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From WA’s Big Bell to Chernobyl, a Melbourne man is documenting abandoned buildings

Shane Thoms likes to get freaked out. He’ll tell you it all goes back to his childhood, when he was drawn to Freddy Krueger’s infamous boiler room in A Nightmare on Elm Street and the spook factor of a ramshackle, abandoned house in his home suburb of Croydon in Melbourne’s east, which he regularly visited with his mates. The 10-year-olds would huddle on dusty, tattered couches in the living room of the house, which was perched in the middle of an overgrown field, sharing creepy stories about Mental Micky, the bogeyman of their fevered imaginings, who stalked its decaying corridors after dark.

A Shane Thoms self-portrait taken among derelict housing on Japan’s Hashima Island, once mined for coal but now abandoned.

A Shane Thoms self-portrait taken among derelict housing on Japan’s Hashima Island, once mined for coal but now abandoned.

“Call it a lifelong, playful fascination with the macabre,” says Thoms, a Melbourne-based photographer and tech analyst who has spent more than two decades documenting abandoned buildings across the globe, from the once-bustling towns within the nuclear exclusion zones of the Ukraine’s Chernobyl and Japan’s Fukushima to the outback ghost towns of Big Bell in Western Australia and Farina in South Australia, both crumbling in the dry desert heat.

Thoms’ new book, Abandoned Australia, pays tribute to the mass of deserted buildings – houses, factories, power stations, hospitals, mental asylums – that dot our landscape and hark back to perhaps a harsher, working-class life.

“A kind of melancholy hangs over abandoned buildings,” muses the 44-year-old, who took his first photograph – an empty brick factory in Melbourne’s Box Hill – when he was in his early 20s. “It warms my heart to know it’s still there, after all these years.”

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