Photo Essay

The Ghosts of St. John's

Composite, St John's Orphanage, Goulburn

'Whether the ghosts of spirits passed, or accumulated sorrows, accretions of suffering,

Forgotten not, but alone, abandoned,

Bricks and mortar, broken windows,

Frayed curtains and shards of glass, like fractured reminiscences,

and howled whispers'

St. John's Orphanage was established in 1912 to house up to 100 orphaned boys - at some stages of its life it housed up to 2000. Although the institution closed in the 1970s, its presence in the city of Goulburn, a couple of hours' drive from Sydney, still haunts many of its former residents. Though time has passed, stories of cruelty, rape, and torture are still prevalent. No wonder there is not too much of an outcry about plans to tear the place down to build a retirement village.

Whether or not the building is haunted in the traditional sense, by the spirits of the deceased (I did hear a rather audible scream from upstairs at one point - I was the only person on the site); many of the former residents are still haunted by memories. There is a very real sense of sorrow, pain and anguish in this place. It is palpable. I have never felt this sense so strongly anywhere. The bathroom was the worst - I felt physically sick in there (even looking at the image of the handbasin makes me feel it).

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4 responses

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (23 May 2012):

    Tom, you took pictures unbelievably beautiful, full of atmosphere, great tones and light poignant, and his real drama.
    Yes I was very excited to read and see your pictures, but you live and feel the cruelty they have lived in those places, and this certainly for you, a great photographer, is a great achievement.
    But for those "ghosts" they need to be forgotten in order to find their lost youth in those walls.
    Mark your story, but inside my heart I feel the need to pray for them.
    GOD bless them always.

  • Brendan Kelly

    Brendan Kelly (Deleted) said (23 May 2012):

    Amazing pictures, so powerful and haunting. Places like this can be hard to photography if you let the mind play with you to much. All the feelings of anger and pain in that place are relevant in your art. Just as Davide said, I too feel the need to pray the survivors and hope they can move on. Thank you for sharing, great work.

  • brian arnold

    brian arnold said (24 May 2012):

    You are obvisouly very good at capturing dramatic light and shadow play the series is very well done. Perhaps I am either missing the point or my childhood has shown me things the average person hasn't seen. This place reminds me a lot of the closed down and very old mining areas or cliff dwelling ruins; that I spent time in as a child. Both places are full of pain loss and sadness, but your series, just like the old closed down mines or cliff dwellings didn't give me the reaction of physical sickness or palpable sorrow, but more of a sense of peace and quiet. Almost like someone or something is glad to have somone appreciative there.Its a very nice series thanks for sharring.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (20 Jun 2012):

    When one can feel the images, you've accomplished something. The convergence, foreboding tones, and desolation are so masterfully captured. The history and narrative serve only to enhance these haunting images.

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