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Z-Ward, by Alison Oborn

Haunted Horizons: Adelaide Gaol & Z-Ward ghost tours

Appealing to our primal fear of the unknown, Haunted Horizons operates some of the most immersive and exciting tours in South Australia.

BY SAM SMITH


I’m driving down Adelaide’s Port Road on a Friday night. My phone buzzes – it’s a text message from a good friend. “Up to much? Want to meet us for a drink after dinner?” I turn into a dimly lit lane and pull to the side of the road. “Sorry,” I reply, while fumbling with a crumpled-up map. “I’m about to set-off on my first paranormal investigation tour.”


I’m to meet my fellow ghost hunters out the front of the Adelaide Railway Museum at 9:30pm. The tour is run by Haunted Horizons, awarded South Australia's Best Tour Operator for 2015 in the SA Tourism Awards. 


After giving up on ye olde paper map and resorting to modern-day GPS technology, I make way through eerie industrial backstreets and arrive at the carpark just in time. 

I park and approach a group of 20 or so people eagerly waiting at the gates. Immediately, Haunted Horizons’ owner, Alison Oborn, greets me warmly, hands me a torch and introduces me to the team. Five minutes later, we head inside. 

Alison is an Adelaide-based author, lecturer, radio personality and long-time paranormal researcher (25 years to be exact). Put simply, she knows her stuff.

Next, we’re introduced to our guide for the night – Craig. After 10 minutes I can tell how passionate both Craig and Alison are. There are no cheap scare tactics, grandiose promises or gimmicks; these are people who whole-heartedly believe in what they do.

The Haunted Horizons team, photo by Heidi Who Photography

The Haunted Horizons team, Alison Oborn in centre. Photo by Heidi Who Photography.


Led only by the light of our torches, we follow Alison and Craig around the museum’s gigantic sheds, home to century-old trains, many harbouring dark pasts involving accidents and fatalities. 


The tour progresses and Craig starts mixing-in elements of the supernatural. A dark figure is often spotted waiting at the end of the central platform. Disturbingly, multiple visitors claim to have seen human heads appear in the window of a certain carriage.

It’s around this time that a woman on our tour stops dead in her tracks and utters, out of nowhere, that she can see a small child in a dressing gown at the end of a very long, dark platform. Craig sends another staff member to investigate, though he comes back with no answers.

Alison and Craig introduce us to a range of gear that they use to test for paranormal activity including an EVP (electronic voice phenomena detecting device) and an EMF (electro-magnetic field detecting device). The end of the tour, however, is the most frightening.

In preparation for the following two-hour ghost hunt, which unfortunately I am not partaking in, we are split up, taken to separate carriages, and begin a 10 minute lockdown: no lights, no sound and no company. Alison assures me she has “just the perfect carriage for me.”

The door is shut and my torch turned off. I am now alone with my thoughts and possibly something, or someone else. At the end of the 10 minutes, I emerge unsettled. I feel slightly dizzy, and my hands are tingling.

“Did you feel anything strange?” asks Alison. I say that I felt an odd sensation in my hands. “That is very interesting,” she replies, and leads us to a special carriage, complete with TV set-up and snack bar. She presses play and for the next few minutes I am shown a video of a woman sitting in the exact same carriage as I was.

At first she appears chatty, jovial even. Then I watch as her face changes entirely. It contorts and twists, then, after about two minutes, she begins mumbling incoherently. Her hands start shaking and she freezes. “Get away,” she growls, then suddenly bursts into hysterical sobs. Alison switches off the television and looks around the room. Everyone is silent.

 "We really can’t explain what happened," says Alison, "and neither can she.”


Craig leading a tour, photo by Heidi Who Photography

Craig leading a tour. Photo by Heidi Who Photography.


After my first taste, I want more. I chat to a fellow journalist about my experience and we both book a place on the Haunted Horizons Z-Ward tour, operated in conjunction with the National Trust of South Australia.

We meet Alison at the gates of the beautiful 1800s-built Z-Ward. Originally part of the Parkside Lunatic Asylum, now more tastefully known as the Glenside Hospital, it’s an imposing building which up until the late 1970s was home to countless patients deemed criminally insane.

Alison adores the building and is clearly passionate about its history – she tells us she’s spent a whopping 72 nights in Z-Ward searching for paranormal activity.

We enter and already I can hear frightened murmurings from fellow guests. The air in Z-Ward feels thick and dark.

Alison breaks through the eerie atmosphere and fills us in on the building’s history; I’m reminded once again what a good storyteller she is.

She remains respectful to the patients who once called Z-Ward home, while making a point to outline their incredibly harsh treatment which resulted in many deaths.

After a brief self-guided look around, we’re taken on a tour of individual cells, many with exceptionally dark histories.

We’re told of guests who have collapsed after visiting one cell in particular, unexplained scratches appearing on the necks and backs of investigators in another, and a possible murder in one of Z-Ward's communal areas.

 

At this stage two guests become so frightened they leave the tour.


Entering Z-Ward, photo by Heidi Who Photography

Entering (or exiting) Z-Ward. Photo by Heidi Who Photography.


After trying out the EVP and EMF equipment, it’s lockdown time once again. My colleague and I pick a cell known for being paranormally active and are promptly shut in.

After emerging unscathed though definitely uneasy, we debrief with the team. 

Eventually the tour comes to an end and we stay behind for a chat with Alison. She tells us of her dream for Z-Ward to remain a tourism icon and to one day become a museum showcasing the treatment of mental health patients in South Australia. Throughout the conversation, Alison’s love of South Australian history becomes evident – her passion extends far further than scary stories and ghost hunts.

We say our goodbyes and start walking to the car, but Alison stops us. “So, Tailem Town next?” she asks. Without thinking twice, we both reply with a resounding yes. It’s safe to say, we’re hooked.
           
Alison and the Haunted Horizons team operate some of the most immersive and exciting tours South Australia has to offer. Appealing to our primal fear of the unknown with spine-chilling locations and engaging stories, each tour leaves you with a lingering feeling that there really could be “something else out there”. 

Haunted Horizons runs tours, ghost hunts and paranormal investigations of the Adelaide Gaol, Z-Ward, Old Tailem Town, National Railway Museum and Adelaide Arcade.

Prices range from $35 for a basic tour to $80 for a four-hour paranormal investigation. For more information, see the Haunted Horizons website.

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