Updated: Oct 12, 2019
This blog post and photo-journalistic adventure was compiled with the utmost respect for the people past and present of Callan Park.
"Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints"
If only we new then what we do now, this place could have had such a different story to tell.
Callan Park Hospital for the Mentally Insane. What these walls could tell us could very much be the stuff horror stories are made from. And from all reports and rumors, there was some absolutely fucking nasty stuff that went on behind closed doors that unfortunately over the years have grown into urban legend status. Some say, that this is THE most haunted place in Sydney, and I would not dispute that fact in a million years if those many, many horrible stories are true.
But I have a different outlook.
When I visited the grounds only a few days ago on a miserable rain soaked day, there was a calmness in the air. There were Kookaburras everywhere among the scattered sandstone buildings, almost gargoyle-like in their watchful manner.
But what I noticed most out of everything was the silence.
Silence unlike anything I have heard. Upon entering the courtyard of the first of two buildings that I would visit, I was expecting that silence to dissipate. However, this piercing silence stuck with me like the proverbial 'shit to a blanket' until I returned to my car at the end of the day.
Turning down the left corridor to begin, I was met by several common rooms on the left hand side, and what could have been solitary dorm rooms on the right. Entering the first common room, there was 'Happy Birthday' lettering meticulously cut from craft paper half stuck to the walls, with cutouts of balloons from the same stock, complete with patients birth dates, written on them below. Some were curled up, yet still stuck to the walls somehow. I could only imagine how it would have felt to have celebrated another lap around the sun being a patient in here.
Would loved ones come to visit? Was there a celebration with fellow patients or were these birthday paper balloons a reminder for the patients who may not have remembered who they were. This asylum after all did look after patients who suffered from amnesia, PTSD, depression and many other forms of mental illness that back in the day just fell into the category of 'crazy'
Turning my attention to the dorm rooms on the other side of the corridor, there was not a great deal to see, other than the remnants of the vandals who took it upon themselves to 'revamp' the walls in the crudest form of graffiti that I have seen in a long time.
What I did notice though, long after I had left, was that none...not even one of my photos that I captured in this entire corridor had saved to the memory card. It is as if these walls did not want to be seen by the outside world.
Moving on to the other side of the courtyard and into what was largely a mirror image of the wing that I had just explored with common rooms on one side and smaller rooms on the other, this wing had an entirely different feel to it, largely due to pools of rainwater left from the gaping holes where roof tiles once were. The main corridor was inch deep in water throughout, and worse in some of the rooms to the right. From a photographers POV, this was the jackpot. Lead paint on every single surface, including the curved ceilings of the main thoroughfare, was peeling off like an Englishman's skin who had overstayed his time in the hot Sydney sun. There were several of the common rooms that I did not enter due to the large amount of water on the floor but they proved to very photogenic as you can see in the gallery below. If I could have trusted the floor to be safe, I would have entered but the state that some of the floors I had witnessed left me in two minds. Better to be safe than sorry. Coming to the end room, there was a door in the corner that had no lock, just a rusty old handle. There was no entry in to whatever was behind the door unfortunately as the door would not budge a millimeter. The hinges looked fresh too (not brand new, but certainly look as though they had been replaced in the past 10 years). It wasn't til after exiting this building that I noticed that the window on this room had the most security of the entire wing, with metal bars on the inside, and outside of the reinforced glass.
Maybe someone, or something, didn't want anyone to see what was behind there.
After exiting the first buildings confines, I walk along the most vibrant green grassed grounds that the Asylum nests on, thinking of what it would have been like to be here as a patient. My Grandmother was a patient here for years in the 1960's and I tried to see it through her eyes.
Had she been in a patient in the building that I had just explored? Was she scared in any way shape or form from her time here? I will never know the answer I'm afraid.
The grounds are exquisite and tranquil. The sandstone buildings that were constructed in the late 1800's are mesmerizing and beautiful. I again felt calmness. I honestly did not expect to feel calmness at any stage of today considering the history of this place.
But there I was.
Surrounded by calm. I would have been happy to leave my adventures there. And for a good half an hour, the day was a wrap. But an eagle eye spotted an entry point to another series of buildings around the other side of the complex so the adventure continued. The first thing that hit me inside was the smell of cat food. Someone had been here, and very recently judging by the two bowls of fresh cat food sitting by the small hole in the door. I was expecting someone to appear in any of the vast number of rooms and take ownership of said cat food, but again, not a soul was to be seen.
Not even a cat.
This series of buildings, much like the first set, had a courtyard that joined two wings, but on a much larges scale. On the right hand side of the courtyard was what looked like it could have been a gymnasium or a mess hall, maybe 3/4 of a basketball court in size. Blue lino tiles that were lifting up on the corners from excessive moisture covered the floor, along with broken ceiling tiles, rafters, ceiling fans and glass. The right hand side hallway led to the exit point and the left hand to another dorm-like building that was not accessible on this occasion. The left hand corridor did not contain a great deal. One fairly large common room and a Male toilet block that was still fairly in tact. The right hand hallway on the other hand was much longer that the left and was littered with rooms off both sides. A badly condemned kitchen area was one of the first rooms I entered. A memo board that may have been used for weekly menus sat blank on the wall. One of the seldom things left in it's original place in this room. Cupboard doors were barley hanging on by their hinges, the bench top was bubbled in various places and the ceiling to this room was barely existent.
The common rooms on this wing were largely much like the previous 10 or so that I had visited, just a little more degraded. You really had to watch your step as the floorboards had rotten out below the moldy carpet.
One common room however was a bit different than the rest.
Two doors graced the left hand wall.
One was locked with an inline deadbolt and a plaque which read 'Staff Only', and another door, thicker than your normal exterior door which lead to only what could be described as solitary confinement.
Thick steel jambs surrounded the entry to this room, and a window not too dissimilar to the one I described in the first building was the only break in the concrete walls within. A steel viewing plate, not unlike the ones you see on a jail cell, was fitted to the door. As 'sinister' as this sounds, there was still a calmness surrounding the room.
A brown timber wardrobe covered the entire length of the right hand side wall, with circular name tags on the hanging bars.
I wonder if these were the names of former patients?
The last room that I captured was the Female Bathrooms. Unlike the majority of this complex, his room was still pretty much intact, apart from the years of caked up dust and mold, and the ever present graffiti that adorned pretty much every surface in each room that I saw. My exploring had come to an end for this day, but rest assured that I will be back.
Now after all that I have written above, one could come to the conclusion that a condemned place like this would be a 'noisy' place to be, as there is so much destruction, destruction from the elements, destruction from nature, destruction from teenagers with nothing better to do than vandalize a part of our history. From a visual point of view, you would be absolutely correct. But that is far from the case when you are standing point blank in the middle of it all.
I keep coming back to the words silent and calm. It felt like I was the only one in the world within a 50km radius of the place, but if the legends are to be believed, I very much doubt that I was alone. They must of sensed that I came here today with no bad intentions or ill harm.
Just a curious mind that wanted to preserve what ever I could through the lens of my camera.
All images © Matt Bartolo and are strictly not to be used or reproduced without permission. All images are for sale in various print sizes.