Aradale was initially constructed as the Ararat Lunatic Asylum and opened in 1867. Today, it is managed by Melbourne Polytechnic is association with Friends of J Ward and is possibly the Victorian States largest heritage site.
The design is based on the influential Colney Hatch asylum in England and in common with other institutions notably Willsmere in Kew and Mayday Hills at Beechworth. Key features are the E shaped plan of the main administration, kitchen and dormitory block with its airing courts, covered walkways and sun shades, as well as the gate lodge, mortuary and ha-ha wall. Later additions include the farm buildings, convalescent cottages, sun-shades and fever tent.
The former lunatic asylum displays a high degree of physical integrity and is in generally good condition. Aradale is architecturally significant as a particularly fine and substantially intact example of an extensive complex of Italianate asylum buildings dating from the 1860s through to the early twentieth century. Aradale is historically and socially important for its changing approaches to the treatment of mental illness from institutional confinement to treatment and rehabilitation, and from barracks, through cottages to wards. Aradale is crucially important in the social history of Ararat and has, along with the Ararat Gaol, contributed significantly to the economic viability.
Today, visitors can walk through the cavernous wards and halls of the institution that treated and housed the mentally ill of Victoria for over 126 years. Tours take about an hour and half and take visitors through the original cottages, the nurses building, female and male wards of the main complex, the administration building, past the Ha Ha walls and ends in the morgue. Throughout the experience visitors are informed about the sites complex history and heritage as well as the stories of past patients, superintendents and staff who were once lived and worked within the institution. Visitors can interact with objects such as the autopsy table and morgue freezer racks and there is also a small Museum space containing objects and archives which visitors can visit before and after their tour. Merchandise and books can also be purchased onsite.