Butcher’s Block

Butcher's Block
Butcher’s Block

Butcher’s Block is one of 24 images in the Aradale Folio. The Butcher’s block is in the kitchen area of Aradale. Aradale is an abandoned town on a hill above Ararat in the Victorian countryside. It was a mental asylum for 130 years and although not correctly a town it was designed to be self-sustaining. It housed 1000 patients and 500 staff in a 100 hectare complex of 18 wards plus workshops, gardens, hospital and morgue and a chapel; 63 buildings in all. In 1860 the Government of the day decided to construct three sister asylums across Victoria to accommodate ‘lunatics’.

Aradale was one and conveniently Ararat was 200 kilometres from Melbourne, a distance in 1860 that would put the asylum and the lunatics out of the way.

Anyone, any age, male or female, that had a mental illness or deemed not to be ‘normal’ through a condition such as epilepsy, autism, downs syndrome or a simple learning disability could end up at Aradale. Some admitted by relatives. Aradale would probably be the only home they were to know.

Criminally insane were housed in J Ward, 2 kilometres away. One account tells of Bill Wallace, a suspected murderer, who spent 57 years at J Ward and 7 years at Aradale. He was never tried or convicted of murdering his friend over an argument about a cigarette in King Street, Melbourne but declared insane by two Doctors in 1925 and held at the Governor’s pleasure for 64 years. Bill died at Aradale in 1989, aged 107.

Aradale Mental Hospital or Aradale Lunatic Asylum as it was originally known, when it opened in 1867, housed tens of thousands of patients over its operational life. J Ward was acquired by the Lunacy Department in 1886 and became a maximum security ward. J Ward was closed in 1991 and some patients were moved to the Ararat Forensic Psychiatry Centre at Aradale. It was the only remaining ward at Aradale and in 1997 the remaining patients in that ward were eventually transferred to the Thomas Embling Hospital in Fairfield, a suburb of Melbourne, and in contrast to Aradale, only about 6 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne. Aradale’s time as a mental hospital had ended.

In 2001 the Victorian Government provided funds to the Northern Melbourne Institute of Technical and Further Education to establish a campus of the Australian College of Wine on the site. 30 hectares of vines and 10 hectares of olives were planted and an olive pressing facility established.

I visited Aradale in November 2011 and walking through the complex was one of the most eerie experiences I’ve had. Outside, leaves blowing around buildings in eddies; the old exercise yard in silence and a mysterious hand print on a window echoed the hopelessness that patients must have felt. The hospital was notorious for the treatment of patients, probably considered modern methods in the day but now viewed as torturous. Inside the buildings’ doors were a-jar and curtains gently moving as though someone had just left the room or were perhaps eavesdropping just outside. Rooms such as the long room left me wondering what it was used for and the bedroom with its wooden slab bed thinking about the comfort of the patients. A cross on an archway leading to the chapel emphasised useless efforts to help the patients.

I wonder if our concern for the mentally ill has really changed since the days of Aradale.

See more images here: Portfolio

Camera NIKON D700
Lens AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
ISO 5000
Focal Length 16.0 mm (16.0 mm in 35mm)
Aperture f/8
Exposure Time 1/15 Seconds
 Date Taken  2011-11-20 at 12:00 noon

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