Site Name: Callan Park Mental Asylum, Sydney
Site Dates: 1878 – 2008
Site Size: 104.5 acres
The abandoned Callan Park Mental Asylum was one the most challenging sites I’ve ever explored alone. It was extremely hard to gain access and when I managed to get into two buildings, the spooky silence and eeriness nearly had me running for the hills.
There were at least 15 derelict buildings in total, scattered throughout the park. These included wards, chaplain houses, the asylum library, a special care unit (renamed to “special scare unit” by a graffiti artist) and a drug and alcohol rehab facility. Some of the buildings were huge, some were tiny and every window and door was boarded up/surrounded by fences, barbed wire and trespassing signs.
However, where there is a will, there is a way! After circling the buildings numerous times, I found two entrances.
To get into the 1st building, I had to climb over a wire fence, then through a hole in an outdoor bathroom wall and through a hole in another wall. It was a windy day so I kept hearing leaves rustling that sounded like footsteps, which was unnerving when I was inside. There were tiny rooms with thin, long windows with multiple forms of barricades and disturbing graffiti. I stood in a few of these rooms trying to imagine who or what was going on in them back in the day, but all I got a sense of was emptiness and loneliness.
The second building was dark and unpleasant. It was a desperate attempt to get into one more building before I gave up hope for photographs that really showed how an abandoned asylum looked like after time. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with my photos from the first building and I knew I wasn’t getting into the main building where all the rooms and beds were still intact. Would this formidable-looking place have rooms stuck in time that I could photograph?
Nope, just pitch-black rooms, massive holes in the floor and a lack of graffiti – which struck me as very weird. It felt like no one had stepped foot inside for years.
The weight of the darkness descended on me as I manoeuvred my way in and it was impossible to shake off. I had stupidly read an article whilst walking through the park of a film director who refused an offer to shoot a movie in the asylum buildings because apparently, it’s the most haunted mental asylum in Sydney. So, with this enlightening article stuck in my mind combined with the spookiness of the inside, I was shitting a brick at this point and my clothes were soaked in sweat and dust. I went upstairs to check for rooms still intact but as soon as stepped into one, the floor sank a little bit under my foot. It was time to retreat. It was hard to walk back through the house and stay calm, but I did it and once I got out I swore to myself I’d never again go into a mental asylum without a buddy with me!
The History of the Abandoned Callan Park Mental Asylum, Sydney
The history of this massive site is grim, to say the least. Callan Park was opened in 1878, at a time when mental asylum patients across Australia were being treated like half-humans i.e. being chained up. Callan Park opened up with the hope of treating patients in a more humane fashion and improving their lives through the relatively new medical discipline of psychiatry.
But despite the Park’s best efforts, the asylum soon became overcrowded, underfunded and forgotten, creating a toxic climate where sadistic nurses thrived and good souls suffocated.
“These so-called nurses treat patients most cruelly. They are mechanical, inhumane creatures,” one ex-patient wrote in the newspaper Truth on July 29, 1900. “I once had my hair pulled until my nose bled. I have seen the nurses twist patients’ arms behind their backs until they cried out in pain, and bump their heads against the stone wall.”
Throughout the years there were accusations of elderly patients bashed with a leather strap filled with studs, patients forced into straitjackets for more than five days at a time, and pills being forced down patients’ throats with the full knowledge they would have a severe allergic reaction.
Furthermore, the 1961 Royal Commission into Callan Park Mental Hospital found there was a group of male staff who were bashing, starving, verbally abusing and failing to clean patients.
Great pics! Looks like a pretty amazing place.
Thank you Karine!
I’m going to do a shoot there soon. Anyway you can let me know the best entry point to get a shot where you main photo was taken?
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Is it illegal to enter? If me and my mates were to go inside will we get fined or chased by police?
Abandoned World Photography
The abandoned site is within a public park so it’s not illegal to visit it. What happens if you get inside though…I can’t say!