“You have to go to this hospital!” she bubbles to me, words popping iridescently over the phone, “my mum worked there when we where kids, and we’d go with dad to pick her up. The last time I drove past it was closed, and I’m sure it’s still closed. It was all overgrown, fenced off… and that was ten years ago.”
I love a tip off, a suggestion, someone’s half–memory that’s enough to start me on a search, a hunt fr humanity left behind. Auntie Mickey gives me vague directions– and she’s actually not too far out, her navigational memory having served her well. But, in actual fact, all I had to do was type the name Auntie Mickey thought the hospital was called, along with the phrase ’Blue Mountains’, hit enter… and the Google God took care of the rest.
Early Saturday morning we leave the hotel, turn out over the highway and drive for kilometers past roadwork and a few tiny, squashed suburban–style streets. I did say ‘we’… I quite disgusted to report that Dear Brad was my companion, my obligational second warm body in case of danger, on this particular urbexing run. And I’m even more disgusted to tell you that he was actually quite good company– followed all the rules, didn’t whinge, and only once complained about my driving.
So it’s even more of a pity that he turned out to be a total dick.
If it hadn’t been for the small, white sign we drove past on the right hand curb of the road, almost tucked directly into the scrubby bush behind it, I’m sure one of us would have suggested turning back. ’You Are Now Entering Hospital Land’ says the sign. But beyond the sign, stretching as far as the crest of a hill to our right and a lush, deep green valley to our left, is… nothing. An for another good five hundred meters or so, we see ‘nothing’- save, of course, the dense, head-high scrub that anchored both sides of road, it’s bitumen gradually giving way, chunk by tiny chunk, to dirt and rock.
“Where is it…?” I ask, some kind of wonder in my voice. Who the f*ck builds a hospital all the way out here, anyway? “Have they pulled it down, do you think…?”
I’m in the middle of that sentence when we find what we’re looking for, a few hundred metres further up the road. It’s an eight foot cyclone fence, hemming and constraining overgrown gardens and trees, the peaks of white buildings glancing and peeking over the top of the foliage occasionally, as if they’re excited and unused to visitors, to cars coming along this dusty, quiet old road.
“Nope… I guess not.” answers Dear Brad. Smart arse.
Disturbingly, there’s a car parked in front of the two huge gates, which have signs saying ’Private Property, Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted!!’ in three different places, on three differently coloured plastic signs, from three different mobile security companies. Willfully ignoring those, we drive up and around the fence line to what was once, according to the totem-pole signpost, the service entry.
Evidently, it still is the service entry. The original fence– and the three or four layers of reinforcements that have been strung up against it– are bent and bowed towards the ground on the inside of the compound, making the shimmy-and-drop over the fence that much easier, it’s barbed wire an old tiger with no teeth to bite us and snag our clothes. There’s still broken ankles and a possible case of tetanus to contend with. But Dear Brad and I are obviously not the first people who’ve been here.
I drop my bag containing my camera, first aid kit, torch and more over the fence. Dear Brad laughs at me as I climb, telling me I’ll have to go over now, or leave my camera here- better not get stuck! I poke my tongue out at him and jump the five foot to the ground, daintily dusting off my jeans and tapping my foot impatiently as I wait for him to the same. (“You see, and there it is.” says my mate Kristabelle after Dear Brad proves to be a total douche. “The crutch of things. You need the bloke who will go over the fence first, and hold it down for you on the other side. Not the one who stands there going ‘Uhhhh cannot believe she just did that!‘” And she’s right, of course… most people, I’ve found, usually are.)
The more I go exploring and adventuring, the more I discover that people are, inherently, just so lazy. The slow, human-fed decay of the hospital follows the pattern of every other place I’ve crept through. There’s the main entrance, the spot where most explorers and vandals come in, is always a dump, littered with mess and graffiti and the debris and clutter of human life, debris that seems to build up particularly when those lives have come untethered from themselves.
But the further you trawl, the more footsteps you take… the lesser the damage, the lesser the evidence of such irresponsible human existence. This service entry, littered and soiled with not-caring… it makes even the buildings themselves seem tired, far more worn down than the structures at the front of the hospital, duller and greyer. While the service entry is a savannah of broken plastics and faded prints, the front of the hospital is a lush green jungle set in miniature.
The handful of outbuildings are boring and so common- I have seen all of these, all of this, before. Trees growing feral, curtains torn to shreds by the simple ravages of the weather. Doors broken down for access, windows for fun. Mattresses and old clothes, beer bottles ànd chip packets are strewn around the room like ugly, tasteless confetti. Fires have been set to ward off winter chills– remarkably, kept within the actual fireplaces. Or perhaps not so remarkably- access to a fireplace for heating is like some kind of birth rite in the Mountains.
We slink past a row of oversized roller doors, surely once used for the oversized roofs of ambulances.
“Shhh!!” Dear Brad grabs my
arm and I stop, body frozen, poised and tense, every particle of me prepared to scream in a way that only a woman with severe PTSD knows how. “There’s someone there. Look, the lights on…”
He’s right, of course– as I’ve said, I’m finding most people usually are- there is someone there. A long fluorescent bar glows above the last roller door in the line, almost indistinguishable in the daylight. But in the silence left by the absence of my own footfalls the sound of music, low and cheerful, is audible. There’s bumps and thuds, the general sound of tinkering.
I shrug. Whoever is there, I doubt they’ll be much fussed by us, two explorers just taking photos and not destroying walls. Besides, I have this bizarre feeling that whoever is in that shed wants about as much attention today as we do… none, none at all.
“Come on, then” I whisper, and we walk down the faded, grassy garden path, past the skeleton of a greenhouse, and around to the back of the mismatched row of buildings that make up the hospital proper.
Even here at the rear of the hospital is a maze, a warren of doors and walkways and paths and dead-ends. Judging by the age and placement of the hodge podge set of buildings; the hospital started out as just the one building, a large central structure that was more like a huge house than any modern hospital. From there, it’s been added to, renovated, improved and expanded in the years since it was built. The entire back of the building is disorientating, not seeming to match up with the front- or the inside rooms- at all. The floors appear to be optical illusions, uneven and confusing. It’s once we get inside I realise the floors are uneven and confusing, the warped up and down of them creating a weird feeling like sea sickness.
There’s a door leading into the back of one hospital wing, standing swung open as if its been waiting for us. It’s lock is splintered and still attached to both it’s anchor points, but only by an inch on the holding side, and that inch has swung away from the frame with the door when it was forcibly opened, quite possibly by the force of someone’s foot. Inside, we find another odd trick of the patchwork building– this door opens into a corridor that leads up the main hallway of the hospital. But that’s all the corridor serves as– an entrance, and an exit. A twenty foot long corridor that seems to span nothing, and essentially does nothing except give you that little bit further to walk on the disconcerting wooden floors.
This is a strange place. It seems to have been constructed, rooms and doorways tacked on as though they were stickers, with the builders showing absolutely no regard for the existing fabrication, each of them simply throwing doors and corridors and even whole wings and wards wherever he the urge directed him.
Step from that corridor up onto the main floor of the hospital and the building becomes, at this point, an actual hospital, by nature as well as namesake. While the outbuilding could belong to any large establishment or group housing; inside, the hallways are hospital hallways, unmistakable. Wide and flat with low–grade ramps to connect the decamped split level flooring. Flat wooden handrails run along each of the walls, and the wooden floor is made litigation-friendly with it’s durable, non slip linoleum. The walls of the hospital hallways are a not-quite-pastel pink, a shade I’m assuming the NSW government bought millions of liters of in the mid–70′s for some ridiculously cheap price. It’s the colour scheme of buildings that are still found in the further flung parts of the state, and when I was a kid they were everywhere– growing up in Australia in the 1980′s, anything funded or owned by the community, local government or other light authority was always that same slightly-too-sweet shade of pastel pink.
We roam through the empty, slightly eerie hospital hallways, stealthy and virtually silent. Dear Brad trundles on ahead as I’m adjusting the aperture on my camera, and when I look for him again, glance at the Real World before me instead of the one encased in flat glass of my camera screen… and he’s gone. That’s actually more than OK with me- while Dear Brad easily keeps up easily, he seems to make too much noise, want to move far too quickly, paying no respect to the reverence of the atmosphere, the stillness of the place we are in.
The winding hospital hallways have been stripped by time, their sterility and their distinct smell only in my mind. It seems to smell and fee slightly cleaner than other places I’ve urbexed of comparable loneliness… but that may just be all in my mind as well. Either way, these hallways are too easy to get lost in- they all look alike, and their patchwork fractures and joins make no sense. My usual reasonable sense of direction is lost, and Dear Brad is still nowhere to be found, nor heard from.
I reach the official entryway, the front hallway of the hospital, and it feels as though it’s in the wrong place- for such a sturdy, somewhat stoically designed and built uber-house, the hospital’s extensions mean it is no longer in the centre of the expanded building with it’s mutant wings tipping the scales of symmetry. At the top of the main hall, adjacent to the wood and glass front door, there is a massive memorial board, three thick slabs of marble set in a frame of thick, gleaming wood; and taller than I am, easily. Engraved into the marble slabs are the names of the hospital’s ‘Life Members’. Standing as I am, in a building left to the rot and the rain and the simple scavenging effects of time for so long now; the concept of ‘Life Members’ seems such a strange terminology, an oxymoron. Can you be a life member of a facility that has been closed for years, and left for ruins, with the property soon to be sold off to the highest bidder…? And where have all those Life Members gone… surely, the world hasn’t spun that many times that they would all have passed away already…? But then I think about that in it’s reality and it would seem sadder, somehow, if they were still here.
Back into the mains, the rolling, rising pink corridors, past ten or more nondescript, small, empty rooms. Turn a corner and the hallway opens into a massive, cold, carnivorous bathroom that would have reflected far more light than was comfortable when it was sparkling, bleached to a white so intense it shaded on blue. what appears to be a huge hot water tank is suspended from the roof in the centre of the room, the gigantium metal udder of an over-sized industrial water-cow. The
re are three or four smaller, more ’private’ bathrooms, but I get the impression that the main area was for communal bathing, and the pigeon holes cut into the one wall that half-segregates the room confirms that. The movie Girl Interrupted plays black and white against the projector screen of my mind- there’s Winona Ryder, shaving her legs in a tub that sits in the middle of a massive bathroom, lined with other baths for other patients. Whoppi Goldberg in a nurse’s smock, observing matrionously as she shaves, to ensure she doesn’t slit her wrists and bleed the water crimson-red until there’s no substance left in her and she dies.
After that interlude, everything begins to feel just a little ‘Girl, Interrupted’. I remind myself, my inner narrative speaking to me in the same tone I use to assure the Bump that dragons are ‘nonsense’- this was a hospital. Not necessarily once full of psych patients. Walking through the dark hallways I’m creeping myself out, conjuring images of electro–consulsive therapy and seizures and the smell of scorched hair and I tell myself to stop being so bloody melodramatic. But, in all truth, historical accuracy tells me that maybe I’m not being as melodramatic as I’d like to believe.
Another ward, room after empty room. The rooms are set up in funny little triangles, a bathroom in the middle of every two, curled and angled in on itself so there are no windows and no light. There’s a tiny nurse’s station, push pin holes still visible in the pink-painted cork board on the wall. Fixtures– light fittings, gas heaters, things too difficult for nonindustrial young petty vandals to steal; they remain. Everything else is gone, probably taken long ago.
I leave quietly through the unlocked front door next to that huge slab of engraved marble, latching it behind me as I exit and whispering a small silent goodbye and thank you to whatever souls may still be wandering here. Dear Brad is lulling around the front garden, which is dense and green and– once upon a twenty years ago– would have been divine in spring-time, raucous bouquets of mismatched cottage flowers splayed amongst vibrant broad green lily leaves.
It seems to be that we’re done.. there is not much more to be seen here that’s not simply a visual repeat of itself. Aesthetically, this place is about as atmospheric as urbexing gets– creepy old abandoned hospitals are few and far between. But, weirdly, there’s nothing here- it’s all dark shadows without teeth to snap with. If there was passion enough to leave some imprint of the souls that felt it in it’s wake, like a negative image painting and searing the backs of your eyelids after staring at the sun for too long; then I can’t feel it here, can’t see where it’s still glowing. It’s not a particularly unpleasant realization, knowing that this time there were no threadbare patches in the fabric of reality. It’s more just sad, but somehow lacking even the poignancy of that simple emotion.
It’s such a bizarre little place, all overgrown ugly on what once was beautiful, neglect and dissaray where there once was plump and pleasant order. A patchwork hospital snagged in time, not quite old enough to be vintage or even retro, just at varying points of stale and spoilt. And you find it tucked away, deep in a valley in what’s such an odd place for it to be. The canyons of the Blue Mountains hinterlands, in a place no hospital has it’s business being built.
You were waiting for the bit where I set off a minor security scare. Of course. More urbexing the Mountains next week- stay tuned, jellybeans.