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Ghost tales spray house

Sunday Herald Sun 16 May, 1999, pp 23
By Robin Riley

Drew SintonThere are few sights more spectacular than Spray Farm on a crisp winter's morning.

With its panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne's skyline to the north and the You Yangs to the northwest, the Victorian Gothic-style house is one of the Bellarine Peninsula's best known.

But it is not its superb architecture that encourages animated discussion. Rather, it is the rumour the house may be haunted.

It looks haunted. Painstakingly sculptured cornices are chipped and cracked, lacework is dented and faded and the once meticulously maintained interior is shabby.

Little has been done to the house in the 50 years since the then owner's bride declared it haunted on her wedding night, refusing to set foot in it again.

Melbourne stockbroker David Browne fell for Spray Farm as a boy and recalls sneaking in to ride his bike with mates.

Even then residents whispered there was something strange about the house.

When it came on the market in 1994, the timing was perfect for Mr Browne, who runs Scotchman's Hill winery a few kilometres down the road, with wife Vivienne and sons Matthew, Andrew and Michael.

The family will never live at Spray Farm, but is happy to see one of the peninsula's oldest properties preserved.

The gardens have undergone the Paul Bangay treatment, the stables have been refurbished and workmen are tackling the interior.

Matthew Browne admits the house has a sinister feel at night. He should know. With his younger brothers Matthew volunteered to sleep there in August 1994 to prove wrong the rumours it was haunted.

As darkness fell, an eerie silence descended on the house and the trio watched a thin mist roll in across the water.

Then the strange noises started. Doors slammed, floorboards creaked, windows rattled ...

"We had intended spending the whole night," said Matthew 28. "We lasted a few hours."

Practical Andrew, 23, said the noises could be explained.

"It's an old house," he said. "Naturally the floorboards will creak and windows rattle."

So why was he in a hurry to leave? "Well, it was a bit scary. The others left, I went with them."

The ghost that haunts Spray Farm is thought to be that of Fanny Ibbotson, whose father, Charles, bought the property in 1865.

He founded the stock and station agency Dalgety's and tall graceful and good looking Fanny grew up in the four-bedroom retreat on 60 lush hectares.

Stables were attached to a row of servants' quarters. Bay windows in the drawing and dining rooms exploited the bay view.

No expense was spared on Fanny's education and she was expected to marry a man of means.

Instead she chose John Clee, the family's groom, and the pair eloped to Ballarat.

It broke her father's heart, but the story had a happy ending.

Fanny and John Clee were reconciled with her family many years later and spent their final days at Spray Farm.

Does she still roam the derelict corridors?

Matthew thinks it is possible. So did the guests at Michael's 21st birthday party in 1995.

More than 100 had agreed to bunk down in the house after the party. Not one stayed.

There were no ghost sightings, rattling of chains, flying heads or chilling cries - the guests simply felt uneasy and did not like the unexplained noises.

If the ghost of Fanny Clee does not like strangers sleeping in her house, she may be more accepting of plans for the hilltop homestead.

Located in a natural amphitheatre, Spray Farm is proving one of the state's best outdoor concert venues.

Last year, a summer festival attracted more than 10,000 visitors. This year, a further six concerts are planned.

"We will hold receptions and perhaps small dinners here, but no one will ever live here," Matthew said. "I think Fanny would like that."

Melbourne ghost researcher Drew Sinton has offered to visit Spray Farm.

"We will do a seance," he said. "If there is an unhappy ghost, perhaps we can find the problem."


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