The Legend of Madman’s Hill: Incarceration, Madness and Dark Tourism on the Goldfields
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First established in 1864 during the gold rush era of western Victoria, Australia, the Ararat Lunatic Asylum has long stood as a gothic edifice overlooking the regional city of Ararat on the crest of the ominously named “Madman’s Hill.” The complex has become the site of a thriving dark tourism industry feeding off public fears of both mental illness and the plight of the incarcerated patients as manifested through folklore, urban legends, media reports and, of course, the ubiquitous legacy of the Asylum in popular culture. The complex is the focal point of mnemonic battles over representations of the site as a symbol of gothic horror and incarceration in contrast to its role in the history of psychiatry and the lived experiences of patients and staff. These representations draw on the folklore of haunted experiences, tied to the trauma of the former men and women incarcerated at the asylum, yet they are primarily mediated through expectations rooted in the horror and gothic genres of cinema, novels and video games. The paper will examine the process by which this network of popular, folkloric and populist representations has shaped representations of “Ararat Lunatic Asylum” as a significant heritage site in the history of the incarceration of the mentally ill in Australia.
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