Strange Lands

Late last Saturday evening, Violet Towne and I spent several hours in an abandoned lunatic asylum. Now I know there are those among you who will feign surprise that this is anything out of the ordinary (I’m looking at you, Queen Willy) but it has been, in fact, nearly 25 years since my last Abandoned Lunatic Asylum Adventure.

The place we visited is called Aradale, formerly Ararat Lunatic Asylum, one of three asylums built in southern Australia in the late 1800s for the express purpose of accommodating ‘the growing number of ‘lunatics’ in the colony of Victoria’. Aradale is set on a small hill overlooking the Victorian country town of Ararat, a former goldrush settlement which now sports a population of about 7000 people. It’s about an hour’s drive to Ballarat, the nearest center of any significant size, and a further two hours to Melbourne.

Aradale offers three types of tours: a standard historical tour by the volunteer group The Friends of J Ward,(i) and a ‘theatrical ghost tour’ and a ‘ghost hunting tour’ run by a company called Australian Ghost Adventures

I am, as you know dear Cowpokes, quite skeptical of all things ‘haunted’, but I’m nevertheless partial to a bit of gothic fun, so VT and I nixed the straight historical tour in favour of one of the more ghostly options. Since the ghost ‘hunting’ tour sounded like it might attract the same kind of loonies formerly housed in the asylum,(ii) the ‘theatrical’ affair seemed the best bet.

In the end, it was a great choice. After leaving our motel at around 9pm (where the manager warned us that she’d once hosted a ‘total skeptic’ who was ‘completely converted’ after his visit to Aradale…)(iii) we headed out to the asylum and up the suitably forbidding yew-lined driveway.

At the door of Ararat Lunatic Asylum, we were greeted by a chap in funereal attire who enquired ghoulishly after our health, and effusively espoused the benefits of the hospital’s location, situated as it is in such a way on the hill as to take the maximum advantage of ‘the cleansing airs’ (a contrivance in keeping with the prevailing wisdom of Victorian mental health practice). He told the assembled group that, in the manner of the historical facts accumulated from patient records in Victorian asylums, about two thirds of us would be able to leave the hospital at the end of the evening, but that one third would be staying for the rest of their lives.(iv) The ensuing two-hour tour continued in a similar manner, with our guide proving to be an entertaining raconteur as he led us up corridors and down stairways by lantern light, through the length of the shadowy and labyrinthine edifice.

I fear that it wasn’t the terrifying and ghastly ordeal that some of our party expected, but for me the blend of tempered gallows humour and well-researched historical detail was just about right. I must confess that I was expecting probable episodes of faux haunting, but none eventuated, and the only notable ‘scares’ came from our guide when he appeared cadaverously from the shadows in some unnoticed nook in the corridor. The building itself was the star of this show, and those who really wanted to see ghosts almost certainly went away thinking they had.(v)

Places like Aradale are, as I’ve mentioned previously on The Cow, among the creepiest and most disturbing structures on the planet, when you consider the thousands upon thousands of suffering souls who once wandered their dark and echoic corridors. No-one needs to do much to make a tour through them a very memorable and unsettling experience.

It was pretty gloomy for most of the time we were inside the hospital,(vi) so I wasn’t able to get many good interior shots of our adventure, but there are some nice photos of the rooms and halls of Aradale on the Aradale Ghost Tours site.

And while we’re on the subject of lunatic asylums, if you’ve never heard the story I referred to up in the first paragraph, of how I was lost, by myself, in the middle of the night in an abandoned asylum in London, it’s here (and even for those of you who do know it, it’s worth a revisit – I’ve updated that post to include some more information about Stone House Asylum, and I’ve linked to an UrbEx site that has an enormous and beautiful gallery of interior photographs).


  1. J Ward is an annexe of Aradale, and is a goldrush-era high security prison that was seconded by Ararat Asylum in the 1880s as a repository for its ‘criminally insane’ inmates. It can be found in the town of Ararat, a few kilometers from Aradale. VT and I did the historical tour of J Ward on the morning after our Aradale visit. It’s also quite a grim and amazing place. []
  2. The ghost hunting tour offers all the technical accoutrements that have become associated with this contemporary folly – night-vision cameras & goggles, EMF detectors (which may as well be called WTF detectors), spirit boxes (more on those in an upcoming post), air temperature monitors and all manner of other nitwittery. It was also about four times as expensive as a result. []
  3. A claim which I took with a large grain of scoff. []
  4. He neglected to mention at this time that a good number of the patients who left the hospital prematurely did so in pine boxes… []
  5. At one stage, two impressionable women on the tour were besides themselves when they noticed a ‘chill breeze’ on their legs. Yes ladies – that would be the cool wind from outside blowing under the door into the warm room we were in… []
  6. Outside, by contrast, the skies were ablaze with the most incredible starry vistas I’ve seen in ages. []


This is Kim Jong-un, the new Political and Military Leader of North Korea.

Here, he is pictured riding a horse which he has just tamed, having roped it in the wild using a lasso which he fashioned from his own hair. Kim Jong-un has been hailed by Korean officials as ‘the genius among the geniuses’ in military strategy, and no wonder after all his accomplishments! At the age of 16, he wrote his first thesis on military matters after studying for months on end with only 3 hours sleep per night. During this time he lived solely on poached pigeon eggs and tepid water in order to ‘sharpen his mind’ and maintain his manly physique. Even now, he rarely strays from a strict diet of pan-fried crickets and Weetbix, attributing his ‘svelte good looks’ to the regime.

Whilst still a teenager, Kim astounded physicists by inventing String Theory (which he says came to him ‘while doing Sudoku on the bus’) and solving the Riemann hypothesis. He turned down the Nobel Prize in Physics of that year due to a lack of shelf space.

‘It’s not like he doesn’t already have a couple of those,’ said a government spokesman.

The next few years saw him dabbling in movie directing, with The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean and Kung Fu Panda among his biggest successes. Sadly, American prejudice and jealousy saw his name removed from his films, which were attributed to lesser US directors.

Not to be daunted, Kim Jong-un refocussed his efforts on world health, personally developing cures for malaria, tuberculosis and cancer, maladies which, as a result, have been all but eradicated from North Korea. Even though he has now assumed political control of the country, the Great Leader is still often seen walking the countryside in his trademark ₩50 sandals, administering vaccinations to the needy. He sometimes journeys five hundred miles on foot in a single day on these charitable quests.

Unfortunately the pressures of state mean that Kim will now have to limit his activities as a critical systems analyst and solid propellent expert in the Korean Space Program. It looks also as if his political duties might have some slight impact on his work in advanced neuroscience.

One thing he’s not likely to give up, though, is his martial arts training. His black belts in Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Karate and Jiu-Jitsu are the envy of all Korea, and it is said that his dedication to these pursuits is the only reason he curtailed his ambition to be the first North Korean on the moon.

His reputation as a lady’s man and his accomplishments in international espionage have earned him the nickname ‘The North Korean 007′, and his 3 Michelin Star eatery ‘Cheonsanju’ continues to hold its reputation as the best restaurant in the Universe.

Well, that’s the official version, anyway.

From today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

‘A large metallic ball has fallen out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting baffled authorities to contact NASA and the European space agency.’

The authorities in Namibia obviously are baffled easily, at least by technology. This is evidenced less by the fact that don’t know what this thing is, than that they don’t know how to use the internet. Within mere seconds of the above photograph appearing in the media the object had been identified(i) by at least, oh, a thousand less-than-baffled people.

The best part of the AFP report, though, is this phrase:

‘It was made of a “metal alloy known to man” and weighed six kilograms, said police forensics director Paul Ludik.’

Is it just me, or is there a whimsical phantom ‘not’ lurking in that quoted description? To precis the whole event: a welded spherical object made by humans fell in the desert. Just how baffling is this, really, in an age where there are over three thousand satellites orbiting the earth and thousands of other flying craft ploughing through the atmosphere every day? Not very, is the considered TCA assessment.

Anyways, elsewhere in Namibia, a less-reported phenomenon occurred. This strange metal sphere, featuring a message in a language known to man (and woman, quite bizarrely) really has the experts baffled. I leave it with you to ponder its meaning.

Don’t be baffled for too long though. You’ll need all your wits about you come January 1.

Oh yes, my loyal Cowmrades. You didn’t really think I’d forget…?


  1. It’s a hydrazine propellant tank, commonly used on satellite launch vehicles. []


I neglected to mention in my last post that Seattle ‘Super Hero’ Phoenix Jones, had at the time of posting, been arrested for allegedly spraying a person or persons with pepper spray. Well, you (and the citizens of Seattle) will be relieved to know that no-one has pressed charges and that Phoenix has now been released on his own recognizance. He and his Super Hero League sidekicks are back on the streets once more doing what they do best – wearing funny costumes.(i)

Phoenix told KOMO News:

There’s been a lot of confusion about people thinking I’m delusional or I’m crazy or that I don’t understand what I’m doing… Everyone’s doing it – they just don’t know. If you walk from your car to a show and back to your car, that’s being on patrol. The only difference is, when I see crime, I call 911 first, wait, and when it gets dangerous I step in. And I feel like every citizen could do that.

So, to sum it up, he’s just doing what anyone would do. Only (completely undelusionally) he’s doing it in a funny costume. Because that’s the undelusional American Way.

Of course, now he’s got bigger fish to fry…

Be afraid, Seattle Super Heroes. Be VERY afraid.


  1. Mind you, Phoenix Jones’ costume is nowhere near as formidable as his hair. The judge required that Phoenix remove his mask when in court, which he did. Later in the same spirit he also removed it for reporters. Crikey. Personally, I think he’d be much more impressive if he went on his patrols au naturale. []


One of the fundamental foundations of American society is the indelible belief that anyone, no matter how humble their beginnings, nor how lowly their status, can achieve their personal vision of greatness, whatever that may be. A boy with an interest in flight can become an astronaut; a little girl from the Bronx can become a planetary scientist; a black kid from Hawaii can even become President.

But what all American kids really want to do when they grow up, is to be a superhero. Well, why not, eh? Let me introduce you to someone who has made that childhood dream a reality – Phoenix Jones:

Yes, this man, whose identity is a complete mystery(i) is a real person who patrols the streets of Seattle in a funny costume protecting law abiding citizens from Evil through the use of his mysterious super powers. Well, OK, if you include under the umbrella of ‘super’ powers the ability to use pepper spray and the dialling aptitude for calling 911. And if your definition of Evil is something like two coked-up hysterically screaming women and their shiftless intellectually-challenged boyfriends.

See Phoenix Jones bringing his awesome justice to bear in this clip, where he is accompanied by his trusty lieutenant, Ghost.(ii) Sure, he spends most of his time running away, but it’s the thought that counts, right? And the costume.

Apparently, Seattle has a veritable Justice League of these dudes. There’s Phoenix and Ghost as we’ve seen, and the atramentous Pitch Black, the sapphire-bewigged Blue Sparrow, The Red Dragon, The White Baron and the Yellow Custard. Well, actually, I made that last one up, but it’s an obvious omission from the League, and at least he could run away with integrity.

The Real Life Super Hero movement to which all these defenders-of-the-common-good (DON’T call them vigilantes!) belong is supposedly about these people helping out the weak and the vulnerable in the night-time streets of Seattle.(iii) Even though I only heard about this weird story yesterday, there’s been a shitload of press coverage of Phoenix Jones and his cohorts. Something that doesn’t seem to occur to a single news reporter (or anyone else), though, is the very first thing that entered my mind: if you have an elite clique of superheroes shouldn’t you by absolute necessity have an elite clique of super villains? How can Seattle possibly aspire to be a real-life Gotham City with only drunken hookers and mentally challenged jocks for bad guys?

It seems to me like there’s an opening here, Faithful Acowlytes, and I hereby announce the formation of the Seattle Super Villains League. And the League needs YOUR help. That’s right Cowmrades, it’s a Cow Competition. It is your task to create a Seattle Super Villain – I want a name and appropriate super powers, and a description of his/her costume (extra points for artwork). Let’s give Phoenix Jones some real opposition! The funniest, cleverest, wittiest, meanest member of the SSVL wins an awesome something from the Tetherd Cow Shoppe.

Together everybody: MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

ADDENDUM: My friend Tone recommends James Gunn’s Super, the trailer of which I present below for your enjoyment:


  1. It’s not really, but people, for chrissakes – EVERYONE knows that a super hero’s real identity is secret! That’s Comicbook Tropes 101. []
  2. From the clip it’s a bit hard to tell what Ghost’s super powers are but they appear to be the ability to get in the way and the ability to stand near Phoenix looking confused. []
  3. In the daytime, the weak and the vulnerable are on their own. C’mon – no-one‘s gonna go out in those costumes in broad daylight… []


The Sony Pictures studios where I’m working in Los Angeles was once upon a time owned by MGM. It’s nice to know that, if you know where to look, remnants of the Golden Era of movie making can still be found.

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