This post isn’t sponsored, or in any way affiliated with anything. It was just a really good experience that I wanted to write down.
What’s left of Pentridge Prison is a strange place.
If you don’t know, Pentridge was one of Australia’s biggest gaols. It closed in 1997 and was sold off to developers. For a while, I imagine, it just sat. Huge and looming and blue-stone grey, taking up a huge pocket of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, bleeding its violent oppressive vibes into the atmosphere.
After a while, life began to seep into it again. A small suburb began to rise there, where cells and sheds and big solid buildings stood before. You can walk around the streets of the Pentridge housing development. It looks and feels like a normal suburb would. Flowers grow in gardens. Lawns get that scruffy “I’ll mow next weekend” look to them. Children’s bikes sit in driveways. Noise tinkles from people’s houses and apartments.
The developers, to their credit, didn’t bulldoze the old structure into the ground. A lot of what was there is still there. Occasionally you’ll see a forbidding stone archway, a blue-stone wall. A guard tower left standing.
The buildings of B, D and F Division are still whole, both their exterior and interiors. But they are slowly being swallowed up by the surrounding development. You have to search to find them. You need to know they are there. The options for urban exploring are minimal- breaking into a prison involves much more than kicking in a weak, rotting wooden door.
D Division has been cleaned out and gentrified, and is now an events venue. All the original staircases, guard offices, even the outdoor exercise yard remain exactly as they were. It’s just that you can party in them now; hold bachelor parties or wedding receptions within the multi-level building.
They also run late-night ghost tours in D Division. The Most Amazing Man bought two tickets for us for my birthday and, faced with a chronic lack of babysitting options, we only managed to take advantage of those tickets very recently.
It was well worth the effort. D Division is scary. Terrifying, actually. The whole building is laced with a tough coldness that settles on your skin and creeps icy fingers up your back.
The inside of the building looks just like you imagine the inside of prison built early last century would look. There are three floors. The walls of each floor are lined with cells, both to the left and right.
One of the few photos we were able to take.
Each tiny cell housed two full-grown men. Each has a wooden door with a peep hole and a food slot in it. Floors Two and Three are not really whole floors, more corridors that stretch along the walls. It’s like the inside of a shopping centre- from the top floors you can see right down to the bottom.
The bottom floor in the middle of the building leads out to the exercise yard on one side. On the other side, the hallway passes the floor-to-ceiling bars with a gate cut in the middle, and past a huge kitchen. A large door opens onto an outdoor courtyard. The courtyard is gravel on dirt, with scabby weeds at the edges. It was once an unofficial cemetery- a dozen or so bodies of hanged prisoners were buried there in unmarked graves. One of them was the headless corpse of Ned Kelly.
The bodies are gone now. It still feels like a graveyard.
The tour itself was interesting enough. The actual amount of ghost stories recounted were minimal- the tour guide focused more on the lives of various prisoners than their afterlife activity.
There’s a hangman’s noose in the middle of the second floor. I see it before we get to it- I spot it from the first floor. So I’m prepared for it.
It still makes my knees go weak. It still comes with a slew of horrible memories.
On this tour there’s a group of young guys, maybe eighteen or twenty years old. The more scared they are, the more bravado they pump across and the more irritating they become. By this stage they’re assessing the noose and talking about swaying bodies and involuntary excrement and I feel myself shudder. I step back from the group and lean myself against my Amazing Man. I take deep breaths and remind myself that this is probably good for me. This is desensitising and that’s helpful, even if unpleasant.
For nearly fifteen minutes we stand in front of that damn noose and listen to stories of people hung. It’s okay. It’s okay and I do it and when it’s over, I’m proud of myself.
Besides, the next bit is where the fun starts. The final half hour of the tour is reserved for photography and general wandering. We can go where ever we like in D Division. We have free run of the building. It’s easier to feel that eeriness without a large group of people surrounding you.
Left to our own devices, we wander to the third floor. Most of the cells are open and the creepiness intensifies as we step into them. Some of them feel cold and empty… just rooms.
Other cells feel different. They zing with energy and feel full of things that we can’t see. Some of the cells smell of cold and stone. Some of them- sixteen years after the last inmates have left- still smell of heavy sweat and blood and men living in close quarters.
We plan to take heaps of photos. And we would have… except our camera stops working, for no discernible reason. No matter how much we fiddle with settings and focus, it will only take sporadic, occasional pictures. We can see through the viewfinder just fine. But clicking the shutter button results in nothing but a whiny, whirring sound of the camera attempting to focus and being unable to.
I step into one cell and hear a furtive tapping. Tap, tap, tap, tap. It sounds like it’s coming from inside the wall, not behind it. And I’m the only one here.
It’s the exercise yard that holds the worst of the vibes. Standing under the stars, looking at the twenty foot high blue stone walls topped with menacing, brutal coils of razor wire. The showers and toilets are still here, the metal tables and chairs still bolted to the ground. The Most Amazing Man and I stand alone in hushed silence in the middle of the tiny concrete yard. But it doesn’t feel like we’re alone.
Having given up on the bulky digital camera, The Most Amazing Man has begun taking photos on his phone. It’s in the exercise yard that the phone camera stops working too. We both watch as the flash lights up the yard and the fence that borders it. But the photos come up pitch black. Later on, at home, we play with the exposure and the colours. There’s nothing there– not even the faintest trace of the photo that we’d taken.
As we’re soaking up the atmosphere of the exercise yard, discussing the bizarreness of that phenomenon, the flash on the phone turns on and stays on for ten seconds or so, again with no good reason.
That’s enough of this for now, most definitely. As we leave, the Most Amazing Man tries to take one more photo on his phone, from outside the exercise yard looking in. This time it works. It’s not until later that we notice what appears to be ghost faces suspended in a funny yellow light. (Pareidolia not withstanding, of course).
Zoom in, on the right, for creepy faces.
After that experience, it feels as though it’s time to leave. It feels as though the dark, bloody, violent vibes of the prison are nipping at our heels, pressing on our lower backs. Telling us to go, and quickly. So we leave, slightly terrified and feeling slightly ridiculous for being so terrified. Everything in our rational adult minds tells us not to be silly. Every instinctual vibe we have tells us otherwise.
I am still not sure if I believe in ghosts. But I believe in residual energy.
And Pentridge Prison is a very, very strange place.