old lady. Sit on a bed in the upper level and you may feel a paranormal push as she shoves you aside to get to the window.
The Royal Hotel was one of Seymour's first buildings, dating back to the late 1840s. With a colourful history including a tenure as a morgue, rumours of supernatural spectres have haunted the hotel for decades.
It's not only restless human souls possessing some of these sites. The picturesque Kangaroo Hotel in the historic goldfields town of Maldon is said to be haunted by the spirits of ten horses, who perished in a tragic stable fire in the 1870s.
Fortuna Villa in Bendigo was built in 1855 during the gold rush and used primarily in later times by the Australian Army. It's reportedly the sight of many strange sounds and spooky spectres, one of which is believed to be the ghost of George Lansell, a founder of Bendigo. The mansion now functions as an events space and hosts regular High Teas.
Victorian ghost towns
Almost-ghost towns are scattered around regional Victoria, remnants of the state's gold rush era. Thriving hubs in their heyday, most are now home to a small number of residents and a good spooky story or two.
The historic goldmining town of Steiglitz is around an hour's drive from Melbourne, on the way to Geelong. Housing 1500 residents at its peak, a small handful remain today. Steiglitz Historic Park can be explored during the day or at night, either self-guided or as part of a tour.
Linton is a former mining town located 33 kilometres from Ballarat, home to a few hundred residents. Visit to cycle along the Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail, go for a bushwalk or explore the local cemetery. Graves date back to the 1860s and the site contains a large Chinese burial section, the final resting place of miners who travelled to this region of the world, pursuing dreams of wealth and fortune.
A fifteen minute drive from the regional hub of Castlemaine, Fryrestown was a boom town in its own right, with a population of more than 15,000 people during the gold rush era. The site is full of beautiful examples of late 1800s architecture, such as the Court House and Mechanic's Institute. Remaining structures include church buildings, mine ruins and the local cemetery.
Travel through Gippsland to visit Walhalla, which has a population of around 20 permanent residents. The town is known for its historic and well-preserved buildings, beautiful autumn foliage and spring blooms, and its sprawling old cemetery, the only one in Australia to have been placed on the side of a hill.
Some 1100 people are buried in these grounds, with graves dating back to the 1870s. Watch out for the cursed grave of James Mitchell, bearing the description: "Oh let my sudden doom a warning be to all. Here while thou bendeth over my tomb, thou may quickly fall". Discover more about Walhalla's spooky history by jumping on a local ghost tour, held on Saturday nights.
The mystery of Hanging Rock
Located less than an hour from Melbourne is the famed Hanging Rock. The eroded remains of an extinct volcano, the rock is best known as the setting for the novel and subsequent movie and TV series, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock. There has long been speculation that the fictional novel was based in fact, with author Joan Lindsay reportedly inspired by the disappearances of local women in the 1800s.
The ancient volcano is an important site, both culturally and spiritually, for the region's indigenous peoples, used for sacred ceremonies and initiations.
The area is open daily for hikes and picnics (if you dare) and hosts occasional large-scale events. Visitors have claimed that watches and electronic devices malfunction on approaching Hanging Rock, further fuelling the mystery and intrigue surrounding the area.
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