Urban Decay

The Brickworks.

by Lori Dwyer on November 21, 2013 · 11 comments

I find myself searching for… something. Something to make me feel connected to this new place I’m in. Something to make Melbourne feel like mine.

So I do what I always do, when I’m seeking a connection, a way to feel the spark of other people’s lives.

I go exploring.

Melbourne takes much better care of its abandoned buildings than Sydney does. Truly deserted structures are difficult to find here, and I haven’t seen enough of the suburbs to know where they are. Internet searches are lousy for that kind of thing- after all, revealing your locations publicly breaks the rules.

But the Brickworks stand out. A bit of online digging, and the address is easy enough to find.



It’s a half hour drive away, which is a short car trip by Sydney standards, an epic adventure for Melbournians spoiled by their unclogged roads and ample public transport. I sneak to the the Brickworks and back between school drop-off and pickup. It pleases me, this secret life I have sometimes. Stepping out of reality, doing things my children have no idea of and may not understand.

Like the Maltings, and other premises that are stalwarts for urban exploration, the Brickworks is easy to access. You just need to know what you’re looking for. The fence on one side is surrounded by homes, well tended and well kept. There will be no point of entry here.

The other side of the fence, however… look hard enough, and you find it. The mesh fencing bent up and over, leaving a hole big enough to squeeze through.

The parklands that surround the Brickworks are dotted with people who are out for the day. When trespassing, it’s best to act as though you have every right in the world to be there. My camera bag is slung over my shoulder, and I have my usual bullsh*t excuse ready. “I am a photographer, documenting this place…”

Not that anyone has ever asked. I like to think that it’s because I radiate self confidence. More likely, it’s because no one cares.




The Brickworks is, as the name suggests, a factory where bricks were made. It’s been closed for years, so long now that any evidence of it’s former functionality is gone. What remains is the evidence of people who have come here after its closure. Graffiti kits, empty spray paint cans. Litter. And a coating of fine, chalky brick dust, a few inches thick in some of the more undisturbed places.

Within minutes, my shoes and pants are covered in it. I’m dusty up to the knees of my flared jeans.

This is a gritty, grungy, post-apocalyptic scene of a place. The bright colours of the street art clash and spangle against rusted iron and rotted wood.

The machinery that has been left here is old and huge. Too cumbersome to have been moved on, probably useless for relocation  And it’s all so set in itself– to remove the giant urns would be to defile the structure of the place completely, to risk having it all fall down on top of you. I can see why this abandoned site remains so, when the rest of Melbourne’s urban ruins have been cleaned up and cleared out. Just bulldozing it would be impossible. Tonnes of hulking steel equipment would be tedious to rip out. So it stays, looking more and more like iron oxide modern artwork with each passing year.

I pick around the place, wandering, marveling at the solidity of the equipment. One half of the building is open and cavernous, no more than undercover storage. A forklift is parked neatly by one of the poles toward the edge of the huge room. It seems put of place– too modern, perhaps, for somewhere that feels so antiquated. Not as rust eaten and grubby as its surrounds.

The forklift is tagged in jagged graffiti, a mish-mash of colours and styles. The surface of the forklift is too small for anything rampantly artistic, but the brick walls dividing the building into rooms and sections make the perfect canvases for spray painted art. Colourful cartoon creatures and shiny, six foot high typography cover the brick work.




I wander around, feeling the emptiness of the space, the way it’s hardly a building at all any more. It feels organic, settled in to its environment. Nature is beginning to spread itself within the building. Weeds take root in the base of the corroding steel. Grass grows where the sunshine allows it to.

Walking out of the main building, there’s a second structure. It’s large and circular and squat. The massive chimney soars skyward from the roof. There’s a strange flared skirt of corrugated iron covering the bottom of the building, stretching six foot up the meet the walls. It appears impenetrable. Despite all the people who have been here, left their rubbish and their tags and their spray paint cans, no one has peeled back the skirt and attempted the access the space underneath.




Two smaller outbuilding flank the main one, both of them damaged and spray painted. Door frames and windows smashed, floors are burnt out. The artwork is amazing. But there’s nothing to be felt here. It lacks the romance of the Maltings, the sense that lives have been lived here, the essence of souls left behind.

I leave, my feet padding softly through the brick dust. I find the hole in the fence that I first came through and slip back into reality, settle myself back amongst the people in the park.

I get back in my car. As I close the door, it begins to rain.

Whatever I was looking for, I didn’t find it.



More photos on Flickr.


Ghost Hunting in The Rocks, Sydney.

by Lori Dwyer on July 22, 2013 · 6 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve been ghost hunting. Ghost hunting feeds into urban exploring, I suppose, and vice-versa. But I guess I stopped seeking out ghosts once it felt as though there was one looking over my shoulder all the time.

But I love mysteries and old things, and stories left untold. So when RedBalloon offered me a ghost tour of The Rocks, the oldest district in Sydney, I decided I should take them up on it.

Not that I was prepared to do this alone. I took The Most Amazing Man In The Universe with me. Because if I’m going to be scared, I might as well have someone to cling to.

That was the theory, anyway. Reality, as usual, didn’t quite compete with my imagination. While ‘interesting’, ‘informative’, ‘entertaining’  and ‘well worth your two hours and forty seven bucks’ are all adjectives I would use to describe this experience, ‘scary’ is probably not.

Our tour group consists of about thirty people, and is led by a guy who, in this occupation, has totally found his calling in life. ‘GhostHost James’, as he introduces himself to us, is decked out in a black hat and long black raincoat. He is a brilliant storyteller and his stories don’t come across as scripted (though, admittedly, I’m sure they are). Add to that his comforting, rolling British accent, and we have ourselves one very appropriate tour guide.

To add to the feeling of creepy authenticity, on the night of our ghost tour it rains in Sydney; constant soaking sheets of water. The uneven, picked and pocketed sandstone streets of the Rocks are filled with puddles. The rain drips down over the brim of GhostHost James’ hat as he leads us through bendy alleyways, down two hundred year old staircases and into tiny spaces that once used to be cellars and basements, with original fireplaces still tucked in the carved block corners of the rooms.

Ghost tours run rain, hail or shine, evidently. GhostHost James’ hands out torches and big, white plastic ponchos. They’re totally unfashionable and I keep tripping on mine every time I walk up a set of stairs. But, dammit, they’re convenient, and dry, and practical. 




We walk around the Rocks in a huge circle, stopping at various places along the way. We see the the original morgue next to the Harbour- I’ve eaten lunch there a few times. We’re shown the staircase where the well-known ghost of the Weeping Mother roams looking for her child, thrown off the cliff by a roaming criminal gang in the late 1800′s (apparently well-known, anyway. Not well-known enough for Google).

The tour group visits the basement of an undertaker who was murdered by his convict employee, and the fireplace where the employee attempted to burn his cut-up body. The site of two tragic twenty-first birthday parties, held forty years apart, with two twenty-one year olds dead in grisly manners. The foundations of the house where the Bubonic Plague first struck in Sydney.

It sounds creepy, does it not? But this is the Rocks, jellybeans. At eight o’clock on a Saturday night, there are people everywhere. The pubs and restaurants are swarming.

And out of a group of thirty people, there is always one who has to be a total douche by refusing to turn off their mobile phone, and ruining the punchline to all the storyteller’s stories.

Anyway, douche aside, we got to explore parts of the Rocks that, while open to the public, aren’t easy to find– if nothing else, the Rocks retains its original rabbit-warren infrastructure; and older buildings sit metres lower than current structures.

The final part of the tour was by far the most interesting. GhostHost James led us into the deceptively-named ‘Windmill Cottage’, which is actually located beneath a towering block of units. The remains of Windmill Cottage– including the kitchen, complete with its hearth and sink– were found buried metres underground, as the area was being excavated to build the apartments.

Windmill Cottage is stone-cold and bizarrely silent. We’re told that if we are to see a ghost tonight, this will be the place for it. But were also told not to expect any ghosts. I’ll definitely give GhostHost James credit for that- while big on the storytelling, he was not big on bullsh*t. He recounted things fairly matter-of-factly, didn’t seem to be making stuff up (as he pointed out, had he been making it up, his tally of one ghost seen in three years would be pretty poor form). There was no promises of psychic abilities, nor any inspecting our photos for specks of dust that might just be orbs.

The focus of this ghost tour is definitely ghost stories, as opposed to ‘ghost hunting’. Having said that, I’d totally recommend it for fun. But I will confess that the only ghosts I saw all night were a large number of white shrouded figures, following a man in black.

And as it turned out, that was just another tour group. Also dressed in those totally fashionable white plastic ponchos.




Check out Red Balloon here.

Red Balloon Blogger

Thanks to the team at Digital Parents  Collective for inviting me to be a part of the RedBalloon Experience Program. Stay tuned- more awesomeness over the next few months. As always, all opinions are my own (because no one else would want them…?), however the experiences are complimentary.
And, just for jellbeans, 

there’s a special offer for RRSAHM readers- Spend $79 or more on any RedBalloon experience, and receive $20 off.
To redeem: Visit www.redballoon.com.au and enter the promo code
REDBLOG14 at the checkout to receive your discount.
Terms and Conditions: Offer valid until 30/06/2014. Promotional Code can
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The Asylum, Part Two.

by Lori Dwyer on April 12, 2013 · 4 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).