I’m often visiting Fremantle in Western Australia, as most of my family live in the surrounding suburbs. However, up until last week, I had never visited the Fremantle Arts Centre – a beautiful, colonial-gothic style building that’s today a prominent centre for the arts. It’s also one of Western Australia’s oldest buildings, and admittedly I was drawn towards its reputation as one of Australia’s most haunted places.
Accompanying me on my investigation was my three-year-old, Olin. He’s a little like me – curious, often doesn’t like going home at the end of the day and loves exploring new places.
The centre is a great place to visit, as it houses wonderful art exhibitions, prominent musical acts and is home to a beautiful garden, café and some interesting history. The walls ooze with colourful stories such as girls escaping to town, men tunnelling their way to freedom through thick limestone and one resident who scooted in and out on her three-wheeled bicycle. Of course, much of its history is tainted in darkness.
The first thing I noticed about the place was how many crows there were, perched beneath the stark, deciduous trees. Now I didn’t read too much into this, although it’s interesting that in Irish mythology crows are associated with war and death and in Cornish folklore they symbolise death and the underworld. These were some of the prominent cultures associated with the building throughout its early years.
Like many allegedly haunted places, the Fremantle Arts Centre has a tumultuous history. Built by convicts, the building first opened in 1864 as the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum. As lunacy and depression was widely misunderstood at the time, the asylum absorbed a wide range of social problems, such as alcoholism and prostitution. Ill-disposed behaviour became commonplace inside its walls, and in 1900, one Mrs Clifford was murdered by a violent patient.
Secrets lurked within. Here three girls were allegedly abused, contracted venereal disease and were kept under lock and key on the upper floor during the 1930s. Patients were also given electric shock treatment, while one lady committed suicide by leaping from the first floor after her child had been taken from her.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these dark events still linger, as Geoff Morgan, who holds ghost tours here says, “it’s the most haunted place in the southern hemisphere.” The most commonly sighted ghost is that of the lady mentioned above, who’s believed to search for her child in the corridor. Her child was allegedly a redhead, and a few red-headed people, particularly children, have reported having their hair pulled whilst inside.
An afternoon wander
Olin and I made our way to the first floor and wandered along the corridor. There were a number of rooms fenced off, or out of bounds, however of the few that weren’t, we opened the doors and went inside. In one room I encountered sunlight spraying through barred windows onto a dark, grainy floor. Inside was a feeling of emptiness. I experienced no paranormal activity, just a nice afternoon. Of course there are those that have.
Exploring the rest of the building, we discovered some wonderful artwork – paintings, models – and an interactive children’s room where kids can put their hand in a hole, feel for an object and then draw what they felt. Heading outside, we walked around the pretty grounds and enjoyed some cake and tea in the café’s quaint courtyard with my sister, her partner and my niece, who now joined us.
Whatever your inclination – art, cake, tea, ghosts, history, limestone Gothic architecture, gardens, crows or music – the Fremantle Arts Centre is well worth a visit.