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Nightshift At Tarban Asylum

Stephen Mayo, NSW, Australia
November 2002

In 1990 I was fresh out of the Army and working as a casual security guard for a large security company in Sydney.

At very short notice I was rostered to work five twelve- hour night shifts guarding what I was simply told was a construction site. All I was given was an address. When I arrived at the address just before sunset I recognised it as being part of Gladesville Hospital, otherwise known as Gladesville Mental Hospital. This was the place the government sent the criminally insane, the ones that were too violent to let out into the community or hospitalize anywhere else.

The foreman gave me a brief tour of the building explaining it was going to be a new administration block for the hospital and issued a two-way radio and flashlight from my security company that had been left at the site for the duration of the contract.

Before leaving for the night he pointed to several half buried bunker type buildings spread across a large hill nearby and said that's where the patients are locked up at night, you will hear them but don't worry they can't get out.

The building was a large two-story sandstone block structure built in 1830 or thereabouts. The structure was almost a shell in that the complete second level wooden flooring had been removed and a lot of the ground floor was missing as well making it dangerous to move about in the dark. There was no electricity.

The building was located next to a flowing creek that was heavily lined with weeping willow trees that were so close they touch the building with the slightest breeze. It was a windy night.

Around sunset I discovered that the batteries in my flashlight were virtually flat and my two-way radio appeared to be in much the same condition. I informed my company of the situation and they told me to do the best I could and they would try and get someone out during the night with fresh batteries. I will tell you now that they never showed up. It was getting dark fast, so I thought I'd do a search through the building and try to find another torch, or some form of lighting. I never did.

Unfortunately however, when searching the building I did find out the name of the creek. In the room that was used to display architectural plans I made the mistake of looking at the name of the project which was written on some plans that were laid out on a table. The project was called "The Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum Building Restoration Project".

Now I had about eleven hours to go, cut off from outside help, alone in the dark inside the ruins of a former lunatic asylum with the modern working version literally a stones throw from my location.

I found myself looking towards the sky thinking how it was going to be an interesting shift. I noticed the moon had risen for the night, and yes it was full. I could see long strands of fast moving clouds moving across the full moon as the weeping willows belted and scrapped the side of the sandstone building and tin roof. Then it began, the thing that made me feel really at home. The patients from the bunkers at Gladesville Mental Hospital started to howl and moan like tortured animals. I am serious they were actually howling, I have never heard anything like it before or since. Pumped with adrenalin out of the fear of bumping into an escaped patient I spent most of the shift exploring the building and surrounds with the constant feeling of being watched. I had frequent cold chills running through my body and found my hand reaching for my sidearm on more then one occasion.

Even with my best efforts to conserve the batteries in the flashlight it gave up completely around 1am. By this time I had a good knowledge of my surroundings and had grown more relaxed. The howling had slowed, with now only the occasional relapse set off by one patient with the others joining in as if by some primal instinct. I now had less then five hours to get through the shift and knew now that I would be fine. I had found an old wooden chair and placed it against the front wall of a small- detached building at the rear of the main in a position that gave the best vantage to see anyone approaching. The detached building was made of the same sandstone blocks as the main and appeared to be some kind of tool shed. The only access was a single door and window at the front between which I placed the chair with my back against the wall for safety.

By 5:30am the overnight winds had completely stopped and a thick fog rolled up from the nearby creek, which somehow seemed fitting. There was only 30 minutes until I could go home and I had now relaxed as the sun was starting to make an appearance. Then it happened! I stood up to stretch my legs in anticipation of going home and made the mistake of having another look through the tool shed window. I put my face up to the glass cupping my hands against the window so I could see inside as sunlight was now reflecting against the glass. My heart almost stopped. Sitting there on a chair at the bench facing the window was a person with their head hung forward facing down. I jumped back from the window to gather my thoughts. After a moment I looked again and the person was still there, but this time he looked up. It was a young man with shaggy blonde hair, his eyes looked inhuman; his face was contorted as if in pain. He did not react to my presence, but just kept looking straight into my eyes without a sound. That was enough for me; I quickly put my flashlight and radio back in the office, headed straight for my car and the exit gate. I made up some lame excuse for not being able to complete the other rostered shifts and never went back.

Stephen Mayo, NSW, Australia
00:00 / 01:04
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