I was going to call this post “How to cram loads in, in one day” and then tell you to:
Oh yeah..... J Ward. Not really a post about cramming loads in to your day, then.
How good is it when you rock up to a place where the only way to visit it is via a guided tour and you discover you are the only 2 visitors on the tour?? Now this could go one of two ways, couldn’t it? You either have an interesting normal tour or you have a fantastic extended tour with a refreshingly unPC tour guide who doesn’t mind if you wander off a bit, or lie on the floor to take photos, or ask a hundred questions. He tells you lots of stories, you share opinions and you swear about how rubbish ‘the system’ is, and then he encourages you to help yourself to the fruit on the overladen trees “because it’ll only go to bloody waste!”. You get an ace tour, and you get fed - win all 'round!
So, are you ready for a history lesson? Pay attention - there might be a test*.
J Ward is the maximum security ward of the Aradale Lunatic Asylum, but it isn’t located on the main asylum campus which overlooks the town of Ararat. In fact, it wasn’t part of the asylum at all to begin with. J Ward started its life as a prison in 1859, after the discovery of gold a few years earlier precipitated an influx of miners to the region, some of whom were a bit naughty and spent some time at the Ararat bluestone complex. By the time most of the gold was pulled from the ground a couple of decades later, the jail was taken over by the Lunacy Department and given the next letter in the alphabet as its ward designator. Its purpose was to house the most depraved and dangerously criminally insane men, supposedly on a temporary basis.
Charles Foussard was detained at 21 after committing murder while he was “under the influence of a mule named Lazarius who he said was made by a magician and who lives in the clouds” (ahhh... haven’t we all been there?). He was 92 when he died in 1974. In J Ward. Which was still operating!! Some kinda temporary, huh? He was there for 71 freakin’ years!
J Ward was a cold, damp, miserable place where bed was a foam mattress on the floor and plumbing or heating to cells was a non-existent thought. A place filled with murderers and sex offenders who, in the most appalling conditions and the highest security, were often chained to walls for hours on end with nothing to stimulate or sustain them. A place where electro convulsive therapy was metered out on a mattress in a central hallway, and suicidal patients were sewn into sleeping bags thick enough to keep everything but the patient’s head in all night. A place where a man's temporary incarceration might last long enough for him to carve artworks into the hard bluestone walls. It’s a gruesome look at how little we knew about mental health and incarceration in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Things got a little better in the latter half of the 20th century, but only because indoor plumbing became a thing. Patients were still using chamberpots in the 1980s! It's a bleak place when you consider how badly such ill people were treated, but a fascinating visit nonetheless.
Thankfully the place was finally closed down in 1991.
*There isn't a test. Whew!