That’s Love.

by Lori Dwyer on April 18, 2013 · 5 comments

When I was quite little, maybe six or seven years old, I remember telling my mum, in the way kids do, that when I grew up I was going to marry my best mate. Her name was Danielle.

“No…” Said my mum “Girls can only marry boys, and boys can only marry girls”.

She said it sadly, not with any belief– my mums the most loving, accepting woman you could meet– but just because it was truth. This was the mid-eighties and gay marriage wasn’t even a phrase in our language.

Having an almost identical conversation with my own kids a month or so ago (“When the Bump grows up, she will marry Princess Boofhead!”), it was with happy introspect that I found myself saying… nothing at all.

The New Zealand Parliment legalized gay marriage yesterday, and the people in the gallery, they sang.

It gives me hope. Australia can’t be too far behind, surely. And that makes me endlessly happy– to be able to believe my children will grow up in the kind of world I want for them.

Where love isn’t legislated against. And they can marry whoever they damn well please.


The Asylum, Part Two.

by Lori Dwyer on April 12, 2013 · 3 comments

Continued from yesterday….

2013-02-23 14.34.37-1

Stepping gingerly over broken glass and splintered wood, I’m silently wishing for my Doc boots and my camera, both back in my car in Sydney. 

Everywhere are huge communal rooms with massive sunlit windows. And bathrooms- so many bathrooms. “Is that what they are…?” asks The Most Amazing Man, “Bathroom stalls? Why do they have windows… oh.”

Every bathroom in this place has a viewing window. Even the tiny toilet stalls have empty holes where glass in the doors once was. There is no privacy for the insane, and one of the more gothic tableauxs seems to pay homage to that very ideal. A small, walled off tiled white room; a bath sat solid centre, moored to the stretched concrete foundations of the floor, impermeable to vandalism, though it’s certainly been tried and tested. It’s the bathroom of any old creepy hospital… until you notice the viewing window, cut into the wall. A hole, really with nothing there at all.. it seems to speak volumes for the people who really were here, once. (Again, its that image of an overflowing bath tub filled with water swirled and tainted, colored by blood, dark hair and white skin… I don’t know where it came from, some movie watched long ago, a bad pop film clip… I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and it scares me because I think the girl in the water might sometimes be me.)


We come across rooms, private hospital rooms, again with large sunny windows and high ceilings. Most of them are empty except for the accidental litter of falling down cornices and plaster peeling off ceilings. I kick open the door to one room, indistinguishable from the others we have passed (an ingrained habit I seem to have picked up when exploring, opening the door without being too close to it) and I make a strange sound in the back of my throat. My whole body involuntarily shudders and I walk away, quickly away, my surroundings rolling around me like technicolor film for a moment while my mind adjusts, filters truth from trauma. There was an (orange rope) electrical cord hanging from the roof of that room and my eyes followed it down, every inch of it squirming against my optic nerve, until it stopped a few inches from the floor and the apprehensive screaming souls in my subconscious were convinced that there was no body hanging on the end of it, it was just a piece of orange cord and nothing more suspicious that that.

“What..?” His voice trails off and The Most Amazing Man In The Universe is hugging me, holding me from behind.

“I’m okay” I say, and I am, maybe.

“I know,” he replies, his voice and filled with the very best attempt to understand. “I wanted to hug you anyway.”

And I fold into him for a moment, taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing and wrapping a tiny silicon bubble over a moment of being okay, being taken care of, being understood… it’s enough to stop the tumbling, reeling rush in my head.

So we move on. More bathrooms, more common rooms, one which leads onto a massive, open concrete balcony. There are smaller rooms, patient’s rooms, they lead out to here as well; but their doors have remained somewhat respectfully closed and jammed- it’s only the last door in the row, the furthest away that’s open. It’s tucked into a room at the end of a long, straight hallway, tingling uncomfortable with two-dozen doorways leading off it. There are two or three strange rooms we stumble upon that are charcoal black, their roofs dipping as though the fire within created an enormous heat… but the fire brigade must respond to calls here with an alarming efficiency. The damage had not spread to other areas within the building. It looked, bizarrely, as though it has simply burnt the fuel from one room entirely and then folded and extinguished on itself.

The Asylum

We follow stairs and ramps up and down, never one hundred percent sure of where we are or where we will end up next. We find a few tiny crawl spaces, under stairs or tucked in brickwork around the buildings perimeter, and the thought that they may have been used for storing more than objects occurs to us both simultaneously  “I wonder who they locked in there…?” We both laugh, but almost reluctantly, because it feels as though there is more truth to that than you really want to think about in detail.

After becoming lost and disillusioned with the asylum’s horseshoe shape, the building seems to spit us down a short flight of stairs and back into the scrubby dry grass of its perimeter. We wander, discussing ghosts and hauntings and history. We overhear the group of teenagers again, one of the boy’s voices bouncing clear, staccatoed against the brick walls of the building. “I hate this place. I always have nightmares about it.”

The Most Amazing Man In The Universe and I look at each other and laugh- childish superstitions, a bad case of the heebie jeebies. While slightly eerie in its sunny stillness, there isn’t a lot of bad vibes here. At least, not until we find the short flight of stairs that lead us down to the first floor, the bottom floor of the hospital. This floor was constructed half sunken into the ground, and it’s dark here. Dark and damp, as if all the moisture the sun scared away from the upper floors is lurking in the corners and shadows, stagnant and eating things in muffled gulping crunches.

“It’s not nice in here,” My voice feels tiny, the statement I’ve made pitiful.

“No,” agrees the Most Amazing Man In The Universe. “Not nice at all. And the floor….”

“It’s not too bad…” But there is no light down here. I can’t see more than three feet of floor in front of me, and it feels spongy. The carpet feels rotten. We go forward three or four more steps and the hallway splinters into a rotted cavern. It feels bizarrely like one of those street paintings that are hellish optical illusions; as though I could walk straight over it without falling into the even deeper, darker cellar somewhere beneath us.


We turn, a reluctant retreat. Dodgy floors are bad floors, always. There’s another building behind this one. A single storey instead of two. A peaked roof of brown tiles. Chocolate brown, with white mosaic and trimmings, looking like an elongated gingerbread cottage. Hidden halfway along it is an access point, of course, a shutter rolled up and back as if it’s been attacked by a giant can opener. We slip under and in and it’s another set of huge, sunny rooms- common room, a kitchen, bedrooms coming off the sides.

The Most Amazing Man In The Universe and I are leaving, walking back to his car, when we’re approached by a man who looks every bit a Wowser– plaid shirt, glasses, a bum bag. He’s carrying a sheaf of printed pages, and as he approaches us we both think we’re in for some form of ‘This is private property’ lecture.

Pleasantly, we’re mistaken. It seems he’s exploring, too. He simply wants to know if we have any information that he doesn’t. Local rumor says the buildings are being knocked down, but this man tells us otherwise- there are plans to convert them into office buildings, historical oddities in contrast with the identical suburban streets and sleek, modern industrial area that borders them.

The Not-Wowser man tells us there is an example of another one of the buildings, just around the corner, that has been refurbished; and he’s right. It’s freshly painted, fenced, with a lawn of lush green grass running up to its front door. I can only imagine it must retain that sunny feeling- panes of window glass that have been fixed in the original window locations dazzle and glint in the early afternoon heat.

Its pretty, surely much better than demolition for buildings as sturdy as these, with brickwork that will last for years. But the fresh clean, repainted vibe of the new building is still… weird. Eerie. Like there’s some other-worldly, alien quality to the light.

Or perhaps I’m just not used to the angle of the Melbourne sunshine, the difference in atmosphere, that come with being one thousand kilometers closer the point of the Earth’s polarity.


Whichever. A quick Google tells us that not only was The Most Amazing Man In The Universe correct about this place’s original purpose as a lunatic asylum; there are (always) those who believe it’s quite haunted. Explorers report having exquisite nightmares following their visit, and as I read that fact out loud to the Amazing Man we both remember overhearing one of the teenage boys calling out that very sentiment to his friends that afternoon; and goosebumps dimple my flesh for a second.

There has been reports of a music box heard playing from the third and highest floor of the main building, especially in the middle of the night. A university that sits on property directly next door to the abandoned hospital has taken full credit for that phenomena-  their plan for scaring off potential vandals and trouble-makers undoubtedly worked (unfortunately for them, the rumour itself also probably attracted more ghost hunters to the buildings than ever before).

It’s the first building I’ve explored in Melbourne; the first building, in fact, that I’ve explored in months.

I sleep well, exhausted, wrapped up tight in the arms of the Most Amazing Man In The Universe.  Neither of us dream.



More photos on Flickr. Full photo credit to Neil (otherwise known as the Most Amazing Man In The Universe).


The Asylum

by Lori Dwyer on April 11, 2013 · 3 comments

“He looked up, and it seemed-this was crazy, but it seemed the door to the room the man had come out of was filled with the burning light of an Australian sundown, the hot light of an empty place where things no man had ever seen might live…
Tango-light, he thought. The kind of light that makes the dead get up out of their graves and tango. The kind of light-”
Room 1408, Stephen King.



I visit Melbourne once a month or so, and I love it more every time. It hurts to leave, and not just for missing the company I’ve been keeping. With the Most Amazing Man In The Universe as my tour guide, I get to view the city from the inside out, instead of the way I’ve gotten used- looking from the outside, in.

It feels, more and more so, the same way it did the first time I went there. Like I belong there, amongst trams and people and colour and life.

Melbourne is a city that speaks to my soul.

The Most Amazing Man In The Universe takes me on a drive to a place he declares to be “a long way out of the city”. As it turns out, it’s only forty kilometres away. In Sydney, you’d still be stuck in the middle of aging suburbia,  traffic lights and muddled streets and school zones and people cranky everywhere.

In Melbourne, drive forty k’s out and we’re engulfed in scrubby bushland, small stretched out towns dotted in between. Another ten or or fifteen minutes and we’d be at Kinglake. It’s the place where bushfire roared through just twelve months ago, taking the lives and homes of hundred of people. My Amazing Man has taken me here before; to the National Park with it’s eucalypts and their thick charcoaled trunks, bright green regrowth spilling from them. This place has a surreal, serous stillness; the sound of souls holding their breath.

Today our destination is small weekend market, the kind with stalls selling clothes and food, trinkets and books, earrings and necklaces. There are tarot readers and fortune tellers. A dreadlock hairdresser, a chai tent with cushions spread out on it’s floor and happy families spread across them taking refuge from the sun. The heat of the day is mixed with music, notes floating on soft breezes; the atmosphere is friendly and inclusive.

The Most Amazing Man In The Universe predicts that I will love it- and I do. He’s good at playing that guessing game he seems to know me inside out. We never get bored. If anything, we just run out of time to do all the things we have planned.

It’s The Most Amazing Man In The Universe who points out the massive, ramshackle building on the drive home from the market. This huge structure sits in the middle of roads so newly curbed and laid the asphalt shines and glares and make me squint. Further inspection says it’s not just the one building, but a cluster of them, in various states of falling apart and becoming overgrown. Directly behind this odd, lichen-infested grouping, just five hundred metres away, sits a new housing estate that is pristine and gleaming in the same fashion as the roads that snake through it.

The Asylum

I think it was a mental hospital, a lunatic asylum, says The Most Amazing Man; and I attempt to shrug that off without putting too much stock in it, without letting my mind infest the building in front of us with imaginary ghosts where none may be. Creepy old hospitals always seem to fall in to the category of ‘asylums’, whether they actually were or not– it’s a horror movie cliche that none of us can seem to shake.

A quick Google search later that evening tells me that The Most Amazing Man is, in fact, correct– this was a mental hospital, more than fifty years ago. And the deeper we venture in, the more apt and obvious that becomes.

This building stings of crazy.

The first building we see is little more than an emancipated shell of itself, gutted from the inside out with only the sturdiest of brickwork and chimneys remaining. The bricks look amazingly clean– it’s as if, when this new suburban environment was built around it, the old buildings were cleaned and scrubbed as well. Oddly, the different, flatter light and the dryer, less humid air in Melbourne contributes to the feeling that these buildings have been held in a dry, mummified suspension. The greenery that surrounds them is scrubbier and lazier than what I’m used to seeing, less intrusive– vines grow through windows as an exception, not a rule. Lichen and moss are almost non–existent, and where there is rotting timber it’s a dry, cracking quality rather than a damp, mulchy-crunchy wood sag.


It’s the largest building, the one most visible from the road, that is the most accessible. It feels weirdly like a public place- any sense of trespassing here is muted and dulled. It helps that this is obviously the place for local teenagers to practice their tribal social skills– walking in, we see five of them, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. There’s a pang to that (youth is so wasted on the young)– they are so oblivious to the outside world, the friendship between them currently more important than any family connection, their kinship more real than what most adults feel on any given day.

Finding a way into this foreboding adolescent playground is ridiculously easy– the front door is, of course, wide open, and leads into a small, filthy front room. The windows are non existent, even their jagged broken glass removed. The carpet is packed with dirt and leaf litter blown in from the unkempt, grassy garden outside; the floor is layered with bottles and cigarette packets and other miscellaneous rubbish. There are broken chairs and random pieces of splintered wood. It smells like piss and vomit and decay.

Abandoned buildings almost always follow the age-old pattern of lazy humanity. The areas most obvious and accessible are filled with junk, despair and lack of care; any trace of the lives that once lovingly or laboriously existed there trampled and desecrated by the apathy of future generations. The deeper you venture, the cleaner, less vandalized, more settled and aged your surroundings become.


We walk softly, inside and up a small set of concrete stairs that leave us on the first floor of the building, ten feet above the scrubby ground outside. The building is a odd squared-off horseshoe shape, a covered walkway crossing the span between the two long, three storey wings. The covered walkway has heavy mesh fences all the way up to its top, with solid metal netting spreading out each side in a curve. The same way you see over railway bridges.

To stop people throwing things- themselves included- from over the side barriers and potentially injuring those below them in the grassy courtyard.

Or breaking their own neck as the ground stunts their fall.

The building is lit with that odd Melbourne sunshine- a gloaming, bright, unfiltered yellow that makes things appear so much prettier than they might be elsewhere. It’s all relatively solid and bright exposed brickwork, muted pale yellows and creams. The graffiti is beautiful, so much of it art, the colour popping and breaking from the walls in a perfect contrast to the slowly decaying surroundings. It’s fresh and vibrant and creative and metallically lush over peeling walls, over over occasional charcoal and scorch marks from lazy winter fires.


We reach the top floor and the carpet beneath our feet is mostly intact; the floorboards beneath it amazingly solid. The teens we spotted earlier are ahead of us, two girls calling out to their male friends below. There’s a peaked, giggly squealing note to their voices that echo through the wide, silent halls. This place evidently gives them the creeps and they discuss that, how weird it feels in here. I whisper an urge to The Most Amazing Man In The Universe (“Lets sneak up behind them and scare them…”); then think better of it. The girls spot us as we walk past the vast open room they’re lounging in. It’s an indoor balcony, well lit with huge open brick windows in the side. As they see us they jump, just slightly, but they are brave and do not scream. We smile and say hello and they return the salutation, their voices low with some kind of relief- not only did these adults not take advantage of their almost terrified, overly hormonal emotional states, but also treated them as if they had the same right to be here as we did.

Which was, of course, none at all. And at the same time, as citizens of the universe… every right in the world.

The Amazing Man and I skew off to explore the room across from where the girls are sitting. It’s a communal area, the same huge windows lighting the building with sun and keeping the damp and mildew away, slightly desolate in it’s layer of filth and scrawled graffiti and the junk and clutter of squatter survival. When we return to the main hall, the teens are still in their alcove and have been joined by their boyfriends, who give us shy smiles. They are sharing a two litre tub of Peter’s vanilla ice cream and the sweet unassuming childlike quality of that makes me smile.


This building is huge, high ceilings and wide twisting hallways. We can hear the teens on and off as we make our around wards and wings, kitchens and bathrooms. They are laughing, talking, shrieking. At one point we are in a corner room when I hear The Most Amazing Man In The Universe gasp just slightly… for a moment he’s seen a ghost. It’s a fourteen year old boy, crossing the hallway in front of us, quickly and silently, wearing a white shirt and jeans.

It takes us both only a beat of a second to realise this kid is from the same group we saw moments earlier. A beat of a second is enough, of course, to make your heart thump ferociously, for adrenaline to shoot sharp spikes down your neck. The atmosphere adds to it- it’s deceptive here, the layout of this hospital seeming to promote madness more than cure it. We think we’re in one place, our internal compasses telling us that the hall twisted this way, so we should be here… only to find ourselves not where we thought we were, returning to where we started from completely by accident. Sounds echo dully and strangely- the shrill laughter of the teenage girls sounds distant until they’re in the next room, closer until we realise they are on the other side of the building.

To be continued, tomorrow…

More photos on Flickr. Full photo credit to Neil (otherwise known as the Most Amazing Man In The Universe).