While sceptics dismiss supernatural sightings, true believers are refusing to give up the ghost. Melissa Heagney investigates a spectral debate
MOST ghost stories start on a dark, stormy night in a deserted old house in a secluded location.
This one starts at the busy QV building in the afternoon.
Security guard Kevin Phillips was on duty, making his usual rounds down Albert Coates Lane.
He was checking out QV's Urban Market - the upmarket food court - when he was approached by an old woman.
"Big place isn't it?" the diminutive mystery woman said. "Yes it is," Phillips replied.
"I used to work here," she said, pointing to the fourth floor of the building.
"Up there is where they kept the bastard children," she said.
Phillips looked up and when he looked back, the woman had disappeared.
This is one of the stories being told on Drew Sinton's Haunted Melbourne ghost tours.
QV, on the site of the old Queen Victoria Women's Hospital, has just been added to the tours list after months of investigation by Sinton, a ghost hunter.
Sinton also owns the Haunted Bookshop and has a passion for the paranormal.
QV is not the only "haunted" building in the city.
Those who walk around the Queen Victoria Market may be unaware that underneath its cobbled grounds are the remains of an old cemetery.
It was moved in the early 1900s to make room for the market.
There are also pubs and bars in the city with stories of unexplained events.
Although the CBD has its share of ghosts, there are more in the suburbs.
Just north of the city, the Ivanhoe RSL office has a story to tell.
On a Friday night 20 years ago, RSL president Fred Cullen walked towards the offices, and was greeted by two members fleeing in a panic.
The men, a barman and a patron, told Cullen there was a ghost inside the offices, a former homestead built in 1910.
Cullen suspected he was the victim of a practical joke.
But the men were genuinely perturbed.
He asked them to stay near the rear office door while he investigated.
When Cullen went inside he stood dumbfounded in the hall.
"I saw a luminescent light and quite clearly it was a woman in a nightdress,"_ he says.
"She was just floating above the ground. The light was fading as I saw it - it was just there for a minute or so."
A few years later, Cullen learned that the home's owner had committed suicide in the house after being accused by her husband of having an affair with the homestead's gardener.
Although the story is hearsay, Cullen says it is true. After all, he saw the ghost.
But for every believer such as Cullen and Sinton there are sceptics who believe there's a rational explanation for the ghostly appearances.
Australian Sceptics Victoria member Lynne Kelly, in her book The Sceptic's Guide to the Paranormal offers alternative explanations to hauntings.
Kelly says she doesn't want to be negative about others' experiences but explains: "A sceptic is just someone who loves reality".
Kelly believes people lean towards a paranormal explanation for the things they can't explain.
"For a lot of people, it's a reassurance that there's an afterlife. Some people need that," she says.
Kelly says poor peripheral vision can be blamed for people seeing blurred, unexplained figures, as can a condition known as night terrors.
People can wake to see a figure in their room but it is a figment of their imagination.
Despite the scepticism, ghost stories continue.
Bundoora Homestead staff have investigated ghosts that are said to haunt it.
The homestead, built in 1900 and now an arts centre, has been used as a horse stud, convalescent farm and mental repatriation hospital.
Bundoora Homestead director Jackie Healy says the ghosts that haunt the homestead and Bundoora Park are a wonderful connection to the home's past.
"All heritage houses of integrity have ghosts," she jokes.
The homestead has two ghosts. One is George, a World War I veteran and a patient at the convalescent farm in the 1920s.
Healy has never seen George but has heard many stories that defy explanation, including an account of nurses at the mental repatriation hospital seeing all the doors in the upstairs wing closing simultaneously.
As for the QV ghost, Sinton believes the old woman was a nurse at the hospital whose spirit has remained.
Most of the hospital was demolished in 1993, but Sinton had a chance to investigate it before it was torn down.
He says the ghost woman had pointed to what used to be a children's ward.