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Published May 27th 2012
Reputedly the original Smith family. Bad camera work or ghostly presences.
The similarities between Bundoora Homestead and Bate's Gothic mansion in Hitchcock's Psycho are chilling.
Both perch on a hillside, all seeing – dark and foreboding. After closing as a psychiatric hospital in 1933, the old homestead lay derelict. Local teenagers would dare each other to run up and ring the doorbell.
Recently a young man heard that the haunted house of his youth was open to the public and dared to venture there. Imagine his reaction when the door of the old homestead was opened by unseen hands and lights snapped on with his every step.
There is a rational explanation. These days it is a high-tech art gallery known as Bundoora Homestead Federation for the Arts, hosting contemporary visual arts and craft exhibition.
The mysteriously opening door and impromptu lights are caused by electronic sensors, which are triggered by the slightest movement. But in some ways all this art and innovation is nothing new for this 1900s homestead.
The original owner, John Mathew Vincent Smith, a prominent racing identity, held an architectural competition to find the best design for his home. The winner was Sydney H. Wilson, who also designed the Malvern Town Hall.
Wilson's design included state-of–the-art conveniences for the time, such as internal water closet (toilet) and piped heating. The homestead has eight bedrooms, hipped roofs, ornate stucco chimneys and balconies with views over Melbourne.
The inside reveals English decorative arts at their finest. There are rare examples of period craftsmanship including decorative wooden panels and stained glass thought to be by leading artist Auguste Fischer.
One such elliptical panel serves as a skylight and depicts and English summer's day with delicate birdlife, brightly coloured flowers and harlequin butterflies.
The grounds are still large but not as extensive as the 245ha Smith kept for a horse stud.
It was this isolated position that lead the Federal Government to buy the estate in the 1920s for Victoria's first psychiatric repatriation hospital. The distance from the city fitted with the attitude towards the mentally ill of the time.
The first inmates were World War 1 veterans deranged by the horror of war.
Psychiatric practices of the day included straitjackets, padded cells and shock therapy in which patients were stripped naked.
John Cade became the superintendent at the hospital in 1946. He was to end a great deal of this degrading treatment for patients worldwide.
Cade had been a prisoner of war in the notorious Changi camp in Singapore During his three years, there he had time to think about why some prisoners survived while others went mad.
He theorised that some mental disorders might be caused by metabolic disturbances.
In 1948 he tested himself with lithium before testing the patients. His first patient made a Lazarus like- recovery.
At historic Bundoora ,you can walk through and feel the eyes of the past watching you.
Then sit down for lunch or a delightful Devonshire tea in the licensed cafe, which is set in the elegant drawing room. There is also a kid's menu for the younger gourmands. A visit to Bundoora Homestead is a great way to introduce children to a bit of art and history in a decidedly spooky house.