Urban Exploring

Pentridge Prison.

by Lori Dwyer on January 21, 2014 · 5 comments

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.

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).

The other photo. Zoom in, on the right, for creepy faces.

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.


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.




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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, 

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