As Mei and I drove along the maze of streets in Mt Claremont it wasn’t long before we lost all sense of direction and found ourselves going around in circles. Instead of becoming frustrated we chose to laugh it off and finally approached Heritage Lane feeling light-hearted and cheery and eager to see the building that played a big part in the life of my Great Great Grandmother, Matilda Maria Hurst.
Through my research I’d seen many photos of the Claremont Hospital for the Insane so I had some indication of what to expect. As we drove up the hill we kept our eyes peeled for the heritage building. Coming close to the end of the Lane, Mei slowed the car and we both looked at the building to the left of us. Despite having seen photos of what the administration building looked like, seeing it in reality was somehow different. For several seconds we simply stared and wondered if this was it. Thinking back, why we even questioned it is laughable. A big sign out the front located on the grassed area of the roundabout indicated that redevelopment of the heritage site was full of wonderful opportunities.
Once the car was parked in the driveway, we sat for a few moments and looked at a well proportioned building with a balcony and archway over the entrance. Boards covered the windows and both they and the building itself were scrawled with graffiti tags; a testament to the time it has stood empty. Our cheery moods vanished and we were both immediately struck with hesitation. I had come prepared with my camera but at that moment, neither of us wanted to get out of the car. I don’t often get weird vibes from buildings but as I sat and looked at the administration building, I felt terribly uncomfortable. Even now when I think of it, shivers run up and down my spine.
Given the history, I’m sure our reaction was understandable. Built in the early 1900s in response to massive criticism against the Fremantle Mental Asylum, it’s purpose was to be a new and improved home for the mentally ill. It opened its doors in August 1903 and from 1905 to 1909, patients were transferred from Fremantle Asylum to the Claremont Hospital for the Insane. It remained in use for over 80 years until its closure in 1987.
Since then it has stood empty. All the old male and female wards have been demolished and all that remains today is the administration building at the front, the male and female nurses’ quarters (to the left and right), Montgomery Hall (at the back) which was the old dining and performance hall and the kitchen and stores (in the middle). The below aerial photograph printed in the Sunday Times in 1922 illustrates the layout of the hospital grounds. Though it’s not the easiest to make out, the administration buildings are in the middle with the male and female wards fanning out on either side.
Despite our trepidation and the creepy feeling we got just from looking at the building, we didn’t sit in the car forever; I had to get some photos. Luckily for me (I suppose because of the redevelopment) most of the fencing which I’d seen surrounding the entire complex in other peoples’ photos had been removed and we were able to walk around the entire perimeter.
A quick search on the internet brings up forums and comments where adventurous people have posted about their experiences after managing to get inside to have a look. It is a place associated with much pain and suffering and because of this, it also tends to draw ghost hunters. Naturally, quite a few people believe the building is haunted. I’m not too sure what I believe without having gone inside. From the outside we saw nothing untoward; all we experienced was an overwhelming intuitive feeling and to be honest, that was enough for me.
To see some photos of the inside of the Claremont Hospital for the Insane, please visit the site 6000Times (http://www.6000times.com/2010/01/swanbourne-abandoned-mental-crazy.html).
With bad weather thwarting our original plans to draw, thanks must go out to Mei who suggested checking out the asylum and then very kindly drove me there. Share the love and visit her blog! http://libertineeats.com/
1922 ‘ALOFT WITH WESTRALIAN AIRWAYS.’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 26 February, p. 9, viewed 8 October, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58026596
State Library of Western Australia (http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au/dead_reckoning/government_archival_records/k-o/mental_health_patients).
Thanks again to Dr Philippa Martyr for answering my questions and providing me with information about the current buildings.