Fearless correspondent Rohan Trollope goes in search of things that go bump in the night on the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour
If there's something strange in your neighbourhood, the answer to the grammatically suspect question, "Who you gonna call?" is Drew Sinton. Over the past eight years Drew has run Melbourne's Haunted Bookshop, written a book on our local ghosts and spent each Saturday night leading groups around the CBD to the sites of some of our city's most unnerving otherworldly encounters. On one such tour I bravely tag along.
The group gathers in the bookshop on McKillop Street and spends a few minutes browsing the shelves. Besides books on ghosts there are new and used books on vampires, witchcraft, aliens and enough other paranormal material to fill Fox Mulder's filing cabinet. As I reach to pick up a book on Magick - yes that is the correct spelling - Drew makes his presence known to the group.
Dressed in a long black coat and black hat, he tells us that the tour we are about to embark upon has been described as even spookier than the Edinburgh or New Orleans ghost tours, and that he has had security guards and hardened journalists run away screaming. I wonder if I will be the same, but then again I'm hardly hardened to begin with. In fact I am open minded to the point of really, really wanting to see a ghost, and I've brought my camera just in case.
Drew leads our group out into the night and along to Collins Street. Just by Market Street, he stops and tells us we are standing near the birthplace of Melbourne. He points out the sites of the city's first market, first jail, first newspaper and first bank. This is what I like about any great ghost tour, similar to the ones I have enjoyed in London. They are as much a walking history and folklore tour as they are a tour of ghosts. After all, you can't have a good ghost story without a good story.
The group continues up Bank Place to the Mitre Tavern for its first real ghostly tale. It was here in this tucked away pub that three managers each saw a ghost on the first floor, though each describes it differently. For one it was a figure in a black shape moving about, for another is was a dark cocoon and for the third it was a woman in a flowing white dress.
Part of Drew's skill as a tour guide is that he takes us along alleyways and backstreets like Bank Place, which are oddly deserted on a Saturday night. There in the quiet stillness Drew's stories of restless souls become all the more believable and engrossing.
Not all of Drew's dark history of Melbourne and its chain-rattling inhabitants are from the olden days. One ghost is apparently that of a young man who overdosed only twenty years ago. But Drew is not an unquestioning believer, and is quick to out how some supposed ghost sightings can rationally be explained.
Drew is fond of the saying, "For the believers no proof is necessary and for the sceptics no proof is possible." It's with a sly grin, then, that he informs us outside a hotel that it is currently used for meetings of the Australian Sceptics Society that it is haunted too. A master of the theatrical, Drew's tales of late night footsteps and mysterious lanterns would do much to sway any sceptic - or at least give the hairs on the back of the good workout.
Regrettably one of the most confronting haunted buildings on the tour has recently been sold, and so Drew is uncertain about including it in the tour's future. "But there's always another ghost somewhere," he tells me eagerly, "The new QV rang me the other day to tell me they've got a ghost!"
After two hours the tour concludes at the Queen Victoria Market, with the grisly story of Melbourne's very first double execution, and the condemned criminals' subsequent appearances. Drew has brought us full circle, returning us to the city's early and dark beginnings. The tour disperses and we walk away, the couple's arms around one another either in affection or mortal fear. Ghosts aside, the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour is an entertaining way to learn more about our city's past and to give yourself an occasional fright at the same time.
As for myself, no I didn't see a ghost on the tour. But whenever I pass the same buildings during the day in the CBD, I give them an extra glance. Just in case there's a woman in white at the window.