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Chilling ghost trails

Herald Weekly Times Country Magazine, Autumn 1999, pp 44-47
By Karen Gunther & Tony Fawcett

Drew SintonBelieve in them or not, Australia is rife with stories of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night.

Haunting accounts of ghosts are not hard to find when you tour country Australia. Our rich pioneering history has given rise to literally thousands of them.

They are stories of spirits and ghouls, weird happenings and of murder most foul. Above all, they are stories of human drama.

The litany of ghost stories emerging from our earliest settled regions is to be expected, according to professional ghostbuster Drew Sinton.

"What we generally find is that ghosts or spirits tend to be more prevalent at sites of intense human emotion," says Drew.

"Hospitals houses and hotels are generally the sites of most suffering or emotion. That's where you're most likely to find some kind of spirit or presence."

For the traveller wishing to seek out these haunted sites, there is intrigue and hours of fascinating fossicking into history to be enjoyed.

The seaside hamlet of Port Fairy, Victoria, is a veritable haven for ghosts. The town's rollicking history, in which rogue whalers drank in the hotels alongside genteel squatters, is perfect ghost fodder.

The stench of boiling blubber has long since faded, but some fishermen still claim that on the calmest nights, the shouts of men in pursuit of prey echo across the ocean.

A bell-ringing ghost wreaked havoc in a house at Toolong, near Port Fairy, at 6pm every day for many years.

It was widely assumed the ringing was that of a small bedside bell and that the person ringing it had perhaps died while waiting for help.

The introduction of daylight saving in 1963 failed to thwart the ghost which continued to ring each day - at 7pm.

Another Port Fairy home is said to be haunted by the apparition of a beautiful young woman, Claire Sturt Lydiard.

Claire was 17 when she died on June 27, 1898, while collecting watercress along the banks of the Moyne River from a small, flat-bottomed boat.

The boat was somehow overturned and the young girl, weighed down by the voluminous clothing of the era, was drowned.

Her body was taken to the nearest house, a stone cottage belonging to the mill manager, where they lay her out on a bed.

There have been several documented appearances of a young woman since, sometimes smiling, and sometimes gloomily sitting at the end of a bed.

The corridors and balconies of Fortuna Villa on Bendigo's New Chum Reef, Victoria, hint at the grandeur gold can bring.

But those corridors are said, by some, to be stalked by Fortuna's first owner, "Quartz King" George Lansell, credited with introducing deep tunnel mining to Australia.

Occupied by the Australian Army for nearly half of this century, the grand villa's history contains many reports of ghostly happenings.

So frequent were they, for a time the army did not require anyone to sleep in the main house.

There are official army records of shroud-like figures moving through the kitchen area, a mysterious female voice (supposedly that of George Lansell's first wife, Bedillia, who died of uncertain circumstances in the 1880s) regularly heard in a room off the main corridor, locked doors mysteriously opening and sudden drops and rises in temperature.

"There have been too many incidents to dismiss it," said a commanding officer of the army's Survey Regiment based at Fortuna Villa for several decades.

"In the cold light of day we can sit in this office (once George Lansell's bedroom) and laugh about it, but I would suggest to you that at midnight perhaps you wouldn't be laughing.

It's got to the stage where the duty officers will no longer sleep in the main building." (Tours of Fortuna Villa are conducted most Sundays at 1pm.)

Likewise, the late Victorian homestead of Monte Cristo in Junee, New South Wales, described by some as the most haunted house in Australia, is a mecca for those interested in ghosts, and avoided by many who have experienced unusual happenings there.

The original 1876 homestead and the main homestead, built about 1884, have been the subject of reports of mysterious figures floating in and out of rooms, house lights going on and off inexplicably, objects moving around rooms, unexplained noises and animals dying brutally.

Owner Reg Ryan, who with his wife, Olive, bought the derelict property in 1963 and renovated it, contends it is home to seven spirits.

"We have all had experiences of them," he says, explaining he has learnt to live with them, but his wife does get concerned.

"It's the live ones you have got to worry about," he adds with a chuckle. (Monte Cristo is open for tours daily from 10am to 4pm.)

Drew Sinton says such ghosts, spirits, call them what you will, generally make their presence felt in one of a number of ways. Common signs of a haunting, he contends, include footsteps, temperature drops in rooms, terrible odours or objects being moved around the house.

Some ghosts aren't even smart. "A lot of spirits aren't terribly inventive when it comes to hauntings," he says "They really are only as bright as they were in life."

Drew, who runs a professional ghostbusting service and The Haunted Bookshop in Melbourne, says he is often labelled evil because of his pursuit of ghosts.

But he believes there is a strong future in ghosts, primarily because churches now are less inclined to take them on.

"Few priests do exorcisms any more - it's just not fashionable," he says. "The exorcists end up as outcasts accused of working on the dark side. But this isn't to do with darkness. It's about a human energy and human life.

"It amazes me that people have such a hard time accepting ghosts do exist."


A Ghost Seeker's Guide

1. Northern Territory
Corroboree Rock

This photo, taken in 1956 by Adelaide Presbyterian minister the Rev RSC. Blance at Corroboree Rock, west of Alice Springs, has fascinated ghost hunters for decades. Rev Blance, who died in 1982, was photographing the initiation site of the Arunta tribe and discovered the image of a figure wearing what appears to be a nightshirt and cap when the film was developed. As a churchman, Rev Blance�s integrity was not questioned and the photo has frequently been published in works on the spirit world.

2. Western Australia
Southern Cross

Stories of strange happenings and mysterious presences surround the Palace Hotel. New proprietor Gary Sidebottom, a former leading Australian Rules footballer, is aware of the stories, but has not seen any evidence in his six months at the hotel, though he is on the lookout. One shaken overnight guest, previously unaware of the stories, reported to staff "a strange presence'' in his room and was matter-of-factly told he was not the only one to experience it.

3. Western Australia
Fremantle

Its surrounds aren't rural today but Fremantle's asylum, no the Fremantle Museum and Centre, built in 1861, is probably WA's best known haunted building. It is claimed to house a diverse range of inhabitants, from poltergeist that snatch objects from people's hands to spirits who shock< visitors by gently kiss them on the cheek.

4. South Australia
Millicent

Room Two of the Grand Hotel is said to be haunted by the ghost I of an occasionally seen and mischievous woman who turns on radios, while downstairs a young boy is sometimes seen in the bar or sitting on the stairs. Bar attendant Amy Ellis was a disbeliever until she witnessed the transparent figure of a small boy in the front bar. "He was just standing there looking at me,'' she says. A popular theory is that the two are mother and son and are attempting to become reunited.

5. Tasmania
Richmond

Here is Australia's oldest bridge and the stamping ground, it's said, of one of the island state's best known ghosts, that of a particularly sadistic overseer, Simon Grover, murdered and thrown into the Coal River by convicts. The nearby Mill House B&B & boasts a Bridge Room, overlooking the 175-year-old structure, from which keen ghost spotters can keep watch.

6. Victoria
Portland

Burswood, home of Victoria's founding settler, I Edward Henty, is said to have also been home to the ghosts of a young girl and a woman. The girl died on falling out of a Moreton Bay | fig tree. "She did not feel she could pass over because she had not suffered when she died, unlike her small brother and sister who had died of smallpox and suffered quite badly," says Carol Frost, co-owner of the property, now a B&B. The older ghost, so the story goes, looked after her young spirit friend. Both left, says Carol Frost, when a visiting medium convinced them it was safe to "pass over". "We no longer have any ghosts at Burswood, but it would be wonderful if we did so they could give us some information and juicy stories about the house and its occupants," Carol says.

7. New South Wales
Junee

Claimed by some to be Australia's most haunted house, Monte Cristo has a long history of mysterious ghost-like figures appearing and disappearing, strange noises, guests fleeing because of eerie feelings, animals being brutally savaged and all the lights in the Victorian house being visible when no-one is at home. So frequent have the reports been that owner Reg Ryan has produced a small booklet on them.

8. New South Wales
Bathurst

Strathmore Victorian Manor, built in 1882, was once a maternity hospital and the connection continues with reports of a nurse being seen walking past one of the windows. Owners David and Sharon Parratt, who run the delightful home as an up-market accommodation hotel, haven't seen the nurse but have heard noises and are undecided about the stories.

9. Queensland
Childers

The current lessees of the Grand Hotel at Childers, 53km south of Bundaberg, haven't seen it in the year they have been there, but stories persist the hotel, one of the few buildings to survive a fire early this century, is haunted by a ghost called Luke. Luke, it's claimed, wanders up and down the stairs undoing locks and opening doors.


Other Haunted Bookshop offerings you might enjoy ...

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"When you have bought your fill of paranormal books, tarot cards and occult jewellery, you can come back at 8.30 pm on a Saturday for one of Sinton's very popular ghost walk tours of Melbourne" - Narrelle Harris, author Witch Honour

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