Yesterday I wrote this story about Fremantle Arts Centre, their amazing gift store FOUND, their beautiful gardens and very relaxing café. I also talked about the building’s history and its original purpose as a lunatic asylum when it was built by convict labour in the 1860s, and how as the years went on the place became known as a place of a suffering, sadness and murder, until campaigns by women’s groups finally resulted in its closure in 1941. What I didn’t talk about much in my story were the rumours that Fremantle Arts Centre is allegedly one of the most haunted buildings in WA. But today I will.
I’ve always loved the chills that run up my spine from a good creepy story. When I was a kid I wanted to be Stephen King. I devoured the spooky stories in all my Babysitter Club, Trixie Belden and Enid Blyton books, then moved on to Goosebumps and my dad’s Stephen Kings. In high school almost every story I handed in for English had some macabre bent (my friends read them happily, my teachers would look depressed and ask if I could write about something pleasant next time) . (And yet for some reason while I love scary books, I hate scary movies).
When I was 21 I was asked to write a story for a magazine on some of WA’s most haunted buildings, and yep, Freo Arts Centre was in that lot. And just for fun, I thought I’d post an excerpt from that story on here. Because whether you believe in ghostly occurrences or not, you have to admit there’s something fun about ghost stories and creepy-looking old buildings that look haunted! And when the place is a beautiful old Gothic building that used to be a lunatic asylum? Even better.
“Widely known as one of the most haunted places in Australia, the Fremantle Arts Centre has its own stock of macabre stories. Cal Greatbatch is the founder of paranormal research and investigation organisation Perth Ghost Hunters, which conducts free investigations for the public. According to Cal, the forbidding Gothic structure is haunted by at least 10 spirits. One left a message on the investigation team’s digital recorder as they stood by a display cabinet. “It said “Those are chains” and in the cabinet was some leg chains from the days of convict settlement,” Cal says. Along with voices, there are numerous other ways ghosts let their presence be known, Cal says. “These include cold spots, voices, banging noises, movement of objects, footsteps, smells, physical contact, black shadows and part or full apparitions.”
One person who has seen a disturbing full apparition at the Arts Centre is medium Anthony Grzelka, also known as “Australia’s Ghost Whisperer”. Anthony joined a television team staying overnight in the building filming a documentary on the hauntings. “Locked in an asylum at 3am wasn’t my idea of a good time,” Anthony says wryly. It was that night when Anthony saw the “very tough and hardened spirit of a man” standing halfway down a corridor. The temperature in this area dropped from 22 degrees to less than 16 degrees in an area of three metres. Anthony immediately felt extremely uneasy about the spirit. “My impressions were that he was not an inmate of the asylum when it was operating, but a very nasty nurse or warden type,” Anthony says. “With this type of energy, I can’t begin to fathom the types of things he did to those poor souls who were patients in that place many years ago. This very unpleasant man had been here a long time – perhaps 100 years or so from the look of his demeanour and dress.” Anthony later discovered that several security guards refused to enter that part of the asylum after a couple had been pushed down a stairwell. “I knew it was this nasty chap in the hall who was responsible,” Anthony says.
Anthony later moved into an area that he describes as one of the most haunted locations he had ever visited. “The thing I noticed almost immediately when I entered this area was a strong smell of burning, the overpowering acrid stench of flesh burning,” he says. It wasn’t until the next morning that he learnt the area had been used at the turn of the century to administer electric shock treatment to its patients.
Back in the day when society generally had little compassion for mental health, cruelty at the hands of the asylum’s authorities was not uncommon. During his visit Anthony became aware of three teenaged sisters in spirit who died in the asylum, one who had a mental health issue. Anthony says the girls were “exploited sexually” and were the daughters of a prominent community figure. He believes money changed hands and the girls were used for “sexual favours”. “The place where the sisters said they were “exploited” is reported to be where the bathhouses once stood,” Anthony says.
Joe De Cotta, who has a background in psychology, is currently writing a book on WA’s most haunted buildings. Through his research he has discovered that many American soldiers would be spooked whilst stationed at the building. “They would hear odd whisperings, bangings and noises at night and some have even reported being touched by ghostly hands,” Joe says. Even today many visitors experience phenomena, such as those that occurred to a tour guide. “A group were in a closed room and they all heard what appeared to be heavy clanking footsteps coming towards the door,” Joe says. “The footsteps stopped in front of the door. When they opened it nobody was there.”
Joe says visitors have reported being touched by phantom lips from the “kissing ghost”. “Another story I heard about that place was about a little girl who was locked in one of the old cells in the building,” Joe says. “The terrified girl started banging on the door pleading to be let out. Apparently at that time, every window in the building vibrated violently and doors started opening and closing by themselves.”
Paranormal investigator and director of investigative agency Ghostbox Australia Kurt Senior says the ghost of an elderly lady has also been seen roaming the corridors. “It is said she was originally a patient who was hospitalised with mental conditions possibly brought on by grief after her daughter was taken from her,” Kurt says. “It is said she ended her life by jumping out of a window on the first floor.” Today the woman allegedly still searches for her daughter. A child’s voice has also been heard singing in the room from where the woman jumped to her death.”
I would love to get my ghostly story fix and hear about any creepeh experiences you’ve had, at the Fremantle Arts Centre or otherwise! And if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, don’t let the spooks at FAC put you off. The place is having their annual amazing Christmas market Bazaar starting 5pm tomorrow night, Friday 6th, til 10pm and then on Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm. I’ll definitely be checking it out myself to get some of my Christmas shopping done. For more information, visit the Fremantle Arts Centre website or Facebook page. Maya x