Aradale: The Making of a Haunted Asylum David Waldron, Sharn Waldron and Nathaniel Buchanan, Arcadia 2022.

(Review by Ken Greatorex)

This book is about the large institutional building in Regional Victoria known successively from its opening in 1867 as Ararat Lunatic Asylum, Ararat Hospital for the Insane, Aradale Mental Hospital, and finally (but unofficially) Aradale Psychiatric Hospital.

It is also commonly called ‘Australia’s most haunted building’.

At its height, Aradale had up to 1000 patients. It ceased to function as an asylum in 1993, but has given rise to a tourism industry attracting many thousands of visitors a year.

The book has three parts, with each of author contributing a specialist overview. Dr David Waldron is a highly regarded historian. Sharn Waldron is a psychotherapist and counsellor. Nathaniel Buchanan has qualifications in history and teaching and considerable experience in tourism; he began Aradale Ghost Tours in 2010.

The historical aspects of the book are so thoroughly researched and referenced that they could serve as a meta-study of colonial attitudes toward mental illness generally. A continual theme is that of institutions being built with the best possible motives before being quickly overtaken by numbers of inmates greater than planned for; Aradale, despite its size and regional locality being no exception.

Also prominent is the influence of strong-minded individuals with differing opinions about the optimal treatment of inmates, leading to abuse and neglect.

Although there were allusions to unethical practices by some tour operators, by comparison with the earlier historical sections of the book, I felt this suffered from a lack of detail. I suspect that may have to do with a real prospect of litigation from commercial competitors.

A great read.

This is the second book collaboration by David Waldron that I’ve had the opportunity to review. Please see 

A personal aside: as a Skeptic, while reviewing “Aradale” I experienced unexplained disquiet. It was only after reading the book that I discovered that an uncle, long thought to have died in a fire at Melbourne’s Salvation Army William Booth Memorial Home in 1966, had in fact died as an inmate at Aradale.

Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh, Bantam Press 2008

This is a valuable book. The problem that faces consumers of medicines and therapeutic goods is a lack of product information. This book goes a long way to redressing that situation.

The sale of alternative medicines worldwide involves many billions of dollars changing hands annually; yet the evidence that these products, taken individually actually work is very slim. Sales often rely on strident or seductive marketing, folklore, testimonials, habit and herd mentality.

Ernst is a Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, while Singh is a respected Science writer. Between them, they are well placed to scour the vast scientific literature and to make its findings upfront and accessible.

Homeopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Aroma Therapy, Reflexology and Herbal Medicine, even the Power of Prayer, are among more than thirty popular treatments which come under investigation. The book says of each of these that the scientific evidence for their effectiveness IS there, and goes on to provide it. The Placebo factor is thoroughly discussed.

Prince Charles, a target of the book, will probably not agree with its major premise; double-blind clinical trials subject to peer review are the Gold Standard in deciding whether a remedy is likely to be effective or useless.

The best on-line price I discovered for this book was A$21.95 (free delivery) from Borders. (cf $27.95 elsewhere).

Ken Greatorex

Other reviews of this book:

When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish – and Other Speculations About This and That. Martin Gardner, Hill and Wang 2010

Visitors to this website will know the esteem in which we hold the late Martin Gardner. Read Eric Fiesley’s tribute here:

I pre-ordered this paperback hot off the press through Amazon USA, so I had no real idea of what to expect. I was familiar with Gardner’s critical debunking (Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science; Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus; Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?). I had also read and owned some of his many excursions into Mathematics and Logic, including collections of puzzles. I recently purchased Entertaining Science Experiments with Everyday Objects and instantly regretted not having done so in 1981 while still teaching Science.

For that reason, I was surprised (and very briefly disappointed) to discover that only the first half of this collection of essays from the last fifty years is concerned with Science, Maths, Logic and The Paranormal. The entire second half of the book is devoted to Literature, Religion and American Politics. The author’s fondness for the works of both GK Chesterton and HG Wells is a recurring theme (despite the mutual antipathy between those two writers), as is his love of poetry. (The title of the book derives from a long once popular American poem about Evolution.) Another surprise is that Gardner refers to himself as a Philosophical Theist in the longest essay in the book, Why I Am Not an Atheist.

For that reason, I cannot give this book a categorical “buy” recommendation, for fear that some visitors to this site might consider themselves short-changed. I personally enjoyed it immensely. But then, I’m a quirky individual.

Finally, I confess that much of the personal appeal of a Gardner book is that I still have a role model to aspire to. If I still have my marbles at ninety-five, to the extent that Gardner did, I’ll be doing well.

This book is available online from and will cost about A$28.80 including shipping and handling at current exchange rates.

I couldn’t find this book in stock in a search of Australian bookstores. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) will get it for you but expect to pay at least A$42 for a USED copy!

Ken Greatorex

Here are two other reviews of When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish April 24 2010

The History of Britain Revealed – The Shocking Truth About the English Language.Icon Books, 2007

M.J. Harper makes what seems to be a scholarly case for the proposition that the accepted view of the development of English from Anglo Saxon is bogus. While he refrains from making strident counter claims, he surmises that the Britons might have been speaking a form of English (and not Celtic) when the Romans invaded, and the lingua franca of the British Isles at the time of Stonehenge may even have been an early form of English.

The title of the book is unfortunate: just The Shocking Truth About the English Language would have been more appropriate. The author accepts the orthodox historical cannon of names, places and dates, but rejects the established view that Anglo Saxon, with an injection of Latin and French is the ancestor of English.

This book is witty, lucid, entertaining and takes no prisoners. Here is an excerpt from early on in the book:

The author has come prepared for an argument, and his scholastic weaponry appears formidable. He describes himself as an “Applied Epistemologist” , then goes on to regret the extent to which that term has been hijacked by people who dabble in “utterly useless” fields of endeavour. He refers the reader to a website. Here’s the link to that part of the site which is specifically dedicated to discussing this book.

One thing makes me wary of the book. Both The Fortean Times and Rupert Sheldrake gave it glowing reviews!

The paperback is freely available through Amazon UK or similar UK on-line sources for £7 to £9, (plus conversion fee plus postage)

or try Expect to pay about A$43 including delivery in Australia.

Ken Greatorex

Previous reviews on this website:

11th August 2010 Skeptical Podcast Review by Mal Vickers

23rd July 2010  Creation Movie Review by Terry Kelly

23rd June 2010 Unexplained DVD Review by Steve Roberts

10th May 2010 Conceiving God Book Review by Terry Kelly

4 Responses to Reviews

  1. Jay says:

    Does anyone know of a book review done by a skeptic and scientist of the book called ” The Field ” by Lynne McTaggart?

    Not a lot comes up in the first few pages of google.

  2. keng2 says:

    Hi Jay,

    This one must have slipped under my radar. I asked around, as I promised, and was actually directed to several reviews of the book. Most were uncritical, were glowing in their praise and awarded the book five stars. Others, however were less kind.

    This one, at from 8th May 2006 was written by one Terry Kelly, who I can only assume is our very own Terry Kelly. After awarding the book 0/5, he goes on to say:
    Good Points
    It’s not too long and some of the main points are clear.
    Bad Points
    The book is nonsense. Pseudo- science . Not real science. It attempts to explain why homeopathy, spiritual healing and other stuff works. But they don’t. There is no actual scientific evidence for them. But McTaggart (dishonestly I believe) CLAIMS to be scientific. Most scientists would dismiss this rubbish.
    General Comments
    Lynne McTaggart, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe is bad science with lots of big words and nebulous concepts which might look impressive to an uncritical reader. But it is not actually scientific in approach. It will probably be read and considered deep and meaningful by “well educated” and literate people who lack a critical and curious perspective.

    I was also directed to Ms McTaggart expounding on You Tube. This led me to agree with another colleague that Terry’s review of the book was probably too kind.

    Terry is definitely a skeptic, and I’m a sort of Scientist, so I hope that together we’ve satisfied your request.

  3. Jay says:

    Thanks for your help Ken,

    I actually came across this review through a google search:

    It’s not as kind as Terry’s…

    • keng2 says:

      That’s a great review, thanks Jay. The most interesting thing about this is the comments that Dmitry Bryant has received. The few I read fawn on Lynne McTaggart and are openly hostile to Dmitry’s opinions. I wonder if he’s working without a net?
      Incidentally, Terry only remembered his book review with prompting. He made it three or four years ago in reply to a request for reader’s reviews. “Fair enough!” he thought, and responded generously.

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