Like most anal retentive operators, I have a strict routine when it comes to my Urbex gear.
I am typically overdressed for the occasion.
5.11 Tactical pants, Under Armour Combat Boots, Arcteryx grey henley, a wolf grey Pentagon Artaxes jacket, my trusted Arcteyrx beanie, and a oni themed neck gaiter.
Slung across my back is a black 5.11 sling bag, that I can throw over my shoulder and in front of me, for quick access to the contents within. On my hands, are the first ever pair of tactical gloves I’ve ever bought, Oakley Factory Pilot Gloves, now fingerless after I’ve cut off the tips, due to holes at the end of the fingers from overuse.
I have a Garmin instinct on my wrist, a paracord bracelet on my right, a Pelican 7600 torch on my hip, and about 4 knives scattered around on my person. One in my wolf grey jacket, another in my thigh pocket, a Leatherman Skeletool nestled in my thigh rig and the last one in my bag, a heavy duty Leatherman MUTT.
I take squatters seriously. It’s why I got so much defensive gear on me. You never know what will happen in this abandoned places, in the dark and silence of empty halls. In the case I lose all my knives, my gloves will allow me to deliver harder punches than anyone can dish out on me and my torch will blind anyone who looks at it.
It also helps me focus a bit better, silencing the internal anxiety and filtering through the rapid heartbeats, the nervous sweats and the heavy breathing.
That’s the security blanket that being armed gives you.
Tonight, knowing that I was heading to a more dangerous part of Melbourne, I wasn’t taking any chances. Sure, I had 4 of my friends with me, but this whole thing about exploring abandoned places was my idea, and I felt a sense of responsibility to all of them.
I was going to get my lads home safe.
The final part of my routine is load up my music. Just before my oni mask slips over my face, I have music going.
It’s always the same, the melodies that has become associated with 21st Century warfare … the strings and drums of the Middle East. I always invariably play my favourite military soundtracks. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) by Sarah Schachner, SEAL TEAM by W.G. Snuffy Walden & A. Patrick Rose, or Medal of Honor by Ramin Djawadi.
In all of them, the distinctive Middle East twang to all the scores are what gets me hyped, alert and watchful. It is like entering a trance, where I can hear, see and move better than I’ve ever had. My footsteps are silent, my eyes are constantly scanning, my ears, somehow, punch their way through the music and pick up ambient sounds better.
The score is like a pre-battle drug, a stimulant that will let me react faster to any danger.
I wanted to give you this context, because it’s important to me. The high I get, riding off the euphoria of warfighting music and gear, in dangerous places, shows you how addicted I am to this sensation. Time itself, bends somewhat when I’m riding this feeling.
Time truly is the epitome of the maxim: slow is smooth, smooth is fast when I’m intoxicated with this primeval instinct.
In a lot of ways, urbex has become an outlet for me, to explore how I would behave under danger. It’s not really about taking in the vibe or the aesthetic of abandoned places, it’s become an indulgence in how I break the law and what I can get away with.
So much of the thrill, comes from staying low, hidden in the shadows or tall grass, to avoid detection. The best aspect of it, is the stealth. We’re not there to mark territory, graffiti blank walls, destroy property or perform stupid rituals. We’re just there to observe, explore and get in and out without being caught.
Some would call it juvenile. Something schoolboys would do when they’re bored. I can’t deny that it’s true. But I’ve always had that mischievous puerile spirit in me. It’s something I’ve done since high school and I’m not going to let that character die anytime soon.
Besides, hide and seek is always more fun when the stakes are higher … like jail-time or a massive fine.
And the gamble was especially big this time.
– The Bowling Alley
This location was risky.
A police station was a mere 5 minute walk away. A train station with PSOs (Protective Service Officers) was literally a stone throw away. A major intersection ran along the site. Active sites (places that are still in use) literally surrounded the joint. CCTV covered a lot of the entryways and there was a constant flow of traffic that drove past.
Just getting in, was going to be tricky. There were 5 of us, in various equipment, with my clothes being the most conspicuous of the lot, but it was a price I was willing to pay to blend in with the interior of the building itself.
We ended up timing our entry, when the traffic was empty, through a hole in the fence, and making our way directly into the entrance which was invitingly dark. Oddly, off to the side of the egress point, was a ruined white couch, completely graffiti-ed over.
The bowling alley was big, deceptively large for something its size. But then, when there are no dividers in a huge rectangular space, it’s going to look spacious.
Our entryway was the front door, was on the bottom left corner, next to wrecked toilets, in which there was a grotesque discovery of live larvae and bugs in a toilet bowel, that was as dark and scum-lined as an oil barrel.
In that corner, I found myself staring at a cracked mirror, that was largely whole, but had a spider web of cracks all over it. It was strange, staring at my own reflection, the red light from my torch shining over my head, an image I’ve seen a dozen times in horror films, but was now living a scene out in reality.
I was transfixed for a full minute, wondering if something was going to appear in the mirror behind me, thinking about how fractured I looked and the surreal nature of living out a cinematic scene. It was only when my friend took a photo of me, I snapped out of my strange trance.
Outside, the toilet, the entire central section was completely torn up, so that you could walk where the alleys would have been. Wooden Beams lined the floor, showcasing what the lanes would have looked like if it was still in operation. It was surprisingly clutter free, with only a few beer bottles, and bits of rubbish here and there.
This could not be said for the area adjacent to the entrance. There were numerous holes in the roof, where air-con ducts could be seen, and their padding lined the floor, creating an odd sensation of stepping on carpet. Rubbish was everywhere, following all the way to the bottom right of the building.
The reception desk was tiny, in the far bottom right corner. You could see where they would have served the customers, and the desk itself was largely intact. The rooms behind them, were also surprisingly clean, with shelves that would have stored shoes and a tiny admin desk.
Graffiti was everywhere though, with an amusing pentagram on the floor and various other tags.
But the pièce de résistance, was the iconic Mr Burns, leering over the now infamous quote from the Simpsons.
There was something unsettling about reading the line, and a part of me wondered if this was always at the bowling alley or something done post-closure.
We found that image at the top left of the building, in the area where only bowling alley employees are allowed, the area beyond the lanes. It was boring back there, with storage shelves for the balls, knocked over and several empty trashed rooms that I couldn’t work out their purpose.
For all its intriguing graffiti though, the bowling alley was largely what I expected to be. A great big empty space, with only trace elements of what was. No bowling balls, no functioning electronic dispensers, no shoes, no TVs or anything of value. It had been stripped a long time ago and was now awaiting destruction.
Getting out was just a matter of timing. The building was so dark and sealed off, that we could shine as much light in there as we wanted. So for us, avoiding the police was a void issue. We merely jumped through the fence when no cars were coming by and then walked away to our next spot.
– The Abandoned Factory.
The abandoned factory is arguably the best find I’ve come across. The location was not just a factory, but also several large brick sheds and compounds. What it’s original purpose is for, I’m not sure, but the entire thing has been built to last.
It’s also next to a giant sports reserve, a freight train line and there was light spilling everywhere from the main highway higher up, the sports centre and the occasional car that would drive past.
So we did what any criminal element would, when they want to get into a place. We stayed in the shadows, found a tree line to merge our silhouettes and climbed through a hole in the fence, to sneak around the back.
The ground was surprisingly mushy with mud and there was a lot of tall grass, which spiked my fears about snakes. I found myself judging my footsteps more carefully, all too conscious that my boots were sinking in mud and grass sometimes more than I wanted them to.
The giant brick warehouse was first. Mostly, because it was closer and less exposed than the factory and I wanted to get the boring one out of the way first.
At first, it didn’t seem likely that there were any entry points. Everything was actually well defended against intruders like myself. Windows had bars going across them, doors had been bricked up and the only large double cargo doors had been padlocked shut.
But, like most of these places,the generosity of those who had come before, showed us a way in. A ledge with a gaping window beckoned invitingly. So we pulled ourselves in and stepped into … what I suspected it was … a fookin big empty warehouse with slopes for a roof and rubbish everywhere.
I wasn’t taking any chances though, because the one thing I hate about any of these places, was the idea that I only had one exit strategy.
So my first step, is to always scope out another exit.
Which ended up taking nearly 15-20 minutes, because the warehouse was so vast and I was walking extremely slowly and carefully, without any lights, my right hand gripping a CRKT M-16 tanto knife, whilst my left was ready with the torch to blind anyone.
It was eerie to be walking in such a big place, with the occasional howl of the wind for company. But I was glad that the moon was bright enough to see my way without risking unnecessary light pollution.
Throughout the entire length of the warehouse, I saw glimpses of graffiti, rubbish and could only hear the occasional crunch of footsteps on glass or plastic, behind me as my friends made their way around the place.
With relief, my friend actually found another exit, this one even easier to get in and out from and from there I could relax a bit, and really take in the atmosphere, which was very similar to so many other places I had been to before.
The ghostly desolation that only places that have been abandoned and neglected for a long time can conjure.
The only truly noteworthy element of the place, was a strange ladder that didn’t lead anywhere atop, and a huge hole in the ground that showed the belly of the warehouse, in which, all of us displayed nervousness in checking out.
That, and what looked like the lower jaw of what is hopefully a fake human skeleton.
Hopping out, we were now buzzing with anticipation for the actual factory.
The only issue was that the only entrance was right in front of the road and quite well lit.
Timing it, we all rushed in and were stunned by the sheer metal nature of the factory.
Unlike so many of the other places we had been to, this was industrial. Sharp metal beams had cracked and were jagged pieces of rust that you could walk into. An old generator lay, rusted and disused in the corner. Wherever we shone the light, there was a slight hint of orange-brown, rust having taken over the entire area.
It was also surprisingly small for an entry way, with concrete above our head and in this basement, we found a fascinating image of another urbex explorer before us.
Then we ventured upwards.
The true scope of the factory was now laid bare for all of us to see.
It was surprisingly tall and empty. Massive blocks of metal were congregated in the centre, and there was just the huge hole in the wall at the back, that we saw from behind.
Walking around, on these rusty old staircases, I found myself testing the strength of each step, uncertain if the whole goddamn staircase would just collapse beneath me.
It was fascinating … walking on these gangways and staircases where men had formerly worked, and I thought about the view they had, when the place was more pristine.
Everything was narrow and tight, with metal beams only inches away from your head at all times and the strange sensation of looking downwards, seeing nothing beneath your feet, knowing that thin metal mesh is all that kept you from falling 5 metres down onto the concrete floor.
It was the big staircase in the corner though that beckoned dangerously.
One of my friends had already gone up, the first flight of stairs and the view of the highway and surroundings was quite stunning at night. But the highest flight of stairs was far too tempting.
I said in passing …
We didn’t come this far, to come this fucking far.
So we climbed.
The staircase creaked several times.
My heart-rate was pounding furiously with each step.
My eyes kept widening, as they beheld just how high I was off the ground.
My feet tested each step with caution.
Every single step, was oddly too narrow, too close together and was equally as thin as the last.
My hands gripped the railing intensely.
As I got further and further up, I could hear my primate brain screaming louder and louder.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how each it would be to trip on these steps, to tumble down and in all likelihood break my goddamn neck.
Still, I had the presence of mind to tell the other boys to not climb after us. They were to wait below, until we had finished scoping out the top, before heading up themselves.
I didn’t want any more weight on the staircase. The damn thing creaking with two people on it was already bad enough.
Like I said …. my first priority on any of these urbex shenanigans is to get my lads home safe.
It’s why I always take point. If something bad happens to me, they won’t have to go through it.
Thankfully, nothing happened. The view was incredible and there was the old generator that would have powered the conveyor belt. Running alongside it, was the skinniest gangway I had ever seen, stretching over the top of everything.
I took 4 steps and immediately regretted looking down.
I saw nothing but darkness and an empty void.
Committing the view to memory, I slowly walked back down and allowed the other guys to climb up.
After dealing with such heights, I had to take a breather, so I stripped my jacket, beanie and bag off and just sat in the hole, my legs dangling over, enjoying the night air after such a sweat drenched climb.
How the hell does Batman or Spider-Man do it? I thought randomly, whilst sitting there.
Heights … another thing I can conquer, but haven’t quite conquered.
Getting out was an non-issue, timing our exit between traffic and then merging back into the darkness of the night.
Urbex really allows me to experience something that I’ve always felt a strong affinity for in general: criminality.
The line between criminality and the military has always been something that isn’t explored very often, but inserting into a hostile country, ducking patrol vehicles and observing locations and egress points have the same objectives as my trespassing into abandoned property and avoiding cameras.
It’s why I’m always geared up to such a high degree. I want to trust my kit, know that all the equipment I’ve bought and collected over the years work.
Because, deep down, there is always that fear in me, that the whole world could go to shit and I want to trust my kit.
What better place and time to test it, than in places that resemble an apocalypse?
Urbex gives me that addicting thrill of seeing things that not many other people in my life get to see.
I know it’s breaking the rules, I know that I’m trespassing, I know I shouldn’t be armed with knives but I’m only there to observe and soak in the atmosphere.
It is so rare to find quiet, desolate places in a city like Melbourne and this really lets me see the darker, edgier version of a town I love and adore.
The whole experience isn’t just about testing your bravery, your senses and your reaction to the unknown, it’s about touching a darker side of yourself.
It’s about conquering the anxiety of reaching out into the dark and walking towards it, embracing it, instead of fearing it.
To explore dark, abandoned places, is to shine a light within yourself, about your fears and primal horrors.
That and it’s fucking cool that my torch looks like a flare in these wrecked buildings.
If only I lived in Europe or Japan, where there are more of these places are available to explore.