GHOSTS OF QUEENSLAND
Vex not his ghost; o let him pass.
King Lear, William
Brisbane's oldest ghost story (really two stories in
one) concerns the most controversial figure in the city's
early history, Captain Patrick Logan of His Majesty's 57th
Regiment of Foot, Commandant of the Penal Settlement at
Moreton Bay from 1825 to 1830.
Logan was a man of vision and an able administrator
who converted the dismal outpost he commanded into a
well-organised and efficient colony, but Logan is not
remembered for his good deeds; only his bad. His cruel
treatment of the convicts at Moreton Bay earned him the title
the Fell Tyrant and made him the subject of one of Australia's
best-known folk songs, ‘Moreton Bay’, which describes the
horrific plight of convicts under his rule. Misconduct earned
them up to 300 lashes and many died, strapped to the flogging
frame. Logan was feared and despised by the convicts, and the
final verse of ‘Moreton Bay’ rejoices at his violent death.
The Captain was also a courageous explorer who made
many journeys. sometimes alone, into the interior, surveying
and mapping the wild terrain.
It was while returning from one of these excursions,
riding alone along a bush track in what is now South Brisbane,
that Logan met a ghost. The Captain spotted a man in convict
uniform a few yards in front of him and, thinking it was an
escapee from the settlement, hailed him and ordered him to
Logan expected the figure to run but to his surprise
it approached him, reached out a sinewy arm and grabbed one of
his stirrups. Logan's horse took fright and reared. The
Captain lashed out with his riding crop but the blow passed
straight through the shadowy figure. He spurred his horse to a
gallop but the ghost clung on, floating effortlessly beside
the terrified horse and rider. It was not until they were
nearing the south bank of the Brisbane River that the ghost
suddenly let go and disappeared.
Logan's fear may seem out of character for a ruthless
man with an inquiring mind, but something else had unsettled
him: Captain Logan had recognised the ghost. It was a convict
called Stimson who had absconded, been recaptured at the very
spot where he appeared, and died while being flogged on the
Captain's orders exactly one month before.
Logan met his own death while on another expedition.
He set out with his batman and five trusted convicts on 9
November 1830 to map a creek west of the outpost at Limestone
Hills (Ipswich). The party was stalked for most of its journey
and attacked twice by hostile Aborigines but, despite this
apparent danger, Logan went off on his own on 17 October,
planning to rejoin the party at a prearranged rendezvous at
dusk. When he found he could not reach the spot before
nightfall, Logan built a rough shelter and settled down for
the night. In the early hours of the morning of the 18th
he was attacked and killed by Aborigines- or, according to
some historians- by convicts.
At noon that day a party of prisoners working on the
river bank at the Moreton Bay settlement spotted Captain
Logan, on horseback on the far side of the river, waving to
them. None had any doubts about who it was. Two of them downed
tools and hastily launched the punt that was used to ferry
people across the river and rowed over to pick up their
Commandant. When they arrived on the south bank (the spot
where Stimson's ghost had disappeared and the Queensland
Performing Arts Complex now stands) there was no sign of
Logan. He and his horse had vanished into thin air.
At that time Captain Logan's battered body was
growing cold in a shallow grave in the bush seventy kilometres
Residents of Ipswich also lay
claim to having seen Logan's ghost in more
Brisbane's oldest remaining building, the Tower Mill in Wickham Terrace, dates from Captain Logan's time. This graceful old sandstone tower has had a chequered career- flour mill, signal station, fire-watching tower and meteorological observatory. Like most convict-era buildings there's also a dark side to its history. When the original sails on top of the tower failed, a treadmill was installed that was worked by chained convicts and, on 3 July 1841, the tower was used as a gallows to hang two Aborigines convicted of murder.
Since the middle of the last century stories have circulated about the tower being haunted. Residents of Wickham Terrace claimed that sometimes when they looked up at the small window facing the street they could see a faint glow and a figure inside the tower, swinging gently from side to side.
Today the Tower Mill stands in a small park, dwarfed by surrounding buildings. Perhaps if you sat across the tree-lined street around dusk and watched that window you might see something watching you.
Brisbane's Old Government House in the grounds of the Queensland University of Technology at Gardens Point is also reputedly haunted- by the ghost of the state's first governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen. This elegant old sandstone building dates from 1860 and served as a vice-regal residence until 1910, when it became the first University of Queensland. Today it houses the headquarters of the Queensland National Trust.
Irish-born Governor Bowen was appointed in 1859 when the colony separated from New South Wales. He was a typical colonial administrator: self-opinionated, long-winded, shrewd and dedicated to creating a state worthy of Queen and Empire.
He died in England in 1899 and from time to time thereafter occupants of Old Government House have claimed to have seen his ghost. The reports describe his unmistakable, powerful figure in full vice-regal regalia moving slowly and majestically up the stairs while his large head, framed in white hair and mutton-chop whiskers, nods thoughtfully.
Ghosts of bureaucrats are plentiful in Brisbane. A few hundred metres from Old Government House there are reputedly three more in Parliament House, a massive colonnaded building dating from 1868 which overlooks the Botanical Gardens.
The ghost of the first Sergeant-at-Arms of the
Legislative Assembly, Captain Richard Coley, who died in office,
is said to wander the building. Coley served the parliament from
1860 to 1864 when it met in the old Convict Barracks in Queen
Street long before the present Parliament House was built, so
why his spirit should have taken up residence in the new building is a
mystery. Coley was a retired sea captain whose modest timber
cottage was the oldest private residence in the inner city
until it was demolished in 1887.
The Speaker's Room in Parliament House is said to be haunted by the ghost of The Honourable George Pollock, Labor member for the far western seat of Gregory and Speaker of the Parliament from 1932 to 1939. Pollock was an able parliamentarian and a respected Speaker who apparently suffered ill health during his last years in office. This is the official reason given for his shooting himself in the Speaker's Room on 24 March 1939.
After two private secretaries to the State Opposition Leader died in office between 1962 and 1964, the next was reported in the press as saying he and his assistant had heard ‘queer dragging noises’ coming from the ceiling of their office in Parliament House. He did not go so far as to suggest it was the ghost of one of his predecessors but, given the reputation of this building, many people jumped to that conclusion.
Brisbane’s majestic City Hall also has, or had, a ghost. From the 1950s onwards council workers heard strange footsteps and felt a sinister atmosphere in a series of small rooms known collectively as Room 302 on the third floor. The rooms were close to the spot where a caretaker is believed to have suicided in the 1940s. For a time the area was used as a photographic darkroom, then abandoned when the ghostly activity reached its peak. In 1982 carpenters were sent in to demolish the interior walls and the area was added to the building's kindergarten centre. Fortunately for the young patrons of that centre the ghost has not been seen or heard since.
Like most old theatres, Brisbane's Her Majesty's
Theatre (demolished amid great controversy in 1983) also had its
ghosts and mysteries. The best known is a male ghost who used to
appear from time to time at the back of the dress circle. When
Jesus Christ Superstar was playing in the theatre about twenty
years ago, popular actor-singer Jon English (who played Judas
so memorably) was reported as saying that one night he looked
up from the stage and watched a transparent figure walk slowly
from one side of the dress circle to the other. Others saw
this strange apparition but no one was able to identify him.
Then there was the little room where costumes and props
used to be stored that had once been a dressing room. A story
goes that two rival actors fought in that room around 1900; one
killed the other and hid his body in the ceiling. Years after the corpse had been
removed the room would suddenly fill with the overpowering
stench of putrefying flesh.
There was also a staircase near the canteen that was
not on the building plans and which led nowhere, ending against
a solid wall. Heavy footsteps were often heard mounting the stairs but no figure
was ever seen. Then there were the phantom pillars. When the
interior of the theatre was remodelled in 1930s the upper
circle (‘The Gods’) was removed and the dress circle extended.
The columns that supported the upper circle were also taken
out and yet, years later, patrons complained to the management
after a performance that their view of the stage had been
obstructed by those same columns.
Nearby Brisbane Arcade also, reputedly, has a persistent ghost. The old arcade is one of those elegant Victorian-era shopping complexes with an antiquated lift, flamboyant decoration and iron lace balustrades. There was once a successful millinery shop on the upper level run by a lady who is apparently reluctant to leave, though she has been dead for many years. It is said that her ghost is still sometimes seen, dressed in a once-fashionable Victorian gown and pacing the balcony at night.
Behind the Brisbane Arcade in Adelaide Street there was once a butcher's shop, facing the present King George Square. The shop was there at the turn of the century and for a good many years after, but it is gone today. It was L-shaped, the meat being prepared in one part and the customers served in the other.
Legend has it that a butcher and an apprentice got into an argument one day. A meat cleaver was thrown and the apprentice died. Subsequent owners of the shop and customers would occasionally hear the sound of men arguing and struggling, then terrible screams coming from the back of the shop.
A few blocks away on the corner of Adelaide and Wharf streets stood the old Radio 4BC building. It too has fallen under the demolisher's hammer. Originally a pickle factory, the building had a staff tea room at the rear. There was an opening in the tea room floor that had once housed a food lift. In the time of the pickle factory a worker fell down the shaft while trying to fix the lift.
4BC night-time radio announcers swore that the room would
suddenly turn icy cold and the sound of someone crying for
help could be heard coming up the shaft.
A few years ago a young Brisbane woman claimed that
the ghost of a tall, young man with shoulder-length blond hair
(a ‘surfie’ type, she called him) had appeared one night
beside her bed- stark naked. Friends and neighbours told her
it must have been a prowler, a burglar or wishful dreaming,
but she was convinced she had been visited by a ghost.
Two other young women appeared on television shortly
after to tell a similar story, of a blond-haired young man,
completely naked, sitting in a tree outside their house in the
leafy suburb of Bardon staring in through their window. Local
opinion maintained that it was the ghost of a young man whose
girlfriend had once lived in the house.
A television crew set up their cameras and waited in
vain to catch the saucy spirit on film, but he was too shy to
appear. A few days after they departed, however, passers-by
reported catching fleeting glimpses of him back in his
favourite spot among the foliage.
A much more sinister collection of spirits inhabit an
old house in another suburb on the western side of Brisbane
(the address is definitely not for publication). The house has
a grim history. A tenant hanged himself there in the 1920s and
a previous owner refused to let anyone dig in the yard, which
led to all sorts of speculation about buried bodies. Everyone
who has lived in the house seems to have been caught up in its
evil atmosphere, their lives disrupted by domestic arguments,
mystery and cruelty.
A whole team of ghostly figures appear suddenly and
disappear moments later inside and outside the building. A
medium called in in the 1970s told the newspapers she felt
terrible anguish and pain in every room of the blighted old
The riverside suburb of Bulimba developed around a
stately home called Bulimba House, built in 1849 by an
English-born grazier, David McConnel. From 1935 until his
death in 1963 it was the home of Arthur E. Moore, one-time
premier of Queensland.
Neither the McConnels, the Moores or any other owners
of Bulimba House have seen the ghost that reputedly haunts the
old two-storey stone building, but all have heard it. At odd
hours of the day and night a sharp knocking can be heard at
the front door. Dogs bark and, in earlier times, servants
scurried to answer the summons, but there is never anyone
Also south of the river in Martha Street, Camp Hill
is another old house, leased at one time by the American
Consul. For many years locals shunned the house, believing it
haunted by the ghost of a man who shot himself in one of its
rooms. The old house outlived its bad reputation, eventually
becoming the home of a happy family who lived there for twenty
years, undisturbed by ghost or rumour.
Cleveland, on the shores of Moreton Bay, almost
became the capital the State of Queensland. Many people
believed it a much better site for a state capital than the
flood-prone and insect-infested former penal colony on the
Among Cleveland's strongest supporters was the rich
grazier Francis Bigge, who built a residence there in 1853.
Later the house was leased by the State Government as a police
residence and court house. It stands today under yet another
guise as Ye Olde Courthouse Restaurant, complete with (it is
proudly claimed) its own resident ghost.
Stories of the Old Cleveland Courthouse Ghost (a
middle-aged woman in a white gown, her dark hair gathered in
two tight buns over her ears) have circulated for generations.
No one knows for sure who she is, but most people believe it
is Francis Bigge's wife, Elizabeth. The spectre is normally
well behaved, content to amuse herself tapping staff and
diners on the shoulder or blowing gently in their ears but she
has been know to lose her temper on rare occasions, hurling
items about the restaurant, switching lights on and off,
fiddling with taps and causing valuable pictures to crash to
the floor without, curiously, the glass in the frames ever
Until replaced by Boggo Road Jail in 1932, St Helena
Island in Moreton Bay was Brisbane's main prison. At some time
after its closure one of the cottages from the old penal
settlement was relocated to Peel Island (another spot with a
gruesome history, a one-time leper colony), and from there to
Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island.
At Dunwich it was named Marie Rose Cottage and served
as living quarters for ambulance officers seconded from the
mainland. Its innocuous appearance, however, was deceiving;
something evil out of the building’s past had travelled with
One ambulance officer still feels horror when he
tells of his encounter with a demon-like creature in the
bedroom of the cottage in 1988. The memory of the creature's
face still haunts him: ‘It had a deeply furrowed forehead, a
sinister mouth with broken and filthy teeth and glowing,
orange eyes. From its mouth came a soft hissing sound and a
putrid smell.’ It took all the ambulance officer's strength,
mental and physical, to escape its, powerful grip and the
struggle left him badly bruised. The stench remained in the
room for two days.
Too many others have had similar experiences in and
around this innocent- looking building to dismiss their
stories. Whatever the abomination is, it is not human and
never was. Marie Rose Cottage was demolished a couple of years
ago to make way for a new ambulance station and the demon has
not been seen since, but perhaps it's too early to consign it
to history just yet.
Brisbane's notorious Boggo Road Jail boasts the ghost
of a young farm labourer named Ernest Austin, who was
convicted of murder and executed on the jail gallows on 22
September 1922. From then until the jail was closed eighty
years later, prisoners claimed to see Austin's ghost near a
wall in A Wing, where the gallows used to stand.
Senior officers always denied the stories, but
(according to the press) in 1970 a guard made a note in the
official log that he had seen a formless white mass hovering
above an exercise yard one night. The guard had no idea what
it was he had observed but it defied physical explanation and
frightened him badly. Given the grim history of this
establishment it should not surprise anyone that strange and
disturbing phenomena linger there.
A ghost in this inner city once commercial, once
early colonial residential, area made the headlines in 1976
and again in 1984. A medium, called in to investigate in 1976,
identified the ghost as Helen Brennan, a name that brought
back memories for many people in ‘The Valley’. Helen Brennan
and Reuben Wallace ran a corner store at the intersection of
James and Robertson streets during the 1940s. Helen was found,
suffocated, in the flat above the shop on 15 October 1949.
Wallace was accused of her murder but suffered a severe heart
attack before his trial. The charge was reduced to
manslaughter and when Wallace finally appeared he was
Twenty-seven years later a young mother with two
children rented the dwelling, but no sooner had she moved in
than she began to hear strange sounds. ‘There's something very
evil here,’ she told the press, ‘I can feel it.’ The medium
arrived and claimed that he could see a woman lying on one of
the beds in the flat. She was ill and kept asking for someone
called Ruby or Reuben.
The young mother left and later tenants did not seem
bothered by the ghost- not until 1986 when a bus driver, his
wife and Tibby their cat moved in. The cat panicked whenever
it was carried up the stairs, and its mistress claimed she saw
a small, transparent, female figure wrapped in a light grey
shroud standing on the stairs on two occasions.
Today the premises are occupied by Bellas Art
Gallery. The proprietor has never seen the ghost but is quite
happy to answer inquiries about the colourful history of his
Royal Brisbane Hospital, at Herston, is home to quite
a number of spirits, according to legend and newspaper
reports. One story relates to a theatre sister who was
supposedly murdered many years ago and whose uniformed figure,
complete with stiff, triangular veil, has often been seen
through frosted glass windows.
A mischievous spirit resides in one ward which was
once a prison ward, pushing buzzers in the middle of the night
and luring nurses into darkened rooms.
Best known of the hospital's ghosts is a female
figure dressed in white who keeps vigil beside patients' beds.
Staff have often been asked by patients to thank the kind lady
who sat with them during the night. Nurses, orderlies, kitchen
staff and cleaners have seen her, but most are reluctant to
talk about their experiences. No one knows who she is, or was
in life, but clearly she brings comfort, not fear, to those
who encounter her.
Some people also believed that the Adelaide Billings
Ward at the adjacent Royal Children's Hospital was haunted by
the nurse after whom it was named. Matron Billings was greatly
loved in her lifetime and after her death the hospital
authorities decided to honour her memory by naming the ward
after her but, it seems, she was not content to be remembered
in name only. According to one story a male nurse found her
busily filling a burette from a tap one night. He thought her
face was vaguely familiar but did not recognise her at the
time. The nurse thought no more about it until he glanced at a
photo of Matron Billings hanging in the lobby, and the
realisation that he had seen a ghost struck him.
On many other occasions she was observed touring the ward at night checking on her tiny patients, stroking foreheads, tucking in bedclothes and straightening pillows. A few years ago the Adelaide Billings Ward was demolished to make way for new buildings. Hopefully the tireless matron is now having a well-deserved rest.
An old Queensland-style home at Lutwyche is said to
be the lair of an unfriendly ghost. A security guard reported
that he went there one hot December night at around midnight.
When he entered the empty house it was freezing cold. His
teeth began to chatter with cold and fear. An eerie female
voice came out of the darkness, screaming at him: ‘Get out!
Get out!’ Needless to say he wasted no time obeying and has
sworn never to return. The exact location of the house is a
carefully guarded secret, but nothing in its recorded past
accounts for the presence of a ghost.
One of the television transmitting towers on Mount
Coot-tha, just west of the city, is supposed to be haunted by
the ghost of a workman who fell to his death when the tower
was being built. He hasn’t been seen for many years, but
Channel Seven newsreader Nev Roberts is quoted as saying he
could remember a technician coming into the studio in the late
1970s, white-faced and trembling, saying he had seen a ghostly
figure dressed in overalls walking on the tower.
A ghost who has never been seen is reputed to haunt a
house in Murarrie. It may be the spirit of a furniture
removalist or a house-proud former owner of the property. Its
favourite trick is to put heavy pieces of furniture back in
their original positions every time the current owners
Brisbane’s oldest existing private residence,
Newstead House, at Newstead is a gracious, low-set mansion
commanding magnificent views of the Brisbane River. It was
built in 1846 by Patrick Leslie, the first pastoralist on the
Darling Downs, who sold it the following year to his
brother-in-law, Captain John Wickham, RN, Police Magistrate of
the Moreton Bay Settlement. Until the erection of Old
Government House, Newstead House was the hub of local society.
The Wickhams entertained lavishly, with formal dinner parties
and balls attended by foreign dignitaries, government
officials from Sydney and officers of the army and navy.
Stories of ghosts at Newstead House are legion,
ranging from simple phenomena like curtains billowing, strange
noises, chess pieces moving and lights flickering to the
appearance of spectral figures, the most famous of which is
described as ‘a young woman wearing an old-fashioned gown in a
diffuse shade of pink’. This ghost is held responsible for the
strange things that are said to occur in one of the children’s
bedrooms in the north-west wing of the house. A pair of
antique shoes placed parallel will be found next day with the
toes pointing inwards, and a warming pan kept in the room,
located beside the hearth in another room. Most people believe
the Pink Lady is a kind and solicitous ghost, perhaps a mother
or nanny once employed in the house.
Newstead House stands today in all its preserved
glory, the venue for concerts under the stars and open for
When buildings in a large area of South Brisbane were
demolished to make way for World Expo '88, a couple of old
architectural gems were preserved and renovated. One was The
Plough Inn, dating from the end of the nineteenth century.
Patrons of the popular pub breathed sighs of relief; so,
presumably, did the building’s resident ghost. Legend has it
that it is the ghost of a young girl strangled in the hotel in
the 1920s when South Brisbane was still the haunt of sailors,
prostitutes and spivs. No one has seen the ghost but many
claim to have heard her. She lives, staff have been quoted as
saying, where Guest Room 7 used to be before the renovations,
where the atmosphere is always cold and oppressive.
A strange phenomenon used to occur outside a
dilapidated old house called ‘Mossdale’ in Wynnum Road,
Tingalpa, belonging to Charles Costin, Clerk of the
Legislative Council of the Queensland Parliament. Costin
leased the house to a family named Ellis in 1907. The mother,
Connie Ellis, recorded in her memoirs that the family would
often hear footsteps crunching up the gravel driveway and
along the wooden verandah, then a locked bedroom door opening.
In frustration they nailed the door closed one night but to no
avail. The footsteps came again and in the morning the bedroom
door was wide open, the nails protruding neatly from it.
Later the Ellises learned that a school teacher had
been murdered in the house many years before and the locals
believed the ghost was that of the hanged murderer, returning
to wash bloodstains from his hands.
‘Whepstead’ at Wellington Point is an historic weatherboard mansion designed to catch cool breezes coming off Moreton Bay and set in expansive lawns and gardens. Today it is a fine restaurant and function centre.
‘Whepstead’ wins hands down in the haunted restaurant stakes with no less than four ghosts. One is believed to be Matilda Burnett, wife of the original owner, Gilbert Burnett. Her face has appeared at windows and her ghostly progress through the building can be followed by a trail of the strong lavender perfume she wore in life.
Two of the Burnett’s ten children are also reputed to haunt their former home: Edith Mary, who disappeared without trace aged seventeen in 1877, just a year after the family moved into ‘Whepstead’, and one of their sons, a sad little boy with a withered leg who has been seen peering through the banisters on the central staircase. The fourth ghost is an elderly man, apparently a servant, who appears in a butler’s uniform with a bowler hat.
All these apparitions have been seen by owners, staff and guests at ‘Whepstead’ in the past twenty years and strange but harmless things happen regularly in the old house: candles are lit by invisible hands, stains appear and disappear on a large carpet, cheques left lying about have been hidden in a book and on one occasion a heavy glass decanter stopper was thrown across a room.
Also at Wellington Point is ‘Fernbourne’, another house built by Gilbert Burnett. ‘Fernbourne’ also claims two ghosts, a man whom no one has identified and an old lady. The owner of ‘Fernbourne’ in the 1980s told a newspaper reporter that she believed the old lady was Matilda Burnett, apparently commuting between her two former homes.
A troubling spectacle used to appear on the Mount
Gravatt-Capalaba Road, near the intersection of Broadwater
Road at Wishart. Drivers coming around a corner at dusk would
see a motorcycle lying on its side, a woman lying on the road
and a man kneeling over her. The sun would always glint off
the man's helmet visor. Those who had not seen the tragic
scene before would pull over to the side of the road and run
back to help, but when they got there, there was no sign of
man, woman or motorcycle.
For more than twenty years an elderly resident of
Woodridge shared her home with the ghost of a little girl aged
about twelve. The old ramshackle wooden house had originally
stood in the inner suburb of Woolloongabba. When it was
relocated to Woodridge the ghost of the little girl went with
it. So, apparently, did the lingering strains of a violin and
a piano playing classical music, a sound often heard inside
the house when radio and the television were all switched off.
One night the ghost of the little girl appeared in
her nightdress to another family member and told her that her
name was Penelope Green. After a visit from a clergyman, who
suggested Penelope should be on her way, the owner of the
house believes the little spirit departed- and so did the
Another strange phenomenon of recent times was
reported on a small farm also on the southern outskirts of
Brisbane. The property once belonged to a motor mechanic who
left rusty cars bodies lying about. A young family moved to
the farm in 1983 and built a chicken run near the wreck of an
a Black and White cab. All seemed peaceful until they began to
hear a gruff voice coming from the empty taxi: ‘Are you the
fare?’ the voice asks- just that one sentence over and over
‘It’s not a frightening voice but it sure gives you a
fright,’ the mother of the family told a newspaper reporter in
If you had walked down Gilchrist Avenue in the
Brisbane suburb of Herston any night during a hot week in
November 1965 you might have thought you had stumbled upon a
political revolution or pagan religious ceremony. The street
would have been jammed with cars, including a dozen police
vehicles. Victoria Park on the southern side of the street,
the adjacent playing fields and the golf course opposite would
have been filled with up to 5000 people milling about. You
would have seen the whole spectacle lit by thousands of
torches, car headlights, television lights and the hell-fire
glow of burning oil, spread over the small ornamental lake in
the park. This was not, however, a revolution or a religious
rite- it was Brisbane's reaction to a reported sighting of the
Ghost of Victoria Park.
On the previous Saturday evening two school boys
walking through the pedestrian underpass beneath the railway
lines that run through the park claimed that a ghost had come
out of the stone wall of the underpass and chased them. They
described it as ‘a misty, bluish-white thing’ that looked like
a human torso with no head, no arms and no legs below the
knee. One of the boys had to be treated for shock at nearby
Royal Brisbane Hospital. All this was reported in the next
morning’s newspaper and Brisbane was instantly plunged into
the grip of ghost mania.
Every night thereafter for more than a week, huge
crowds gathered in the park and surrounding area in the hope
of catching a glimpse of, the ghost. There were families with
babies and wide-eyed children in pyjamas; men dressed in
singlets, shorts and thongs; men in dinner jackets; women in
towelling mu-mus and women in fashionable cocktail dresses.
There were young girls in short shorts and youths with long
hair and leather jackets. Picnic hampers, thermos flasks and
bottled beer were brought along. Meat pie and ice-cream
vendors did a roaring trade.
And how did they all behave? Well, the majority
treated the whole thing as a family outing and, apart from
wandering too close to the railway tracks, behaved themselves
tolerably well. But at around ten each night when the families
had gone home (disappointed at not having seen the ghost), the
gangs of youths took over. Drunken brawls were nightly events.
Police cars were stoned. Trains were belted with rocks,
smashing carriage windows and showering terrified passengers
with glass. Trees and fences were destroyed. Fires were lit
wherever fuel could be uprooted or torn down. One maniac
brought a flame thrower (‘to roast the ghost’, he said) and
others threw crackers and let off marine flares. Until motor
oil was poured over it and set alight the lake was used as a
dunking pond. Police reinforcements were brought in and many
of the thrill seekers woke up next morning in jail.
Grandparents tut-tutted but admitted the scenes were
reminiscent of 1903 when the ghost appeared the first time.
Parents did the same but added that the behaviour had not been
nearly so bad in 1922 and 1932 when they turned out for the
ghost’s second and third appearances. ‘This ghost does seem to
bring out the worst in people,’ a City Council spokesman said.
‘Thank goodness it doesn’t turn on a really terrifying show
and panic the crowds. People would die in the rush to escape.’
As it was, dozens suffered minor injuries, treated at a field
station by St John’s Ambulance volunteers.
And what of the ghost? Was there one? Is there one?
Well, observers in 1903 described it as looking like a
three-metre tall nun in a grey habit. In 1922 and 1932 it was
described simply as ‘a shimmering grey form’. If we accept the
school boys’ description in 1965 and assume it is the same
spectre, then it seems she, he or it has lost some bits
between 1903 and 1965. Two theories were put forward in 1965
to identify the spectre. One was that it was the ghost of a
vagrant named Walter Hall who had been beaten to death with a
bottle and his body dumped in the lake in 1952. The other
suggested it was a Swede, Karl David Dinass, who was a suspect
in a brutal murder case in 1960 and who committed suicide by
throwing himself in front of a train near the underpass.
Neither theory takes into account the earlier sightings of the
All has been quiet in Victoria Park for the past
thirty‑plus years. Perhaps major renovations to the underpass
in 1984, or the more recent Motorway Bypass, have scared the
ghost away or maybe it’s just biding its time and getting
ready to make another appearance.
The existence of a liar is more probable than the
existence of a ghost.
George Bernard Shaw
Two of the oldest properties in the Allora district
on the Darling ‘Glengallan’ and ‘Goomburra’, shared a common
boundary. The two homesteads were connected by a dirt track
and a substantial wooden gate stood where the track crossed
the boundary. Probably because the owner of ‘Glengallan’ built
it the gate was always known as the Glengallan Gate.
There, late one night in the last quarter of the
1800s, a ghost story had its origin when Little Dan Hartigan,
a quick-tempered hard-drinking roustabout employed on
Goomburra, was returning from visiting a friend at
‘Glengallan’. Fortunately for the diminutive rider (who was
very drunk) the horse knew its own way home, but, as they
approached the Glengallan Gate, something happened that
sobered Little Dan instantly.
A white figure suddenly appeared out of the gloom and
swooped over his head. At that moment the gate opened wide-
all by itself. The horse panicked and took off back towards
Glengallan . Dan finally gained control of it and led it back
to the boundary. When they got there the gate was firmly
closed. Holding his breath and treading silently Dan opened
the gate, led the horse through, remounted- and rode like the
devil all the way to ‘Goomburra’.
Dan's mates told him he must have been hallucinating,
but they changed their story when other riders, including a
local minister, had the same experience. William Robey, a
fencer on ‘Goomburra’, probably had the worst experience. His
horse bolted and ran into a tree; Robey broke a rib and was
knocked unconscious. When he came to the moon had risen, and
to his horror he could see the ghost sitting on the gate. He
crept closer, and when he was just a few yards away the
spectre took flight and the gate swung open. Robey began to
laugh (despite his aching ribs), the raucous sound echoing
through the gloomy bush. Flapping over his head was a large
After that most people believed Robey’s theory that
the ‘ghost’ was an owl. The bird habitually perched on the top
rail of the gate, they said. When a rider approached it took
fright and movement caused the finely balanced gate to swing
open. When the bird returned its weight caused the gate to
close again. A few, like Little Dan Hartigan (who drank
nothing but black tea and water for the rest of his days),
were unconvinced, still believing the cause was supernatural.
In support of their view it is said that horses became flighty
and hard to handle when they passed through the gate, even in
daylight when there was not a bird in sight.
‘Goomburra’ homestead is no more but ‘Glengallan’
still stands, an incongruously grand building saved from
vandals and demolition by a trust set up to restore it and
open it to the public. And the gate? Well, that’s long gone.
The track is still there and, if you’re patient enough to
carefully search the bush alongside, you’ll find one
weather-beaten gatepost- a solitary relic of a famous ghost
The Gold Coast is noted for its eccentrics. The first
was probably Ned Harper, the son of a recalcitrant criminal
and a virago mother who came to the valley of the Nerang River
to harvest cedar in the middle of the last century. Harper
chose to live with the local Kombumerri Aborigines, spoke
their language fluently and took a young lubra as his bride.
Harper finally settled on the banks of Little
Tallebudgera Creek and built a wharf on the Nerang River that
bore his name for decades. When he died in 1896, aged seventy,
he was buried on a rise nearby.
Today Ned Harper’s land is overshadowed by Jupiter’s
Casino and the giant Pacific Fair shopping complex in what is
now Broadbeach, but his grave survives. It stands in the
middle of the Cascade Gardens, a popular picnic spot. Over the
years there have been isolated reports of the ghost of old Ned
Harper taking his exercise among the flowerbeds and man-made
A ghost of more recent vintage is a polite old
gentleman called Mr Peabody, whom a young Tugun woman claimed
in 1991 regularly visited her family's house. He wore baggy
trousers and braces and was fond of sitting in her mother's
rocking chair. He had an aversion to drunks and got very cross
if anyone swore or was impolite.
From Labrador on the northern end of the Gold Coast
comes a sadder story. On the site of a former car yard, the
baying of a guard dog can still be heard although the dog, a
black Doberman, was killed by intruders in the 1960s. The
snarling, barking and whimpering are very distressing to hear.
‘I wish I could put the poor thing out of its misery,’ one
Near Jimboomba on the Mt Lindsay Highway south-west
of Brisbane stands historic ‘Mundoolin’ homestead. The second
owners, the Collins family, extended the original building
into the stately home it is today and built St John’s Anglican
Even today, this impressive Gothic-style stone church
seems far too grand for its lonely bush setting. Nearby is a
small cemetery, where the curious will find the graves of a
mother, her two adult daughters and another woman all with the
same date of death. On 13 December 1913 these four went
picnicking beside a dam. One apparently fell in and within
half an hour all four had drowned trying to save each other.
The curious may find more than graves if they visit
the dusty little cemetery. Beginning in 1988 there have been
claims that the ghost of a woman dressed in black walks around
the mother's grave, pointing one ghostly finger towards the
church bell tower.
The Little Rocky Creek Boy Scout’s Camp at
Landsborough near Glasshouse Mountains once contained an old
timber slab and iron settler’s hut. A bushfire destroyed it
few years ago- but its tragic-comic story lives on.
The story goes that the settler who built it was
found in the bedroom one day, his head split with an axe. Top
of the list of suspects was his wife, who was a bad-tempered
shrew, but she had vanished. The mystery was never solved.
From time to time travellers camped in the abandoned hut, until word got around that it was haunted by a ghostly female figure dressed in a long nightgown. A teamster and his Irish-born wife, who were either ignorant of the story or very brave, moved into the hut soon after. When the teamster was away the wife stayed there alone, apparently untroubled by the ghost.
One cold winter evening a swagman (who knew the hut’s
reputation but fancied himself a match for any ghost) came to
the hut and, not knowing it was occupied, entered and settled
down on his blanket. To his horror a figure appeared at the
bedroom door- a woman in a long nightgown. The swaggie was
terrified and his first reaction was to run, but his legs
refused to move. Then the figure spoke (with an Irish accent
and barely disguised mirth): ‘I’ll put no curse on you, man,
if you go and chop all the wood that’s outside the door’.
The swagman did as he was told. He had a large pile
of wood chopped before his courage returned and he decided he
had had enough. He pitched the axe into a hollow tree and
headed back to the hut to get his belongings. Inside, he
looked over his shoulder and saw the night-gowned figure
again, this time standing in the doorway he had just entered.
Something looked different about it and when it spoke the
Irish lilt was gone. ‘Where's the axe? Where's the axe?’ the
figure screamed at him.
‘What does it matter,’ the swagman replied, ‘I’ve
chopped all the bloody wood!’ He tossed a bottle at the
figure- it passed straight through.
‘I put a curse on you for seven days,’ screamed the
shrewish spectre. That was too much for the swaggie, who
fainted and fell to the floor. He woke next morning to find
the teamster’s wife bending over him.
‘Begorra,’ she said with her soft Irish burr, ‘what a
fine job you did with the firewood. Get up man and I'll make
you a hearty breakfast.' When the swagman stood up he felt
something long, strange and hairy in his pants leg. He felt
inside and discovered the result of the ghost’s curse- he had
grown a tail.
The story goes that he took to the hills and was not
seen for the next seven days, after which he returned looking
normal but swearing never to go near Rocky Creek again in his
The plateau within this park and those small sponge
cakes coated with chocolate and coconut were both named after
Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland at the turn of the
century. Fame came to the plateau when Bernard O’Reilly
located the wreck of the missing Stinson aircraft deep in the
forest in 1937 and rescued two survivors. That story is told
in O'Reilly's popular book, Green Mountains. So is
the tale of the ghostly Green Mountain Light.
O’Reilly writes that he and his family always dreaded
travelling through spot in the park called Stockyard Gorge. It
was a forbidding place, he said, the haunt of death adders
but, more than that, filled with an ‘evil’ atmosphere. The
menace took visual form one rainy February night when
O’Reilly’s sister Rose and a city boy were leading a string of
packhorses up the steep path through the gorge. It was the
youth who first saw it: ‘What's that light?’ he yelled. Rose
turned and looked down the track. Thirty metres, behind them a
bright orange light was gliding around a bend and coming
directly towards them. The horses took fright and the youth
screamed in terror.
Now, Rose O’Reilly was made of sterner stuff (every
bit as good as any man in the bush, according to her brother).
She had seen fire balls, fireflies and many strange things in
her time but none that resembled this eerie light. She stood
her ground- and the light vanished. It took Rose half an hour
to calm the horses (and the youth) before they could resume
their journey and many times after, in daylight or dark, the
family’s horses panicked and refused to pass the spot where
the light had appeared.
The intense green of the countryside around Maleny in
the hills behind the Sunshine Coast is reminiscent of Ireland.
So is the ghost that reputedly occupies an attic in a house in
the town. A small blue, leprechaun-like man has shown himself
to occupants of the house. First children saw him, then a
disbelieving mother and finally a visiting friend.
A fanciful little stone cottage that looks like it
belongs in a fairy tale stands in the tiny hamlet of
Neranwood, west of the Gold Coast. It is the handiwork of an
English stonemason. The timber frame was salvaged from a
century-old house, and stones gathered from the Nerang River
were lovingly assembled into walls and chimney.
Eight months after leasing it in 1986 a young couple
told a newspaper reporter that they believed their quaint home
was haunted. Footsteps were heard when there was no one
around, a hanging basket suddenly overturned and the couple’s
dog began whining and hid. The builder’s widow was quoted as
saying she never scoffs at rumours that the cottage is
haunted: ‘Many people feel a presence there,’ she said.
The once proud little town of Ormeau is rapidly being
engulfed by the urban corridor that links Brisbane and the
Gold Coast. In the 1870s Ormeau was the home of an odd
character named Dick Edwards. Reputedly a well-educated man,
Edwards lived as a recluse in a small hut on the banks of
Pimpama Creek. He made a meagre living cutting wooden fence
posts and roof shingles.
Periodically, Edwards would drown his sorrows in
local rum. On what was to be the last of these benders, he was
missing longer than usual. A neighbour went to his hut to
investigate. He found a razor lying on the floor and Edwards’
decomposing body on the bed- his throat cut from ear to ear.
A verdict of ‘death by suicide’ was brought down at
the inquest and the file on Dick Edwards closed, but within
days local residents reported seeing his ghost wandering along
the bank of the creek.
In March 1878, two and half years later, the
proprietor of the Pimpama Hotel, Simon Lipstone, had a very
unnerving encounter with him. Lipstone was approaching the log
crossing over Pimpama Creek on horseback at about nine o’clock
one night. A filmy figure dressed in white with a horribly
scarred throat appeared beside him. The publican asked the
spectre its name. The reply that came was a hair-raising
scream the like of which Lipstone had never heard before. The
terrified rider dug his heels in and galloped for home as
though all the fiends in hell were on his tail.
The Majestic Theatre at Pomona may be the oldest
operating picture theatre in Australia. Unlike most movie
theatres, the Majestic survived the advent of television and,
by offering mixed programs of live acts and films, still had a
It also has, it is claimed, a ghost- a male, the
proprietors believe, who is often heard (but never seen)
walking over bare floorboards and climbing steps that lead to
The popular Sunshine Coast has at least one ghost and
one very peculiar phenomenon that many people believe is
supernatural. The town of Tewantin is bordered by the Noosa
River and Wooroi Creek. Where the two converge a car ferry
In 1976 two men were fishing at night from the moored
ferry. The sound of branches breaking disturbed them, and when
they looked back to the river bank they saw a misty figure
leaning on a fence a few metres distant. ‘It had two dark
holes for eyes and one hand was held up to the side of its
head,’ they later told Tewantin police. The two men rushed
back to their car and shone the headlights towards the figure.
All that showed in the strong beams of light was the fence.
When they switched the lights off the figure was visible
again. They tried this experiment several times with the same
Thoroughly unnerved, the men drove to the Tewantin
police station and persuaded a constable to accompany them
back to the spot. When they arrived the figure was gone and
there were no footprints or marks in the grass. The three sat
for two hours, staring into the darkness, but the apparition
Over a period of weeks in the spring of 1991,
residents of the seaside village of Marcoola heard a
terrifying, rumbling sound coming from the sea. A local
Justice of the Peace described it as like a very loud tin
wobble board. There were no storms or warships in the area and
no seismological activity recorded.
The same sound was reported from the Redcliffe
Peninsula south of Brisbane on one occasion, accompanied by
thousands of fish rising to the surface and fluffy little
clouds moving in the opposite direction to the wind. Observers
described it as ‘very spooky and frightening’. It has not been
Toowoomba, flower capital of the Darling Downs, is
graced with many fine old houses including ‘Ascot’ in
Newmarket Street. Built for a dour Scot named Frederick
Holbertson in 1877, it passed into the hands of William Beit,
a flamboyant man whose enormous wealth allowed him to live a
During Beit's time at ‘Ascot’ a housemaid is said to
have committed suicide by hanging herself It was rumoured at
the time that she was pregnant to her master, but there is no
evidence to implicate him. In later years the house had a very
chequered history: it was used as a billet for American troops
during World War II, then partitioned into cheap flats. In the
1980s it was bought by a lady who restored most of it and
opened a restaurant on the ground floor.
“Many strange things have happened at ‘Ascot’ in
recent years,” she says. “Chairs have been moved mysteriously,
invisible fingers have touched me on the shoulders and a
freezing cold patch developed on a solid wall, remained for
years, then suddenly went away.” No one knows what forces are
responsible for these strange phenomena, but many believe it’s
the spirit of the hapless housemaid, bound to the house where
she took her own life.
A happier ghost nicknamed ‘Clarence’ is reported to
haunt the Chronicle Building in Margaret Street. Once the
headquarters of a local newspaper, then a radio station, it
now houses a variety of small businesses. Staff of radio
station 4AK claimed that Clarence wandered about the building
at night tapping on walls, switching lights on, opening
windows and making pots of tea. They believed he was a
journalist or printer from the days when the building was the
home of the Toowoomba Chronicle. The paper moved to
new premises in 1979 but Clarence seemed to prefer his old
home. Station manager Jim Sweeney was reported as saying: ‘I
wish the people from the Chronicle would come and
collect him ... He’s their ghost after all.’
On the southern outskirts of Warwick runs Rosenthal
Creek, once part of historic Rosenthal Station. Around 1900
Warwick was abuzz with the sensational news that a female
ghost, dressed all in white, appeared on moonlit nights on a
rocky stretch of Rosenthal Creek and regaled her audience with
stirring renditions of hymns and inspirational songs such as
‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘God Be with You till We Meet Again’.
Cynics believed it was a hoax. Many people tried to
get close to the ghost, but she always disappeared when anyone
approached. The editor of the local newspaper wrote at length
about the ghost and offered a reward to anyone who could catch
her, but no one collected. This musical apparition disappeared
for good after a few months as suddenly as she had appeared
and has never been seen or heard again.
CENTRAL EASTERN QUEENSLAND
So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss
Which sucks two souls and vapours both away,
Turn thou ghost that way and let me turn this.
‘The Expiration, John Donne (1572-1631)
Bundaberg is notable as the birthplace of aviator
Bert Hinkler and singer Gladys Moncrieff. It also has two
noteworthy ghost stories.
Gooburrum, on the outskirts of the city, was home to
a spectre the locals called the White Lady. Her haunt was a
large barn and stables erected in 1911 and since demolished.
Farm workers who slept in the loft often woke to see the
transparent figure of a woman dressed in white sitting on the
end of their bunks. The brave tried to touch her but found
their hands passed straight through her.
No one knows what happened to the White Lady, after the barn was demolished, but there are a couple of theories about who she might once have been. Some believe it was Johanna Rackemann, wife of a one-time owner of Gooburrum Station. Some old-timers suggested it was the original owner, Emile Zahn, but if they had reason to believe Mr Zahn would choose to reappear in women’s clothing after his death they kept it to themselves.
The Gooburrum area is also home to another of those
mysterious lights that appear all over Australia (e.g. Min
Min). The Gooburrum light has been variously described as
looking like a torch without a beam, a bicycle lamp or a very
bright match. So many people have seen it that it is accepted
as fact but no one can explain it. All agree that the light
only appears on moonless nights. Some say it has followed
them, and one fanciful soul claimed that he watched it run
round and round a telegraph pole like a snake until it reached
the top and then disappeared.
Most of the town of Childers was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1902. One building that survived was the Grand Hotel but, in the years that followed, the old pub had its own share of tragedy. A woman is believed to have hung herself in one of the guest rooms, and a man was allegedly thrown from a landing and died after he informed on an illegal betting ring.
In 1986 the two couples who owned the hotel were
reported as saying that their lives were being disrupted by at
least one ghost. Nick-named ‘Luke’, he wanders around upstairs
and down, opening locked doors. On one occasion, it is
claimed, he picked up the son of one couple and hurled him
onto a bed. ‘Don't laugh –it’s aged me twenty years,’ said one
From the Eton Ranges thirty-odd kilometres west of
Mackay, reports came many years ago of a haunted house. It
stood at a place called Hogan's Pocket, but all other details
of this story are lost. If you happen to be travelling through
the Eton Ranges and meet up with a ghost in a deserted old
house, perhaps you will be able to fill in the gaps.
The Gayndah district is home to two more of those
ghost lights, of special interest because there are definite
theories about their origins.
Least is known about the Yatton light, which is said
to be the spirit of a stockman speared by Aborigines long ago.
Some believe the light appears as a warning when Aborigines
are in the area, but Ted Marshall of Pinnacle Station near
Dimbulah, who saw it once, said that as far as he knew there
were no Aborigines nearby at the time and the days when such a
warning was necessary are long gone.
The other light is known as the Blairmore Ghost and
is probably the most famous spook in the Burnett region.
Legend has it that the light first appeared on Christmas Eve
about eighty years ago, the day after a mailman met his death
on Blairmore Station. When the unfortunate mailman was buried,
rigor mortis had not set in and the local Aborigines believed
he was still alive and would return as a debil debil. It
seemed their prophecy came true when the mysterious light
Many people have seen the light since including Jim
Matheson JP, former Government Stock Inspector and Brisbane
City Councillor, who published details of his encounter with
the Blairmore Ghost in 1957. It makes spine-chilling reading.
Matheson was driving along the boundary road of Blairmore
Station on a humid, stormy night when his car became bogged in
a wide patch of mud. Unable to free the car, Matheson settled
down in the back seat to sleep until morning. Minutes later
another car came along the road travelling fast and, before
Matheson could give warning, ploughed into the mud up to its
axles. The second car contained a commercial traveller and his
wife. The three chatted for a while then returned to their
cars to sleep.
Matheson was just dozing off when
he heard pitiful cries of ‘Help! Help!
When Matheson moved towards the light it began to dribble towards him like a fat, phosphorescent slug. The cries for help grew louder and seemed, Matheson recalled with lingering horror, to be all around him and inside him, coming not from his throat but through the pores of his skin. The terrified man couldn’t move any further; he couldn’t think. He felt as though he was in the grip of some deadly struggle and that something dead was robbing him of his own life force. Then, mercifully, another sound intruded on his consciousness- the sound of the commercial traveller’s wife screaming. Instinct to go to the aid of a woman in distress made Matheson turn and run back to the cars. He believes his life was saved at that moment.
The three quickly gathered some sticks, paper and petrol and started a fire, then huddled in its cheerful light all night, listening to the distant cries of ‘Help! Help!’ drifting towards them on the wind. As dawn approached the sound faded and finally could be heard no more.
Jim Matheson searched the paddock
in daylight but could find nothing remarkable. Later he related
his experience to a local cattleman. ‘You were lucky,’ the
cattleman said. ‘A stockman once heard the ghost crying for help and went to it. He
was dead when they found him and his face was not a pretty
sight. Some people believe his spirit took the original
ghost’s place and that the stockman has been trying to catch
another victim ever since. It could have been you out there
tonight, Jim, crying for help.’
On the old stock route in the Gogango Scrub west of
Mount Morgan stood a large cattleyard enclosed with a sturdy,
three-rail fence. Its official name was the Herbert Creek
Holding, but because the skeleton of a man was found when the
yard was being built it inevitably became known as Dead Man’s
Yard or the Haunted Yard- and it lived up to its name.
No one ever saw the ghost, but old drovers used to
swear that it was near impossible to keep cattle in the yard
overnight without them breaking out: ‘At first they’d be calm
enough, then after a while they’d get restless and somethin’
would spook ‘em. We’d spend the rest of the night rounding the
Sixty years ago the Haunted Yard was still in use,
but bushfire and termites have since destroyed it. The site is
still known to locals; it stands on private property a few
kilometres off the Capricorn Highway towards Mt Macintosh, and
maybe the lonely spot is still haunted.
A Maryborough resident tells a strange story about
the house he grew up in at Howard. The house stood originally
in nearby Burrum and was moved to Howard around the turn of
the century. Not much else is known about its history except
that at some time it acquired a ghost.
The Maryborough man and his family lived in the house
for forty years. Each of them heard the eerie footsteps that
would pass from the front door, down a hallway, across the
kitchen and into the breakfast room then on to the sitting
room, where they stopped beside a piano- usually the same
route and always in the dead of night.
Remarkably, the family never discussed what they
heard with each other during all that time. Not until 1974,
when the father offered to give the house to any of his
children who wanted it and all refused, did they realise that
each kept the same secret.
Every good ghost story begins with a murder or
suicide, and the ghost of Larry’s Seafood Restaurant near
Mackay is no exception. The building was once a private beach
house where a woman committed suicide, and it is believed to
be her spirit that inhabits the restaurant.
In 1987 the owner, Larry Wilson, invited a newspaper
reporter to sit with him among the restaurant’s fishy decor
and hear the story of his life and his spectral soul mate. ‘My
kid has spoken to her,’ Larry was reported as saying, ‘and one
day a group of ladies came and asked if they could hold a
séance here ... to summon up the spirit ... but when a bottle
of wine in a cooler started spinning round and round they gave
up the idea very quickly.’
Larry admitted to a quirky relationship with the
ghost as the reporter scribbled excitedly on his pad: ‘I know
this sounds crazy but I almost feel as though this ghost is
jealous that I may get married again. That’s why I can never
bring another woman on to these premises.’
History-rich Maryborough is generously endowed with
ghosts- no less than eight at the last count, if you include a
The old Customs House Hotel in Wharf Street near
Queen’s Park is reputedly home to four of them. Edmund Blucher
Uhr and his wife came to Maryborough in 1850 and set up a
boiling-down works in what is now Queen’s Park. Catarrh was
ravaging local sheep flocks at the time, so Uhr had plenty of
skins to sell and carcasses to boil down for tallow.
Mrs Uhr bore two daughters, Fanny and Mary. Fanny
died aged thirteen months in 1852 and Mary about nine years
later. The grieving parents buried, their children in a
laneway near the Customs House Hotel but, sadly, the two tiny
gravestones have been lost. Uhr also planted a pine tree on
the site which, most unusually for its genus, grew two trunks.
After Mr and Mrs Uhr went to their graves, the
reunited family seems to have taken up residence in the
Customs House Hotel. Over the years there have been many
reports of the ghostly family’s activities. A Japanese tourist
staying at the hotel in 1993 claimed that he woke to find them
all in his room. The two little girls climbed onto his chest,
he said, and their combined weight (who said ghosts were
weightless?) was so great he could not move or scream.
Suddenly all vanished. The tourist departed in great haste.
In June 1997 an elderly man on a sentimental journey
back to his favourite war-time watering hole stayed overnight
in the hotel. He knew nothing of the ghost stories but woke in
fright in the middle of the night when he felt another head up
against his own on the pillow.
Two more of Maryborough's spooks are children. The
ghost of a little boy is said to appear in a house in King
Street, and those of a little girl and her dog, both dripping
wet, have been seen near the Mary River in which they both,
A house that stands on Gympie Road at Tinana, just
south of Maryborough, has also been the scene of several
strange and alarming events. The present owner recalls
bedclothes being straightened and tucked in by invisible
hands, taps that turn themselves on and off and the sound of a
small child's footsteps and pathetic sobbing echoing through
The long-defunct Cummins & Campbell’s Monthly
magazine printed this story soon after the events were
supposed to have taken place. The setting is the banks of
Sunday Creek near the old copper mining town of Mount Perry.
The story goes that two men living in a humpy beside
the creek were just sitting down to their tea early one summer
evening when to their surprise they saw a buggy approaching.
It was drawn by two horses and the driver was sitting up
straight as a ramrod and staring ahead. Now, a buggy was not
the sort of vehicle the men expected to see in those rugged
ranges where the tracks were barely wide enough for a horse
and rider, so they got up to hail it.
The buggy raced past them in a swirl of dust and set
their dogs barking and snapping at its wheels. Moments later
the men watched in horror as it skidded off the track and
plunged down the heavily timbered bank to the shallow creek
The men raced to the crash site. They looked over the
bank expecting to see a scene of carnage but, to their
amazement, could see no sign of the buggy, the horses or the
driver- they had vanished into thin air. The two men searched
until nightfall but all they could find were tracks that ended
on the top of the bank.
Both men were visibly shaken when they returned to
the humpy. Just as they arrived the mailman turned up. He
shook the dust from his hat and tethered his horse to a post.
As he often did on his weekly rounds the mailman asked if the
men would put him up for the night and added: ‘By the way, did
a buggy come past here earlier? The cove drivin’ it was a
bloody madman. He pushed me right off the road.’
The three men sat up most of the night chewing over
the events of the evening and trying to find an explanation
for the unexplainable.
The Ghosts of Lady Elliot
There’s a popular resort on tiny Lady Elliot Island,
80 kilometres northeast of Bundaberg; not as glamorous (or
expensive) as most Barrier Reef resorts, it is richly endowed
with natural attractions- and some unnatural ones.
One of the conducted walks on the island takes guests
up a narrow track to the centre of the island after dark, to
visit a tiny well-kept graveyard. There are only two graves
there but each headstone tells a tragic story. One is the last
resting place of 30-year-old Phoebe Jane Phillips, daughter of
lighthouse keeper James Phillips. Phoebe lived a sheltered
life on the island with only her parents for company before
dying of pneumonia in 1896.
The other grave is that of Susannah McKee, wife of a
later lighthouse keeper. Susannah McKee came from Ballyganaway
in Ireland and bore her husband, Tom, four sons before
accompanying him to Lady Elliot Island. Susannah found living
conditions on the island harsher than she expected. Supplies
had to be brought by ship and were invariably late. Meat and
other perishables would not keep. The living quarters were
cramped and windswept. Medical attention was unavailable.
Loneliness, boredom and the sense of isolation weighed heavily
on her mind. After her youngest son went off to boarding
school in Rockhampton, Susannah decided she could stand the
conditions no longer. On 23 April 1907 she put on her best
clothes, walked out onto the old guano-loading jetty below the
lighthouse and threw herself into the sea.
There were rumours at the time that Tom McKee had
pushed his wife off the jetty, but no one could prove murder.
Tom recovered his wife’s body and buried her beside Phoebe
Phillips on the hilltop but, for some reason, Susannah McKee
did not rest easy in her grave. The first recorded sighting of
a woman fitting Susannah’s description dates from the late
1930s. The keeper at that time, Arthur Brumpton, looked down
from the lighthouse balcony one evening and saw a female
figure dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing walking between
the lighthouse and the three cottages behind it. His small
daughter Margaret also recalled, years later, that she had
often felt the presence of a stranger and heard ghostly
footsteps in the lighthouse. She grew up fearing that one day
whatever it was would push her off the balcony. Fortunately
that didn't happen, but the Brumptons' story has a curious
sequel. When the family were returning to Brisbane in 1940 the
captain of the ship they travelled on showed them some old
photos of people who had lived on Lady Elliot Island at
different times. When he produced a photograph of Susannah
McKee, Arthur Brumpton recognised the woman he had seen.
In 1985 the Lady Elliot lighthouse was automated and
staff at the newly established resort took over the few duties
that were needed to maintain it. The last lighthouse keeper
handed over the three cottages to the resort’s Operations
Manager, Tali Birkmanis, and a multitude of strange things
have occurred ever since then.
Birkmanis was reported as saying that on the night of
the hand-over he and the lighthouse keeper heard strange
footsteps in one of the abandoned cottages. Two of the resort
staff moved into the same cottage soon after: Jeff Raynor, a
groundsman, and Chris Lister, a chef. After they finished
moving their furniture in, the two men decided to take a break
and sat on a tractor parked in front of the cottage. It was an
unusually still afternoon with hardly enough wind to stir
nearby trees. Suddenly an empty plastic ice-cream container
came flying out of the front door of the unoccupied cottage
and landed at their feet. At dinner that evening Jeff and
Chris told their workmates about the flying container and were
told the story of the mysterious footsteps. Jeff laughed and
said he didn’t believe in ghosts. That night he was hurled
bodily from his bed and landed on the floor with a
bone-shaking thud in the middle of the cottage bedroom. After
that Jeff slept on the verandah. A few nights later the
groundsman woke around 1 am and, to his horror, could clearly
see the transparent figure of a woman standing in the cottage
The ghost of Susannah McKee has also been seen
peering out of the cottage windows and striding across the
island’s small airstrip- and not always alone. On some
occasions she has been accompanied by a young woman (Phoebe
Phillips?) and an old man wearing blue overalls. A boy wearing
a stetson hat has also been seen by staff and guests, leaning
against an Indian almond tree between two of the cottages.
Mysterious bloodstains have appeared from time to time on the
fourth step of the staircase inside the lighthouse, and the
plaintive voice of a little girl calling for her mother has
been heard- all of which suggests that there are dark secrets,
unrecorded, in the island's history.
Crank-started generators supply power to the resort
and these are housed in a locked room. Once they stopped
suddenly, plunging the resort into darkness, but before anyone
reached the locked room they started up again. Some old
kerosene tins stored in the generator room were heard rattling
and crashing about. A team of painters contracted to repaint
the old lighthouse cottages found that every time they climbed
their scaffolding it began to shake violently, but when they
got down the shaking stopped. A lady guest sleeping alone in a
tent one night woke to hear the zippers on the tent opening
and closing. She got up and looked around, but there was no
one outside. As she returned to the tent she realised, to her
alarm, the zippers were on the inside. In the bar of the
resort a glass tumbler spontaneously imploded moments after a
guest finished drinking from it. The same guest had laughed as
he swallowed the last mouthful of his drink and declared
loudly to the assembly in the bar that he didn’t believe in
ghosts. ‘Ghost stories are a load of bullshit,’ he said. He,
like many other sceptics who have stayed on the island, is now
Activities Department Head Annie McCarthy says that
the ghost walk to the hilltop cemetery is very popular with
guests. Perhaps after a day spent diving and snorkelling in
the emerald waters, paddling across the colourful reef flats
that fringe the island or simply basking in the sun on the
glorious golden beach a ghost story or (for the lucky ones) an
encounter with a harmless ghost is the ideal way to round off
a perfect day.
An equally strange story belongs to the Nebo region
south-west of Mackay. John Porter, an early pioneer in the
district, recalled the time when he and his cousin (newly
arrived from England) were shepherding sheep on Fort Cooper
Station. The cousin did not take to the rough, lonely life so
decided to quit and go to Rockhampton to find a ‘civilised’
job. Porter was sent out to replace him and takes up the
‘I was sharing a tent with a Chinese shepherd. We
were each lying on our bunks with a small table and a lamp
between us. At about eight o’clock that night we heard a noise
outside and I opened the tent flap. There was my cousin
standing just a few feet from me.’
‘I thought you’d be in Rockie by now,’ I said.
‘No, I’m not, Johnnie,’ he replied, ‘my body’s in
Jimmy’s Waterhole. No sooner had the last words left his lips
than he vanished, leaving Porter and the Chinese with jaws
Long before daylight a party was on its way to
Jimmy’s Waterhole. There they found the cousin’s body. He had
accidentally fallen in and drowned, as he couldn’t swim.
Anyone could be forgiven for not having heard of Pine
Islet, a steep, 800-metre long granite rock surmounted by a
lighthouse, part of the remote Percy Islands group 135
kilometres south-east of Mackay.
In 1927 Pine Islet was the scene
of a gruesome ceremony. The authorities
The headstone identified the grave as that of
Dorothea McKay, wife of a lighthouse keeper, who had died of
cancer in 1895. When the grave was opened the coffin was found
to have rotted away. The workmen collected some loose bones, a
set of false teeth and a wedding ring and duly reburied them
some distance away. Everyone seemed satisfied with the
arrangement except Dorothea McKay.
When the lighthouse keeper moved into his new
cottage, built over the old grave, strange things began to
happen. Invisible knuckles rapped on the door, then footsteps
and faint muttering sounds, indecipherable but clearly angry,
were heard inside the cottage.
In the 1980s the lighthouse was automated and the
last lighthouse keeper departed, but right up until then the
ghost’s visits continued. In July 1985 keeper Darrell Roche
was reported as saying: ‘The last time she came was about
eighteen months ago. There was no knock on the door, only
footsteps through the cottage into the lounge room. There she
stopped- above her original grave- and we’ve never heard
anything from her since.’
Perhaps Dorothea McKay was satisfied when she heard
that she was going to be left in peace. Maybe she found her
way back to her original resting place that night in 1985.
Darrell Roche and many others hope so.
The story of the ghost of ‘Humpie’ Williamson has
something in common with that of Fisher’s Ghost (Australia's
Most Famous Ghost). Both record the unexpected appearance of
the ghost of a murder victim indicating where his body had
Humpie Williamson (so called because he had a hump on
his back) was a postman in the South Burnett region. He was
just one of many players in a real-life drama that unfolded
over a period of weeks in the 1860s.
It began when a hawker, Peter Mallon, collected six
crossed cheques from David Parry-Okedon, manager of
Burrandowan Station, and posted them to Brisbane to be
credited to his bank account. When the cheques failed to
arrive the hawker contacted the police. He also went back to
Parry-Okedon, who confirmed that the cheques had been cashed.
One had come back to its writer, and by inspecting it closely
the two men discovered that the thief had cut out thin strips
of paper to remove the ‘Not negotiable’ lines and neatly
patched up the cheques.
The one returned to Parry-Okedon had been presented
at the Boodooma Hotel by an overseer from Strathdee Station.
The publican had cashed it for him and recovered the money
from Parry-Okedon. The police arrested the overseer and put
out a warrant for the arrest of his assumed accomplice, the
postman Humpie Williamson, who had carried the cheques and
Search parties scoured the countryside for Humpie but
could find no trace of him. They concluded he had bolted into
New South Wales to avoid arrest and was hiding there.
David Parry-Okedon, his son William (later a
Commissioner of Queensland Police) and another young man were
travelling into Gayndah soon after. They camped overnight in a
hut beside a waterhole on Cave Creek, not far from the present
town of Proston. Parry-Okedon was lying on a bunk inside the
hut while the other two prepared their evening meal outside.
Suddenly a strange figure appeared in the doorway. It swayed
slightly and supported itself by holding on to the door jambs.
Its sightless eyes turned to Parry-Okedon and it seemed to him
the creature was trying to speak- then it sighed deeply, began
to fade and moments later was gone.
Parry-Okedon got up and called to the young men
outside but they had seen nothing. Parry-Okedon knew he had
and that what he had seen was not of this world but, more than
that he had recognised the spectre. It was Humpy Williamson.
A few weeks later a team of men were sent to the same
spot to construct a lambing yard. One of them shot a wild duck
and waded into the waterhole to retrieve it. As he stooped for
the bird he noticed a boot sticking up in the water. He tugged
on the boot and a leg appeared. The workmen recovered what was
left of a male body. It was so decayed that only one feature
could identify it- a large hump on its back. Humpie Williamson
had been a victim in the crime, not one of its perpetrators.
Murder was added to the charges against the Strathdee overseer
but, at his trial, he was acquitted for lack of evidence.
David Parry-Okedon, as well as managing Burrandowan,
was a magistrate. He went to his grave believing Humpy
Williamson's ghost appeared to him to indicate where his body
was hidden and to seek justice.
Ridgelands is a sleepy little spot thirty kilometres
north-west of Rockhampton. In droving times it was an
important mustering point for large mobs of cattle using the
Fitzroy River crossings. A Rockhampton lady tells a strange
tale about her family’s introduction to Ridgelands many years
The family bought a property about ten kilometres
outside the town. There was an old, two-storey wooden house on
the property so dilapidated it was only fit for demolition.
The family camped in the old house while they began to pull it
down. At the end of the first day they gathered on the
upstairs verandah to relax and enjoy the cool evening air. The
lady recalls it was a perfect night and the family all lapsed
into comfortable silence, all except Bluey, her
father-in-law's dog, who snored at his master's feet.
The lady’s mother-in-law was the first to see the
approaching figure. ‘There’s a lady coming down the hill,’ she
said, ‘go down and meet her, Dad.’ The father- in- law could
see no one in the deepening gloom and neither could the
storyteller or her husband, but Dad dutifully got up and went
down to do his neighbourly duty. Bluey followed him part of
the way then slunk back into the shadows of the house and
began to growl. The man called sharply to the dog and, for the
only time in its life, the devoted animal disobeyed its
master. Nothing would induce Bluey to leave the shelter of the
Meanwhile Mum and Jim, the storyteller’s
brother-in-law, watched from the verandah as the figure of a
woman in a light-coloured dress approached the gate. She
hesitated for a moment and looked up at the old house, a
forlorn expression on her face, then vanished. The startled
mother-in-law shouted frantically to Dad to come back. When
the puzzled man and his dog (who was now quite calm) returned
to the verandah he found his wife and son Jim white-faced and
trembling. They had seen the apparition and so, apparently,
had the dog, but the three others had seen nothing.
‘I tell ya, Mum, there was no one there!’ Dad
insisted, but his wife knew better. Later they learned that
one man had murdered another near the gate years before, but
the identity of the female ghost always remained a mystery.
Peter Rees Jones did not have many claims to fame
during his lifetime. He was a quiet, unassuming bachelor, son
of the founder of one of Rockhampton's most respected law
firms. He had a club foot, which prevented him participating
in most sports, but he was an avid motorcyclist, fond of a
‘flutter’ on the horses and a devoted lawn bowler.
For most of his life Peter lived at the Rockhampton
Club, and there he died in his sleep during a severe heat wave
on 21 February 1928. He was just fifty. In 1958 several club
members were surprised to see a strange figure in their midst.
The figure didn’t speak, just limped down an upstairs corridor
and disappeared. When they described the figure to older
members and staff all agreed it was Peter Rees Jones. On
another, more recent occasion two members came upon
Rees-Jones’ ghost standing outside the door of his old room.
So shocked and frightened were they that one of them sprained
an ankle bolting down the stairs.
The ghost of another man is said to appear, wearing a
dinner suit, on the stairs of the Walter Reid Cultural Centre
in East Street. The late Don Taylor, Director of the
Rockhampton City Art Gallery, claimed to have seen the figure
many times. The cavernous old building was once a warehouse,
but the identity of the elegantly dressed ghost is a mystery.
As a journalist once put it, the old Criterion Hotel
overlooking the Fitzroy River is the sort of pub where Henry
Lawson might have set a story about commercial travellers or
country folk come to town. It’s an elegant, three-storey
edifice with deeply shaded verandahs and a whimsical tower.
The site has a long history. The first inn in the district was
built there in 1857 and the present building dates from 1889.
The hotel’s guests have included many celebrities, Sir Charles
Kingsford Smith and General Douglas Macarthur among them. In
1900 all the guests (including two irate state politicians)
were locked up in the hotel for several weeks when a waiter
was diagnosed with bubonic plague and the authorities placed a
quarantine order on the premises.
Stories of the ghost of the Criterion go back a long
way, but the first authenticated sighting occurred in December
1986 when a barman was locking up for the night. The man
claimed that he felt suddenly icy cold as he passed the old
servants’ staircase, then he noticed the figure of a woman
standing in a doorway. She wore a long, old-fashioned dress
with lace-up boots and her hair piled on top of her head. The
barman gasped and stared at the ghost. She stared back, and
this impasse lasted for about twenty seconds before the barman
could get his legs to move and he made a dash for the nearest
exit. Housemaids also claim to have seen evidence of the
ghost. Beds in some of the 36 guest rooms are found ruffled or
with the imprint of a figure on them moments after being made.
In July 1987 a television crew from a popular current
affairs program visited the hotel. They interviewed the barman
and other staff but were rather disappointed with the results
until they previewed their video tape. There was a very
strange effect visible in the segment where the barman was
speaking about his experiences. Just to the right of his head
came a flash of red light. At first it was thought to be the
reflection of a light in the lens, but on still frame it
looked exactly like a woman’s head with her fist resting
against her forehead.
In 1991 the then managers, a married couple, took
over the hotel and the ghost paid them a visit on their first
night-appearing at the foot of their bed, staring with intense
curiosity at the husband. Two years later the wife saw the
spectre again, late one night, standing near a kitchen
doorway. She was quite tall and slender with hair falling down
her back to her waist the manageress recalls. There was a
vacant look on her face and she gave the impression she was
guarding her territory.
The manageress admits to drinking three vodkas in
three minutes after that experience.
There are many theories about who the ghost of the
Criterion might be. Some believe it is a chambermaid who
committed suicide in the servants’ quarters after being jilted
by her stable hand lover; others that it is a former owner of
the hotel, a Mrs Parker, who died there in 1889. Whoever she
is she obviously does nothing to detract from the charm or the
business of the old hotel.
Much the same could be said for a ghost named Gideon whom the caretakers of the Lakes Creek Hotel (on the road from Rockhampton to the Capricorn Coast) reported was residing there in the late 1980s. Gideon, they said, lived in the chimney of a room painted dark grey and was believed to be the ghost of a man killed in the stables many years before. The 120-year-old weatherboard building was originally the residence of the manager of the historic meatworks that used to operate down the road. There’s a friendly and cheerful atmosphere about it- except for the grey room, where the atmosphere is like a dungeon.
Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School has a long and
distinguished history. Founded in 1892 to provide a superior
education for the daughters of wealthy pastoralists and the
city’s leading citizens, the school prospered. This was due
largely to the first headmistress, an English spinster named
Helen E. Downs. Miss Downs was a character, a free thinker
with progressive ideas on female education, women’s
emancipation and most other subjects. At a speech day in 1898
she reminded parents that ‘the senior classes in her school
were for training cultured women who would exert an uplifting
influence in social matters- and not waste their time on
‘Prettiness’ was one of Miss Downs’ chief dislikes.
She was not pretty herself and may have been slightly lame.
She refused to allow staff or students to restrict their
bodies with corsets or ‘paint’ their faces. Sensible clothes,
sensible diet, fresh air, exercise and lots of soap and water
were her recipe for building sturdy bodies and sound minds.
Helen Downs’ unconventional ideas probably shocked
and upset many people, but the scholastic achievements of her
students reached such heights that she was tolerated by her
critics and encouraged by the liberal minded. The impression
one gets reading about her 100 years later is of boundless
energy, a brilliant mind and total dedication to her vocation.
It is not surprising that such a strong and
controversial character should still exert a powerful
influence over the school she founded more than a century ago,
but the form that influence takes is quite unexpected.
According to school legend Miss Downs’ ghost lives in the
school bell tower and comes down from her eyrie once a year,
at 11 pm on 11 November. The ghost makes its way through the
girls’ dormitories, selects the girl with the longest blonde
hair, produces a pair of spectral scissors and hacks off the
If you don’t believe this story ask the girls of Year
Nine. They will tell you that they believe in the ghost of
Miss Downs, and watch the mixture of excitement,
embarrassment, pride and fear on their faces as they recount
“We had our mattresses in the middle of E dorm, on
the night of 11 November 1995. Another girl who lives in H
dorm, and had the longest, blondest hair came in to our room-
she was really scared that the ghost was going to chop off her
beloved hair. At 11 p.m. we heard a noise in the roof. We all
screamed. A mistress came in and quietened us. She said there
was no such thing as ghosts and that it was probably a
bandicoot in the roof. A bandicoot in the roof? I’m sure it
was Miss Downs.
Miss Downs comes drifting down from her hideout and
scares the living daylights out of new and old boarders. If
the girl she selects puts up a fight the ghost will drag her
up and down the stairs till her hair falls out- but wait,
there’s more. We have three student ghosts as well. One is a
girl who died of scarlet fever and another is Miss Downs’
first victim. She wanders up and down the stairs trying to
I was told Miss Downs was a nice ghost who goes
around at night checking that we are looking after her school,
tucks us in and gives us a kiss on the cheek. I think she is
far too nice to hurt anyone.”
There are two
gates of sleep, one of which it is held is made of horn and
by it easy egress is given to real ghosts. The other
shining, fashioned of gleaming white ivory but the shades
send deceptive visions that way to the light.
In 1979 a resident of Ayr wrote to a national
magazine about the strange experiences she and her family had
in their old house in this sugar‑milling town. The house had
been unoccupied and boarded up for many years before the
family bought it in the early 1970s.
While renovating the house the mother, father and
eldest son all slept at different times in one small bedroom
where the beds shook in the middle of the night, the occupants
felt a strange tingling all over their bodies and a dark,
menacing, shapeless form materialised.
This town owes its name to three Aboriginal words: bana
(water) jindi (rain) and bunda (mountain),
and each of these elements town’s tragic ghost story. A few
kilometres west of the town in the foothills of the Bellenden
Ker Ranges is a popular picnic spot called The Boulders- where
Babinda Creek forms a chain of spectacular cascades as it
rushes between large boulders
Local legend has it that a young Aboriginal girl
named Oolana who was betrothed to an elder fell in love with a
handsome young warrior from another tribe. They eloped but
were captured and punished. Oolana committed suicide by
throwing herself into the stream at The Boulders. The ghost of
the dead girl is said to haunt the cascades, and some claim
she draws innocent victims into the water like the legendary
lorelei on the Rhine in Germany.
All of the above belongs to the realm of folklore but
one fact is indisputable- no less than sixteen young, single
men have died tragically by drowning at The Boulders during
the past fifty years.
Holbourne Island, thirty-five kilometres north of
Bowen, is associated with the appearance of a ghost ship,
sailing the waters where it met its doom. The Adelaide
Steamship Company’s 3,644 ton vessel Yongala, commanded
by Captain Knight, called at Mackay en route from Brisbane to
Townsville. At 1.40 pm on 24 March 1911 it steamed out of
Mackay harbour with forty-eight passengers and a crew of
seventy-two on board. Minutes later the harbourmaster at
Mackay received a report that a fierce tropical cyclone was
bearing down on the coast, directly in the path of the Yongala.
Without radio, it was impossible to warn the ship.
At 6.30 that evening the Yongala was sighted
baffling mountainous seas and gale-force winds at the northern
end of the Whitsunday Passage. Later that night or during the
early hours of the next morning the Yongala sank with
the loss of all on board.
Mailbags and wreckage came ashore south of Townsville
but the wreck was not located and identified until 1958,
twenty-five kilometres east of Cape Bowling Green. In 1981 the
Yongala was declared an historic wreck under the
Commonwealth Shipwrecks Act. And so the official file
closed on one of Queensland’s worst shipping disasters, but
long before then the ill-fated Yongala had entered
the folklore of the sea.
In 1923 a party of fishermen from Bowen in a small
boat were trying their luck off tiny Holbourne Island (near
the main shipping channel the Yongala would have
used) when a large ship steamed into view from the south.
Although it was rusted and barnacle covered, the fishermen,
who had seen the ship before, recognised her- it was the Yongala,
steaming placidly by in the bright sunshine twelve years after
The fishermen watched in amazement as the Yongala
disappeared behind Holbourne Island, then their amazement
turned to incredulity when it failed to appear out the other
side. They raised anchor and sailed around the island but
could find no trace of a ship- it had completely vanished.
Until the discovery of the wreck of the Yongala ninety
kilometres further north in 1958, many believed the ghost ship
had appeared to the fishermen to indicate that it lay off
There are two interesting postscripts to this story.
A Mrs Lowther, who lived on in Mackay until 1969, recounted
her own strange experience at the time. She was booked to sail
on the steamer on its final voyage but at the last moment had
a premonition of disaster and, although she was halfway out to
the ship on a tender, refused to go aboard and demanded to be
taken back to shore.
That fateful night a family staying in a hotel at
Eton, west of Mackay, also had a vision of the disaster. There
was a kerosene lamp on the table in their room and suddenly
one of the children pointed to it and said: ‘Look at the big
ship!’ The flame had blackened a portion of the glass,
creating a clear picture of a large ship riding a mountainous
sea. As the fascinated family watched, the image faded and was
replaced by another the distressed face of a young girl. The
next day news of the Yongala's disappearance broke,
and while the father was walking down a Mackay street he saw a
poster for a touring theatrical company with the face of the
young girl on it. He later learned that she had been among the
unlucky passengers on the Yongala.
On a sweltering hot night in January 1872, dark
crimes were committed on Carpentaria Downs Station near
Einasleigh, west of Ingham. Ellen Mary Imelda Duffy, aged
thirty-seven, the station’s bookkeeper, was attacked in her
bedroom in the homestead. Miss Duffy’s screams for help were
heard by a Chinese gardener, who ran to the house. When the
murderer finished off Miss Duffy (by slitting her throat) he
turned on the gardener, who ran for his life but was shot in
the back. To the surprise of the whole district, the manager
of Carpentaria Downs was arrested for the double murder.
Details of the affair are sketchy, but many people
believed that Miss Duffy had been sent to the station by the
owners to spy on the manager whom they suspected of selling
‘missing’ cattle and pocketing the proceeds. Subscribers to
this theory believed the guilty manager discovered the ploy,
panicked and killed Miss Duffy then, fearing the gardener
would testify against him, killed him as well.
Ellen Duffy is buried in a small graveyard on the
property along with twenty-six others, not one of whom died a
natural death. The grave of the gardener is some distance
away, marked with a single post. Stockmen on Carpentaria Downs
believe that the ghost of Ellen Duffy haunts their quarters,
moving softly from room to room as if searching for something.
Many have wakened at night to find the spectre, dressed in a
white dressing-gown, peering down at them with a puzzled
expression on her sallow face.
Why the ghost should choose to haunt the stockmen’s
quarters rather than the homestead where Miss Duffy met her
death is a mystery. ‘Maybe the old girl likes us blokes,’ the
stockmen suggest with nervous grins, ‘but we’re not too keen
On Gunnawarra Station, south of the old mining town
of Mount Garnett, another of those startling lights
occasionally appears. According to head stockman Banjo Palmer
and others who have gotten within 30 metres of this light,
described as a luminous, empty sphere, it swoops down on herds
of cattle causing them to break and stampede.
In 1873 a prospector named James Venture Mulligan
discovered gold on the Palmer River, west of Cooktown. Within
months shanty towns had sprung up in the rainforest and sleepy
Cooktown became a thriving port with stores and banks standing
cheek by jowl with grog shops, brothels and gambling dens.
Tens of thousands of miners poured into the
goldfields, more than half of them Chinese. The successful
Chinese returned to China carrying their spoils. Less lucky
ones stayed on to mine tin after the gold ran out, and those
who perished were cremated and their ashes went home in urns.
Ghost stories abound in the Palmer River region,
involving Chinese or the local Aborigines who defended their
territory bravely against the invading miners- then, it was
widely believed, cooked and ate the dead ones. Cannibal Creek,
a tributary of the Palmer River, commemorates this belief and
is said to be the haunt of a hideous spectre- the ghost of a
prospector, charred and partly eaten, who stumbles along the
creek. In the 1970s a mining company dammed Cannibal Creek and
established a modern tin mine, which must have discouraged the
ghost for there have been no reports of it since.
The local Aborigines have a word of their own to
describe a ghost- quinkan. A particularly frightening quinkan
is believed to have been responsible for the death of one
Chinese prospector and for sending another insane. The quinkan
appeared at the camp of Ah Lin and stared with dead eyes at
the unfortunate Chinese. Ah Lin described his reaction to a
European neighbour the next day: “Me soolem dog on ‘im, dog
come back all asame piccaninny. Me say to ghost: ‘You flighten
dog but you no flighten me.” The plucky Chinese then tried to
wrestle with the ghost but his arms locked around nothing.
“All asame smoke!” he said. Three days later Ah Lin was dead.
The local Aborigines nodded their heads knowingly. The quinkan
had had its revenge.
Another Chinese went crazy and tried to stab members
of a European family at nearby Maytown but was restrained and
taken into custody before he could do any harm. When
questioned by the police he kept muttering about ‘the quinkan
with dead eyes’.
A man who proudly bore the title ‘Last of the Old
Prospectors’, Alf Munn, also had a ghostly encounter in
Maytown about seventy years ago. Alf had just walked past a
native camp one night when he passed an Aboriginal woman
walking alone down the track towards the camp carrying a
lighted paperbark torch. Alf knew the woman by sight and
greeted her as they passed but got no reply. Moments later he
heard a great commotion behind him. He turned to see the
Aboriginal woman entering the camp and everybody else running
in terror for the bush. The next day Alf found out why- the
woman had died the previous morning.
The most famous ghost on the Palmer River might be
better described as a poltergeist. A Chinese tin miner, Ah
Quay, worked a claim on Granite Creek. Living beside him was a
very old Chinese man suffering from leprosy. Ah Quay cooked
meals for the old man and did what he could to make his life
bearable until he died. On advice from the authorities Ah Quay
then burned the old man’s hut and all his possessions, but
apparently the old man’s spirit objected. Ah Quay and his
offsider, Willy Hip Wah, found themselves in a psychic storm.
Sticks, stones, horseshoes and empty tins were hurled at their
hut by unseen hands. Plates, cups and bottles flew around
inside, most of them striking Ah Quay. Twice Willy Hip Wah was
almost strangled by blankets that seemed to wrap themselves
around his throat. Ah Quay sought the help of some European
miners nearby, who scoffed at him and said they would come to
his hut and sort out the ghost.
All their visit accomplished was to provide more
targets for the furious spirit. They ceased scoffing when
their horses took fright, lamps were smashed at their feet and
fires began spontaneously all over the inside of Ah Quay’s
hut. All they could do was stand back and watch as the hut
went up in flames. Ah Quay remarked, philosophically: ‘Ah
well, no matter‑ I burn him, he bum me.’ All that remained
after the blaze was Ah Quay’s fowl house, which stood for
another twenty years. Willy Hip Wah was the last survivor of
this story. He ended up a cook in a Cairns hotel and died at a
ripe old age in 1971.
When the gold ran out most European miners left the
Palmer River. A few diehards like Alf Munn stayed on,
scratching a living in old fields and hoping to discover new
ones. According to local legend an obstinate Irishman named
Brannigan succeeded where most failed. The story goes that he
found a new, rich reef of gold in the forest. He dug out a few
nuggets and headed south to enjoy himself, marking the site of
his find with an old anvil.
Brannigan never returned and only a few Aborigines
knew the whereabouts of his mine. They never revealed its
location because they believed Brannigan was dead and his
defiant ghost sat upon the anvil guarding his golden hoard.
Perhaps it still does.
Ravenswood is another town that owes its existence
and its decline to the vagaries of gold mining. In one of the
boom years, 1870, the Roman Catholic Church built itself a
large weatherboard cathedral but when the gold ran out and
Ravenswood almost became a ghost town, the cathedral was left
without a priest.
In the 1940s a Father Deveraux used to drive over
from Charters Towers to celebrate mass once a week,
accompanied by his fox terrier and an altar boy. The three
would sleep overnight in the two sacristies opening off the
To the amazement of the man and boy (and the terror
of the little dog) they often heard footsteps in the cathedral
at night- and not ordinary footsteps but a ‘stomp’ followed by
a scrape, the sound a man with a crippled leg would make. The
sound progressed down the centre aisle, up the sanctuary steps
then back to the front door and nothing was ever seen.
Records show that the last resident priest at
Ravenswood, who died under mysterious circumstances, had been
There’s not much left of the old settlement at
Somerset on the tip of Cape York: a few stumps, a couple of
rusting cannons, some anchor chain, two graves- and a ghost.
Somerset was established in 1864 as the
administrative centre for Cape York and the Torres Strait. A
Government Residency, barracks, officers’ quarters and an
infirmary were built overlooking the ocean and Captain John
Jardine, formerly of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons,
was appointed Resident Magistrate. Jardine was joined by his
two sons, Frank and Alec, who accomplished the remarkable feat
of driving 250 cattle and forty horses all the way up from
One day in 1873 a mission ship called at Somerset
carrying Sana Solia, the German- educated niece of King
Malietoa of Samoa. Frank Jardine fell in love with Princess
Sana and persuaded her to marry him.
Jardine Senior and Alec returned south and in 1877
the government abandoned Somerset. Frank and Sana Jardine
moved into the former Residency. For the next forty years they
lived there, prospering from their pastoral interests and the
pearling industry. They raised four children and entertained
the officers of passing ships and celebrities who visited
their remote tropical paradise. Visitors always remarked on
the Jardines’ magnificent silver dinner service, which had
been cast from part of a half ton of Spanish doubloons and
pieces of eight recovered from a nearby reef by one of Frank’s
Frank Jardine died in 1919 and Sana in 1923. They
were buried side by side on the beach below the Residency. The
lease on Somerset was taken over by their grandson, Herbert
Somerset Vidgen, and his wife, who ran the place as a copra
plantation and holiday retreat until forced to evacuate it
during World War II. Later it was taken over by the Department
of Native Affairs and is now part of the Bamaga Native
The old Residency was burned down by vandals in 1960
but until then, the native caretaker always placed a dish of
food and a mug of beer on the shore every evening- for Frank
Jardine, whom he and the few locals believe walks the beach at
night searching perhaps for the spirit of his dusky princess.
Townsville's historic West End Hotel on Ingham Road
(Bruce Highway) is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a Chinese
cook, employed there last century. Records show that the cook
was stabbed by the licensee of the hotel after a marital
dispute in 1891. In 1990 patrons and staff of the hotel
recounted their personal experiences of the ghost to the local
‘I’ve seen the ghost many times. It’s like a mist and
follows me around when I go upstairs at night,’ one boarder
was reported as saying. The same man claimed that the ghost’s
presence was strongest in the kitchen at the spot where the
Chinese cook was murdered. One of the hotel waitresses related
how she had also seen the ghost several times and could feel
its presence whenever she entered the upper floor of the
building. ‘He’s quite harmless,’ she was quoted as saying, ‘he
just follows me around like a shadow.’
There is also a ghost in a north Queensland motel
(the location and name of the motel are well-guarded secrets).
A guest in Room 12 during the 1970s recounted the experience
she had after retiring to her room on a hot, still night. She
closed the hopper window, pulled down the blind and got into
bed. During the night the wind suddenly howled, sucking the
window open and sending the blind shooting up. To her surprise
and alarm the woman then saw the figure of a man wearing a
white shirt and shorts, his hands on his hips, inside the room
staring out of the window.
‘He didn’t appear solid,’ she said, ‘more like a
photo mock-up of dots with some dots missing. I poked him with
my toe and he disappeared.’ The next morning the guest
described her midnight visitor to the proprietors of the
motel, who did not seem at all surprised. The proprietor’s
wife explained that Room 12 had originally been 13 and that
they had changed the number after a young Russian man who had
stayed in it had drowned in a nearby lake.
A few kilometres west of Tully at the junction of
Davidson Creek and the Tully River is a large pocket of scrub
and vine-infested grassland known as Munro Plains- the haunt
of the ghost of Dick Grosvenor.
Colin Munro established a farm there in 1882 and
built a substantial homestead for his young family. He also
employed an Englishman named Dick Grosvenor as tutor for his
children. Grosvenor was a gentle giant weighing 140 kilograms,
well educated and softly spoken who admitted, proudly, to
being eighty years old. The Munro children adored the old man
and would sit for hours on his ample knees, stroking his
waist-length beard while he told them tales of his travels and
explained the mysteries of the world to them.
One day while the family was away Dick went to get a
dish of flour from the 200-pound bag kept in the homestead
storehouse. While reaching in the old man overbalanced and
fell headfirst into the bag. He was unable to regain his
footing and within minutes had smothered in the flour.
Old Dick Grosvenor was sorely missed by the Munro
family but they were not deprived of his company for long. He
reappeared as perhaps the fattest ghost ever seen in
Australia, his head, whiskers and clothing covered in flour,
smiling benignly and waving a ghostly white hand at the
Around 1908 the Munro family left to take up another
property near Mission Beach but the ghost stayed on at Munro
Plains. Soon there was no one left who remembered him or could
put a name to him. Later residents in the area, who
occasionally saw him wandering around dejectedly, referred to
him simply as ‘the old cove with the long, white whiskers.’
This beautiful stretch of water dotted with islands
and luxury resorts may seem an unusual place to find a ghost,
but for almost a century there have been reports of a
terrifying spectre on tiny Armit Island at the extreme
northern end of the passage, about 25 kilometres west of
The first reports of the ghost date from 1897, when a
botanist named Heron built a hut on what he thought was an
uninhabited island. Heron came to collect plant specimens and
enjoy the solitude, but his peace was shattered one night when
he heard a blood-curdling scream coming from the bush near his
hut then a hazy figure appeared on the beach.
The figure seemed not to notice Heron but the
botanist had the presence of mind to observe every detail
about it- a middle-aged man, his face weather-beaten and
wrinkled, wearing a white shirt, short jacket with large
buttons and full, three-quarter length pants- the uniform
sailors wore in the eighteenth century. Heron was in no doubt
that it was a ghost he was observing when the figure reached
the shoreline and vanished before his eyes.
Heron saw the ghost several times after that; so did
the captain and crew of a cutter who put in to the island in
1908 and a fishing party who camped there in the 1930s. All
told the same story- a terrifying scream followed by the
appearance of the spectre striding down the beach then
There has been much speculation about who the ghost
might once have been. Captain Cook named Armit Island when he
sailed past in 1770 but made no mention in his log of a man
going missing. Others suggest it might be a castaway from an
earlier Spanish or Portuguese ship. If so, the sailor ghost of
Armit Island could vie with the Howorth family for the title
Australia's oldest ghost.
Juliet in the jungle
The principal characters in this sensational tale
were a nineteen-year old boy with a Chinese father and an
Australian mother, and a sixteen year-old girl, daughter of an
Aboriginal mother and a Spanish father, all of whom lived in
Cooktown in the late 1870s. Like Romeo and Juliet these two
were star-crossed lovers whose parents forbade them to marry.
In desperation the pair ran away. They probably planned to
walk the 150 kilometres through rugged mountains and dense
rainforest to the Palmer River goldfields, where they might
disappear and make a new life for themselves.
As soon as their absence was discovered the girl’s
father, a storekeeper, went to the police and charged the
young man with abduction. The police sent out search parties
and after a couple of weeks the runaways were brought back to
Cooktown. Several local residents testified to the young man’s
character and previous good behaviour and the charge against
him was dropped, but one aspect of the case baffled the
police. When the young man was searched he was found to be
carrying gold sovereigns and small nuggets of gold worth
several hundred pounds. It was known that neither family had
ever possessed such riches and no one had reported the theft
of sovereigns or nuggets recently.
At first the young man was reluctant to explain how
he had come by them but, when he realised he would be charged
with stealing if he did not, he told a remarkable story. The
girl corroborated every word and the police, unable to
disprove the story, accepted it and recorded it in their
official files. The press picked up the tale and it was
reported in newspapers as far afield as China.
The young man told how he and his girlfriend set out
from Cooktown, avoiding the main tracks, living off the land
and supplementing their meagre diet with damper made from a
small bag of flour the girl had brought with her. One
afternoon they wandered into Limestone, a little shanty town
about 100 kilometres south-west of Cooktown near the
headwaters of the Palmer River. Limestone had grown up around
a goldfield that had since run out. The prospectors and
townspeople had drifted away and the town was completely
deserted. There were a few huts with doors and windows
standing open, a one-room hotel and a small cemetery in which
stood a tiny Chinese joss-house, all rapidly disappearing
under the encroaching jungle.
The boy and girl explored the little joss-house. Its
walls, once gaily painted red and yellow, were peeling; a
faint smell of incense lingered inside and scraps of paper
with Chinese characters hung from the roof The young man
noticed a small porcelain urn used for storing ashes of the
dead standing amid the dust and litter, apparently forgotten
when the building was abandoned. He knew the purpose of such
urns but gave it an irreverent kick anyway.
In an overgrown garden they found some dry little
oranges on a stunted tree and had these for their supper, then
bedded down for the night in one of the disused huts. The
night was hot and sultry. Swarms of mosquitoes plagued them
but eventually they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
In the middle of the night something woke the young
man. He looked towards the doorway of the hut and to his
amazement saw the vaguely outlined figure of a man standing
there. At first he thought it was a policeman or black-tracker
and that the authorities had caught up with them but, as he
watched, the figure became clearer and he could make out its
face and clothing, both of which were oriental. The figure
began to glow with an unearthly light and stared back at the
terrified youth with smouldering eyes. The spectre raised one
of its arms and made a beckoning movement three times- then
The young man woke his sleeping companion and told
her what he had seen. She tried to convince him he had been
dreaming and went back to sleep, but he sat up for the rest of
the night watching the door until dawn came and the sun
dispelled his fear. As soon as the girl woke up the young
couple made ready to leave, but just as they emerged from the
hut they heard the sound of approaching horses. They hurried
back into the hut and watched as a group of prospectors,
travelling down from the goldfields, came riding up. They were
a tough and rowdy group and one of them fired off a shot to
see if the sound raised anyone in the town. When no one
appeared they laughed and dismounted outside the ruins of the
little hotel. The young couple watched as the men went inside
and tore the place apart in the hope of finding some forgotten
grog, then settled themselves down on the broken verandah of
the hotel to rest. They remained there most of the day,
smoking, swapping yarns and sleeping. Finally, in the late
afternoon, they remounted and rode away, oblivious to the two
pairs of eyes that had been watching them, nervously, all day.
It was then too late for the young couple to leave on
foot so they decided, reluctantly, to spend another night in
the hut. For several hours all was quiet then, at around
midnight, the spectre appeared again in the doorway. Both the
lovers were awake and they clung to each other in terror as
the figure loomed over them. It began to beckon again, more
earnestly this time, and seemed intent on making them follow
it. Shaking with fear and clasping each other’s hands the boy
and girl followed the ghost down the straggling street until
they reached the cemetery. The ghost kept looking over its
shoulder with those smouldering eyes to make sure the young
couple were there. When it reached the joss‑house the ghost
pointed to the overturned urn, hovered above it with a sad
expression on its pallid face then disappeared, just as
suddenly as it had the night before. The young couple came to
their senses and ran as fast as they could back to the
relative safety of the hut, jamming the broken door across the
entrance. They sat huddled together for the rest of the night,
waiting to flee at first light.
The sun again dispelled the young man’s fears and he
persuaded the girl to go with him back to the cemetery the
next morning. His curiosity had been roused and he wanted to
take one last look at the urn. When they reached the
joss-house he picked up the urn and read the inscription
underneath, which said that it contained the ashes of a ‘Son
of the Celestial Kingdom’, Fen Cheng Loo. The boy removed the
stopper and upended the urn so the contents spilled out onto
his hand. Instantly his hand was covered in fine white ash.
The wind caught some of it and blew it into his face.
Horrified, he dropped the ashes and the urn, which hit the
hard ground with a loud crash and shattered. The boy and girl
gasped and stared in amazement. The urn had a false bottom and
among the broken shards of pottery a fortune in golden
sovereigns and small gold nuggets shone in the bright
Out where the grinning skulls bleach whitely
Under the saltbush sparkling brightly;
Out where the wild dogs chorus nightly
That's where the dead men lie!
‘Where the Dead Men Lie’, Barcroft Boake
Like the Haunted Yard near Gogango, the stockyard at the Bunda borehead east of Boulia was built strong enough to hold a herd of elephants and, according to stockmen, it too was haunted. Something the stockmen couldn’t see or hear but the animals could would make them panic at night. In the morning there would always be a couple of broken panels in the fence and a few trampled carcasses. Jim Hayes, an experienced stockman who once worked on Warenda Station, was quoted as saying: ‘Weaners were OK, they didn’t seem to feel the danger but steers, two years old or more, would go crazy.’
Camooweal, Queensland’s westernmost town, can lay
claim to the largest min min-type light of them all. One
moonless night in the 1970s two station hands chased the light
many kilometres in a four-wheel drive vehicle across dry,
sun-baked plains east of the town. ‘It was pale and sort of
shimmering,’ said one. The other added with a note of awe in
his voice: ’Big as a bloody house it was!’
About fifty kilometres from Charleville on the
railway line to Quilpie is a small siding called Coothalla- a
dry, dusty, lonely spot with a weatherboard house belonging to
Queensland Rail and not much else.
According to local legend a young girl once tried to
flag down a train at that spot and was run over by it and
killed. Ever since, railway workers living in the house claim
they hear a ghost train approaching in the night when no
trains are due. Sometimes they see its lights down the track
and hear a young girl screaming. The train never arrives and
the lights and sounds fade into the still, starry night.
Dajarra, on the Diamantina Development Road south of
Mount Isa, with its largely Aboriginal population, was once
one of the largest cattle trucking depots in the world. A few
years back on nearby Ardmore Station white stockmen out
mustering experienced the power of one of the debil debils of
Aboriginal folklore. With the group was a stockman named Roy,
part-Aboriginal and part-Chinese. In the middle of the night
when the men were all comfortably bedded down in a tent Roy
suddenly began to scream.
The others woke to find Roy on his back disappearing,
feet first, under the tent wall. His companions grabbed him by
the shoulders and struggled to hold him but the force pulling
from the outside was very strong. Suddenly whatever it was let
go. Roy was dragged back and the other stockmen fell in a
heap. Some scrambled to their feet and rushed outside but
there was neither human nor animal in the wide expanse of open
ground around the camp.
Roy was shaking with fear and his lower legs were
badly scratched. He was convinced a debil debil had almost got
him and his companions could offer no logical argument.
Emmet is a tiny spot on the map 60-odd kilometres
south of Isisford on the old railway line from Blackall to
Yaraka. Nearby is ‘Emmet Downs’, the scene of a ghost story
with a lesson as relevant today as it was when the story
unfolded last century.
Around 1870 a man took up a lease on rough country in
the Macedon Ranges behind ‘Emmet Downs’ without seeing it. He
and his son called at ‘Emmet Downs’ homestead on the way up to
their block. The man was a city type wearing some kind of old
military uniform with a cockaded hat and riding a fine grey
mare. The son, who was about fifteen, was a quiet, obedient
The station manager warned the two that they had been
hoodwinked and that the land they had leased was waterless and
useless, but they insisted on continuing on their journey. The
next morning, carrying only canteens of water for themselves
and none for their horses, they set out. The manager shook his
head as he watched them ride off into the shimmering heat
Three days later the distraught son returned to the
homestead, both rider and horse on the point of collapse. He
told how he and his father had run out of water on the second
day. The father had told the son to wait under the shade of a
scrubby tree while he searched around for water. The lad
waited another twenty-four hours, parched and despairing, but
neither the father nor grey mare returned.
Twenty years later three men were having a smoke-o in
the kitchen at ‘Emmet Downs’ when one looked out the window
and drew the others’ attention to a stranger approaching on
horseback. All watched as the rider dismounted and led his
horse into the stables. When he didn’t emerge after ten
minutes the men thought he might have taken ill and went to
investigate. To their amazement they found the stables empty.
As they scratched their heads they compared notes on what they
had seen. ‘It was a fine grey,’ one said. Another remarked:
‘Did ya see his strange clobber ... and that funny hat with
the cockade on it?’
Eromanga is the site of an old pub, a caravan park
and little else, but the surrounding district is home to some
very interesting spirits. The opal-rich Eromanga Hills claim
two spirits of Aboriginal origin but seen regularly by white
folk. They are two leprechaun-like characters called Grimmacha
and Gulgura. The first is a little iron man who squeals at you
from rocky outcrops and hurls sticks and stones if you camp in
his territory, and Gulgura is an invisible sprite who makes
circles in water, stirs dust and rustles leaves. Gulgura's
presence is considered a bad omen. Children, black and white
skinned, growing up in the area were always told to be on the
lookout for Gulgura and to behave, or Grimmacha would get
One resident of the Eromanga district who would have
had little truck with spirits of any kind was Henrietta
Webber, wife of the owner of historic Kyabra Station in the
last quarter of the last century. Mrs Webber was an eccentric
and not very likable chatelaine who ruled the spacious old
homestead by fear. She was a very tall, spare woman who always
dressed in long-sleeved, high-collared gowns and was never
seen outdoors without a hat, a veil and a large revolver. She
is said to have owned 300 cats and been much kinder to animals
than people. Her pet subjects for torment were the cooks
(mostly Chinese) who worked at the homestead and the
Aboriginal stockmen and their wives.
On one occasion when her husband and the stockmen
were away mustering, another group of Aboriginal men came by,
just for the fun of it, she told the newcomers they could have
all the stockmen’s wives as their wives. The stockmen returned
to find a multiple wedding feast going on in their camp.
Several were injured in the ensuing melee and one husband, mad
with fury, bailed Mrs Webber up in her bedroom with, her own
Cooks were regularly abused and Mrs Webber was fond
of setting her dogs on them just for the pleasure of seeing
them run. One whom she railed at in the kitchen attacked her
with a filleting knife but, like the incident with the gun,
Mrs Webber was rescued to make mischief another day.
Her escapades and their often serious consequences
would fill a book, but fate finally caught up with Henrietta
Webber in January 1896 when she collapsed and died at the
front door of the homestead. Her husband, who was inexplicably
devoted to her, buried her in the small plot of lawn beside
the front steps and there he sat every evening for many years,
keeping her company. Later owners removed the grave and both
Mr and Mrs Webber’s bodies now lie in Thargomindah Cemetery.
Apparently the new location did not appeal to Mrs
Webber. Just weeks after her coffin was moved her irascible
spirit began to appear at Kyabra- a slender form dressed in
white wandering along the bank of Kyabra Creek. Some observers
said she looked like a sleep-walking tragedy queen- Lady
Macbeth in the bush. Others claimed they could feel her
presence in the covered walkway between the living quarters
and the kitchen and a few fancied they saw her face reflected
in a large gilt-framed mirror in the elegantly furnished
dining room that had been her special pride.
The old pisé (compressed mud) homestead at Kyabra is
no more- a later owner removed the roof and used it as a pig
sty! Most of Mrs Webber's furniture went to nearby Thylungra
Station but the gilt-framed mirror disappeared.
The ghost, it is said, has not.
The Ghost of
the Jolly Swagman
Once a jolly swagman camp'd by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he
waited till his
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
And he sang as he
watch'd and waited till his billy boil'd
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Down came a Jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he
shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
And he sang as he
shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Up rode the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred
Down rode the troopers, one, two, three,
Where's that jolly
jumbuck you’ve got in your tuckerbag,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Where's that jolly
jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Up jumped the swagman, sprang into the billabong,
You'll never take
me alive, said he.
And his ghost may
be heard as you pass by that billabong,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
And his ghost may
be heard as you pass by that billabong,
a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Australia’s most popular song is also its most
controversial. Some people would like it adopted as our
national anthem; others condemn it because it ennobles a
thief. Whole books have been written arguing the originality
(or lack of it) of the words, the origin of the music and who
first thought of putting the two together. The generally
accepted version is that the words are an original poem by A.
B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson and the music by Christina Macpherson.
Paterson was a houseguest at Dagworth Station near Kynuna in
western Queensland in 1895 when the story of an event that had
occurred on the property was related to him. The story
appealed to Paterson, who set about writing the poem all
Australians are familiar with. Christina Macpherson, daughter
of the owner of Dagworth, promptly set the words to music
using, she claimed, the melody of a Scottish ballad called
And what of the event? Did it really take place? Well
the billabong has been identified as the Combo Waterhole on
the Diamantina River about twenty kilometres east of Dagworth
homestead, and the squatter might well have been Christina’s
father, Robert Macpherson. Old bushmen will tell you that if
you camp under the river gums (coolibahs) beside Combo
Waterhole when the moon is full you’ll see and hear the ghosts
of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ come to life. First you’ll hear the
bleating of a sheep (the jumbuck), then the sound of horses’
hooves racing over the hard-baked, black soil, saddle leather
creaking and bridles clinking, followed by low, guttural
voices barking commands. If you watch carefully you’ll see
shadowy figures running towards the waterhole then hear the
sound of splashing water. Watch, they say, and ripples will
appear on the surface of the water, catching the moonlight
-and when you look back to the bank, all will have vanished
and only stillness and silence remain.
Truth or fiction? Who knows? But it would be nice to
think that jolly swagman was still with us, in spirit as well
Isisford's famous Wilga Ghost is heard but never
seen; and, once heard, never forgotten. Imagine, if you can, a
scream so loud that when you cover your ears it still deafens
you, and so fiendish that your stomach churns and your blood
runs cold. That is how most people who have heard the sound
coming from the Wilga Waterhole describe it.
Aborigines avoid the waterhole; horses, cattle and
dogs sense evil there even when the ghost is silent. Cynics
(who have never heard the screaming) claim a bird with a freak
call or air escaping from subterranean tunnels is responsible.
Early settlers in the district considered a bunyip and a few
speculated that it was the ghost of the explorer Ludwig
Leichhardt, who passed that way on his final, fatal
A later theory suggested the ghost of a youth named
Toby Coleman who became lost in the bush many kilometres from
the waterhole. All that was ever found of him was one leg, and
the theory contends that his ghost haunts the waterhole
looking for that missing limb.
There was a primitive building beside the Wilga
Waterhole for many years used as a shanty hotel and a private
residence. One of the last to live there was James Skuthorp,
overseer of the shearing sheds at Ruthven Station, and his
family. One of Skuthorp's daughters became a school teacher
and recalled in old age that her mother and an elder sister
had heard the ghost and strange ‘coo-ees’ coming from the
Ruthven Station is still there and so is the Wilga
Waterhole, within its boundaries, about 30 kilometres west of
Isisford, although years of drought have taken their toll on
its once clear, deep waters.
Mention of the coo-ee call, which most people
associate with friendly greeting, brings to mind several
stories from the Queensland bush that put a more sinister
slant on it. Survivors of all sorts of natural and unnatural
tragedies have been quoted as saying they heard disembodied
coo-ees giving warning hours or minutes before disaster
One lady remembers hearing the eerie call (which went
on for hours) on three separate occasions in one year. Severe
floods followed the day after the first hearing and a baby
drowned in a dam after the second. It was Christmas Eve when
she heard the call the third time, and on Christmas Day a
bushfire swept across her family’s property leaving death and
heartbreak in its wake.
There are two well-known ghost stories from the
region just north of this isolated town, romantically named by
the explorer Robert O’Hara Burke after his actress mistress
Julia Matthews. Another remarkable lady, Della Edmonds, the
only female professional drover, is responsible for recording
both. Della camped one night with a big herd of cattle at
Palmer Lagoon on Kalmeta Station. At about 9 pm Della and the
other drovers with her heard agonising screams coming from the
lagoon. Their horses and some of the stock bolted and
Aborigines in the party took off for the bush.
Next day at the station Della learned that two men
had been stranded at the lagoon during a flood a few years
before and had drunk themselves into the dingbat stage, when
one killed the other with a knife. Had Della and her party
arrived on the shore of the lagoon before dark they would have
seen a battered old sign reading: ‘Do not camp here- Blackboys
and cattle will rush!’
A visible ghost walked into Della’s camp one night at
the outstation on Myola, 60 kilometres north of the Palmer
Lagoon, and had much the same effect on the gathering. This
time it was the ghost of an Aboriginal stockman who had been
gored to death by a wild bullock. Given Della’s long career in
the saddle and the vast territory she covered it’s surprising
she only came across two ghosts!
Kajabbi, in the rugged ranges of the Barkly
Tablelands, is the heart of Kalkadoon country. Early settlers
feared the Kalkadoons, a proud and courageous Aboriginal
nation of disciplined fighters and masters of guerrilla
tactics. Small bands of warriors would swoop down on outlying
farms, spear settlers and cattle, burn buildings and disappear
back into the rocky hills as swiftly and silently as they
came. After dozens of settlers were killed and a native police
contingent ambushed, the authorities came to realise that the
Kalkadoons were not going to give up their territory as easily
as other tribes.
In September 1884, Police Sub-Inspector Urquhart,
appointed to take charge of the district, assembled a large
force of native police and squatters and set out on a punitive
expedition to wipe out the Kalkadoons. The Kalkadoon warriors
took up a strong defensive position on a hill known to this
day as Battle Mountain, and the largest pitched battle between
black and white in Australia took place on this boulder-strewn
When they reached the foot of the hill the police and
squatters were welcomed with a shower of spears and rocks
hurled down from above. Urquhart fell from a blow to the head;
when he regained consciousness he divided his forces to attack
on two fronts.
When the battle turned against them the Kalkadoons
made a fatal mistake. They formed ranks and charged down the
hillside, straight into the blazing carbines of their enemies.
Wave after wave of warriors was mowed down in a thick hail of
bullets. The descendants of white settlers in the area say
that the sounds of that massacre can still be heard carried on
the wind around Battle Mountain when the moon is full.
After the squatters, miners invaded Kalkadoon
territory and the area around Kajabbi is dotted with old mine
shafts and deserted mining towns. At least two of them, Dobbyn
and Mount Cuthbert, are said to be haunted by the ghosts of
miners who lost their lives searching for elusive riches.
From the little town of Malbon on the Cloncurry River
a railway service used to run to the gold-mining towns of
Kuridala and Selwyn, but these towns, like Dobbyn and Mount
Cuthbert, are now abandoned by all but the ghosts of more
unlucky miners who wander about disconsolately among crumbling
buildings and rusting mining equipment, searching for broken
When the railway line from Roma to Charleville was
under construction a sensational murder took place at
Dulbydilla, 70 kilometres west of Mitchell. During an argument
a Chinese baker, Hing Kee, was shot forty-seven times in the
lower body by another Chinese. The would-be murderer Tim Tee,
made little effort to hide his guilt and Hing Kee, to
everyone's amazement, did not die immediately and was able to
identify his attacker.
The local constable then found he had a violent
criminal and a seriously wounded victim in his care. Both
needed to be transported to Roma, one for medical attention,
the other to be locked up, so it was decided that all three
would travel in one compartment on the midnight train, the
bullet-ridden Hing Kee on a stretcher on the floor and his
attacker handcuffed to the policeman.
Soon after the train departed, Tim Tee started to
kick poor Hing Kee so the policeman put leg irons on him to
restrain him, but Hing Kee died as the train was nearing
Mitchell. Moments later the sealed glass lanterns in the
compartments all went out at the same moment.
The train driver and the policeman inspected them at
Mitchell station, and although there appeared to be nothing
wrong with them, replaced them with other lanterns. No sooner
had the train resumed its journey than the new lanterns all
went out. They were relit, stayed on a few minutes then went
out again. This continued for the rest of the journey. Tim Tee
was hysterical, convinced his victim’s ghost was responsible
and would take its revenge on him in the dark. The policeman
and the train driver could find no logical reason for the
phenomenon. When checked later all the lanterns were found to
be in perfect working order.
South of Mount Isa is another historic site in the
tragic history of the Kalkadoon tribe. At Witchie Warra
Waterhole on Galah Creek near where Mount Guide Station
homestead used to stand (the homestead is now several
kilometres further north), a group of Kalkadoons once camped.
Around the time of the Battle Mountain incident, a force of
settlers marched on the waterhole one night. They crept up to
the top of the escarpment overlooking the camp and opened fire
with two dozen rifles. The slaughter was total. Not one
Kalkadoon man, woman or child escaped.
Later a hut, yard and windmill were built beside the
waterhole but the owners of Mount Guide had great difficulty
getting workers to stay there. Families moved in and out again
in quick succession, all telling the same disturbing story and
some, it was claimed, deranged for the rest of their lives.
Every night, they said, they would hear the dull
throbbing of dozens of didgeridoos, the clack of music sticks,
the slapping of hands on bare thighs and the chanting of
mysterious songs coming from around the waterhole. These
innocent but eerie sounds would eventually die away, then a
deafening blast of gunfire was heard followed by screaming,
moaning and whimpering. One man even claimed to have seen
ghostly black figures dancing around a large camp fire, of
which there was no trace the next morning.
The hut was eventually abandoned and fell into
disrepair. Remnants of it were there twenty years ago- the
spirits of the massacre victims may still be there.
There are many abandoned huts and homesteads on the
Barkly Tablelands, testaments to courage, folly or simple bad
luck. Some like Pickwick, a pile of crumbling stones with a
rusting iron roof a few kilometres north of Mount Isa, are
said to be haunted by their once-proud owners.
On the Mount Isa to Cloncurry road before you cross
the Leichhardt River are the ruins of old ‘’Glencoe’ homestead
and nearby a lonely little grave. The gravestone reads:
‘Sacred to the Memory of . . . Elsie Grace Campbell who
departed this life 5th May 1914, aged one year and
A journalist writing in 1970 said that he had met a
traveller in Quamby Hotel many years before who had camped on
the Cloncurry road the previous night. In the middle of the
night the traveller had been wakened by the pitiful sound of a
baby crying. He searched the area frantically with his torch
but the crying seemed to be coming from all around him.
Stumbling along on the rough ground the traveller almost fell
over a rusting iron fence and discovered the grave. The crying
stopped at that moment.
Roma’s ghost is another Grey Lady, but unlike many
anonymous female spirits who favour that colour, Roma’s Grey
Lady can be identified and her strange story, before and after
her death, is well documented.
Jim Lalor, owner of Gubberamunda Station which
bordered the town, gave a couple named Bonnor permission to
build a weatherboard cottage on his land behind the Roma
Hospital. Bonnor was a bush carpenter who worked for Lalor,
but it was his wife who interested the local gossips. When she
came into town Mrs Bonnor always wore the same severe, grey
dress with an old grey shawl wrapped tightly around her
shoulders. Her face was expressionless and if anyone spoke to
her in the street she ignored them. One day the Bonnors
disappeared without explanation to Lalor or anyone else. There
was food in their cottage and Mrs Bonnor's large grey cat was
The cottage remained empty for a while then a saddler
named Johnson rented it and moved in with his family. The cat
slunk away into the bush. One of Johnson’s daughters, Matilda
(‘Tilly’), became seriously ill and had an operation at the
hospital. She came home swathed in bandages and was put to
bed. Next morning she was agitated and told her mother that ‘a
lady in grey’ had visited her during the night. The figure had
stood at the foot of her bed and told her, in a persuasive
voice, that the way for her to get well was to remove all her
bandages. Mrs Johnson told Tilly she must have been dreaming,
but later in the day the horrified mother found her daughter
lying unconscious on her blood-soaked bed.
The girl had ripped off all her bandages. Before the
doctor arrived Tilly died. The death certificate, curiously,
shows the cause of death as pneumonia, which either puts paid
to the story or more likely was a convenient way of sparing
the distressed parents a public inquiry.
At the time of Tilly's tragic death, her elder sister
was being courted by a local chemist. On leaving the Johnsons’
house one evening the young man felt a sudden urge to look
back. There, standing in the moonlight beside the cottage
door, was ‘the lady in grey’, her eyes glaring at him. The
young man did not hang about. He bolted for his life- straight
into a barbed wire fence. Five minutes later he staggered,
trembling and bleeding, into the hospital.
That was the last straw for the Johnson family. They
moved out of the cottage and the grey cat moved back in. Years
later, after the house had been pulled down, two swagmen
camped on the site innocent of its history. On the first night
one saw the ghost of ‘the lady in grey’ and the second night
the other did too. That was enough for them; they rolled up
their swags and hit the road, swearing never to go near the
Near Lake Bindegolly National Park east of
Thargomindah is a stream called Crying Woman Creek. The road
to Cunnamulla crosses the creek and travellers have been told
for the past one hundred years to watch out for the banshee as
they pass. The story goes that a woman was killed when her
hair caught in the wheel of a buggy and that her screams can
still be heard along the creek.
The Bindegolly Lakes (formerly called the Dynevor
Lakes) were also once the haunt of oft-observed bunyips, but
current opinion suggests the creatures were not mythological
but canine- dingoes or foxes swimming out to steal wild swan’s
eggs from nests on the small islands in the lakes.
At remote Parrabinna Waterhole on Bulloo Downs,
south-west of Thargomindah, in 1941 a group of drovers camped
for a few days in a dilapidated hut. During the day and night
stones bombarded the hut and the men. Something picked up
large burning logs from their camp fire and flung them aside,
a wheezing sound was heard on the roof and one man claimed he
felt a cold, clammy hand on his arm.
It took great courage for the men to remain and even
more to report their experiences to the Thargomindah Police a
few days later. The police sent out a party to investigate.
They found burned logs and scattered stones but no sign of
what became known as the Parrabinna Poltergeist.
The Windorah area is the heart of the south-west
ghost country. On Keeroongooloo Station, a phantom coach and
four phantom horses race along the dusty roads at night. It
was once a Cobb & Co. coach operating between Windorah and
Mount Howitt. One dark night in the 1890s the horses bolted
and the coach plunged down a steep bank into a fast-running
creek. The driver and all the passengers drowned.
Thereafter station hands camped by the creek have
been woken in the fright by their dogs barking and the
unmistakable sound of clattering hooves, jingling harness and
rattling coach. Time and again men have got out of their
bedrolls to try to catch a glimpse of the phantom coach but
nothing can be seen, only heard, as it approaches, passes and
recedes into the distance.
Tanbar, one of the great stations in the west, boasts
two separate ghost stories‑ one vague and fragmented and the
other supported by a wealth of evidence. The first concerns
the Tarquoh Waterhole, 100 kilometres from Tanbar homestead.
There, it is claimed, a stockman went out one night to catch a
little wild pig for his dinner. A flash flood came down (as
they regularly do in the Channel Country) and he drowned. His
ghost reputedly haunts the waterhole.
The second involves the disappearance of a young man
named Rody Kennedy in 1922. Kennedy was working at the
Gilpippie Outstation on Tanbar at the time of his
disappearance. Suspicion fell on the outstation’s blacksmith,
Joe, who was known to have threatened Kennedy. An inquest was
held, but without a body there was insufficient evidence to
charge anyone. The police file was stamped ‘Unsolved’ and set
Stockmen on Tanbar refused to camp near the waterhole
at the outstation after that and even those stationed there in
the complex of sturdy buildings were afraid to go outside at
night. All believed that Kennedy’s ghost was abroad and
seeking revenge for his murder.
In the 1930s Doug McFarlane took over the management
of Tanbar. Joe the blacksmith was still there and McFarlane
asked him outright if he had murdered Rody Kennedy. ‘No I
didn't,’ Joe insisted, ‘but I know who did.’ The blacksmith
died without revealing any more of his secret and that might
well have been the end of the affair but for a gruesome
discovery Doug McFarlane made in 1956. When the old
blacksmith’s shed at the outstation was being demolished,
McFarlane uncovered a shallow trench beside the forge. In it
was the smashed and burned skeleton of a man. Kennedy
immediately sprang to mind.
After twenty years on Tanbar, discussing the murder
with many people who had been there at the time and with the
discovery of the body by the forge, McFarlane concluded that a
much older man, whose young wife Kennedy had been paying too
much attention to, had probably killed him and Joe, the
blacksmith, had helped him by disposing of the body. To this
day old stockmen on Tanbar will speak in whispers about the
Gilpippie ghost and still avoid the waterhole at night.
Another of the great pastoral estates of the west is
Hammond Downs east of Windorah, which also lays claim to two
ghost stories. Hammond Downs homestead overlooks treacherous
Cooper Creek and nearby are the graves of some of the creek’s
many victims. One is a young man named Easton who, like the
Tarquoh stockman, was drowned in a flash flood. Easton’s
mother, it is said, watched helplessly as her son and four
others were swept away. His grave, marked by a modest wooden
fence, stands on a sandhill near Easton's Channel, named in
his memory. Dust storms bury it and floods inundate it but it
survives as a grim reminder to others of the perils of Cooper
Creek. Many claim to have seen Easton’s ghost in the form of a
light circling around the fence.
Young Easton is not, however, the most famous ghost
on Hammond Downs. That distinction belongs to Edward Hammond
(1848-1889), son of the first Hammonds in the district. Ned
was an accomplished horseman who went out alone one day to
round up some horses. In what is called the Wallaroo paddock
his own horse slipped in a clay pan, throwing him to the
Ned Hammond was buried near the homestead beside his
infant daughter, Mary, who had died eight years before, and
some say that his ghost still rides the windy plain where he
suffered his fatal fall. The ghostly horse and rider have been
seen in the beam of car headlights and heard galloping around
camps at night. The story is passed from one generation of
jackaroos to the next and the new chums are warned to watch
out for the ‘old boss’. ‘How will we know him?’ they
invariably ask. ‘Oh you’ll know him all right,’ the old hands
reply, ‘he ain’t got no ‘ead!’
A curious twist to this story that is published here
for the first time comes from a Charleville resident who for
the past twenty-odd years has been working the opal mine
established by the Hammonds about 100 kilometres south of
Hammond Downs. From time to time the part-time miner and his
family hear the sound of a horse galloping up to the hut they
occupy at the mine and a rider dismounting, but when they go
out to investigate there’s no rider, no horse and no tracks.
Could this also be the ghost of old Ned Hammond?
of the Min Min
The Min Min Light is the grand-daddy of all such
lights; the one everybody’s heard of and every bushman claims
to see. Min min is an Aboriginal word (for what no one is
absolutely sure) but the light was not named by Aborigines.
According to legend, it was named after the Min Min Hotel on
the old coach road between Winton and Boulia in central
western Queensland where it first appeared. There is, however,
some doubt as to whether the light was named after the hotel,
or the hotel after the light.
‘Hotel’ is far too grand a title for the timber and
corrugated iron shanty built last century to serve as a
way-station for Cobb & Co. coaches. Most such places had
bad reputations but the Min Min had the worst of any in the
region. It reputedly served rot-gut liquor at exorbitant
prices, doubled as a brothel and was the haunt of thieves,
cattle rustlers and other assorted villains. Legend insists
that many travellers and naive jackaroos disappeared there and
that the small cemetery behind the hotel was conveniently
provided to bury the evidence. So infamous did the Min Min
become that someone put a match to it one dark night in 1917
and it burned to the ground ... or so the legend goes.
Reliable records, if they existed, would probably
disprove most of the above and reveal a much more mundane
history for this miserable little hostelry. Records do show
the name of the last proprietor- a Mrs Hasted- but there is no
real evidence that she presided over a branch office of Sodom
or Gomorrah. Records also show that there were severe bush
fires in the district in 1917 (Mrs Hasted's brother was badly
burned fighting one), so it seems more likely that nature
disposed of the Min Min Hotel and not a human avenger.
The generally accepted story of the first sighting of the Min Min Light belongs to later the same year when an hysterical stockman burst into Boulia Police Station at around midnight one night gabbling about being chased by a ghost. After the local constable calmed him down, the stockman told how he had been riding past the ruins of the Min Min Hotel at about 10 pm when a ball of light suddenly rose from the middle of the cemetery, hovered as if getting its bearings, then darted towards him. The stockman panicked, dug his boots in and galloped towards Boulia. Several times he looked over his shoulder and the light was still there. It followed him to the outskirts of the town, then disappeared.
In 1961 a reported sighting from 1912, predating the
above (and the destruction of the hotel) by five years, came
to light. Henry Lamond, one-time manager of Warenda Station on
whose land the hotel stood, claimed that he had seen the light
in the winter of that year on the Warenda road. Its appearance
had at first alarmed him, but when he realised his horse was
quite unperturbed by it Lamond decided his own fear was
There have been so many reported sightings since then
that it would take most of this book to recount them all.
Station owners and managers, policemen, ministers of religion,
school teachers, shopkeepers and no-nonsense bushmen have seen
the Min Min Light; most of them are intelligent, sober and
honest people whose credibility is unquestionable. All
describe it as a round or oval ball of light glowing so it
illuminates its surroundings, travelling between one and two
metres above the ground either in a straight or undulating
line. Sometimes it appears to stop and hover; sometimes it
bobs about and usually dives towards the earth as it
There are almost as many theories about its origin as
sightings and, as they apply equally to the many other ghost
lights recorded in this book, it’s appropriate to discuss
them. The supernatural school claim that such lights are
spirits of the dead, ghosts in inhuman form. Sceptics with
some knowledge of the bush suggest that the lights may emanate
from fluorescent fungi (such do exist) or from birds who have
brushed their wings against the fungi. Fireflies are also
cited as are swarms of moths, their wings reflecting
moonlight. None of these is likely. The only common bush birds
that hover (eagles and hawks) are not nocturnal. A swarm of
moths would not be visible at any great distance and
fireflies? Well, there's no doubting their ability to emit
light but as one bushman put it: ‘You’d need about ten million
of the little blighters, standing shoulder to shoulder, to
produce a light that bright.’
Traditional science groups the Min Min and other
Australian lights along with European and North American
Will-o’-the-wisps and Jack- O’-lanterns into the category ignis
fatuus (which simply means ‘foolish fire’) and
attributes them to marsh gas (CH4) or phosphuretted hydrogen,
the gas that escapes from decaying animal matter. As the Min
Min Light was said to originate in a cemetery the presence of
the latter was possible once, but its domain is far too arid
to produce marsh gas. Subterranean gas escaping through
fissures or drill holes s more likely and records show the Min
Min Hotel was built beside a water bore, but all theories
involving gas rely on the premise that the gas somehow
self-ignites, which is impossible.
That very rare natural phenomenon, ‘ball’ lightning,
which travels across the landscape at high speed has also been
suggested as an explanation but, like all lightning, it
dissipates quickly and never remains visible for as long as
these lights are claimed to. Others suggest the lights are a
type of mirage, however, the kind of mirage seen in daylight,
which is reflection of the sky on a layer of hot air, cannot
occur after dark. Apart from the fact that a reflection of the
night sky would be invisible and a reflection of the moon (if
that were possible) would be identified as the moon, the
lights appear on cold nights, cloudy nights and moonless
Some very distinguished scientists have studied the
phenomenon, arriving in Boulia in a flurry of publicity and
making claims of infallible theories, but most have not even
managed to see the light let alone explain it. The novelist H.
G. Wells took an interest in it while visiting Australia, but
even his fertile mind could not come up with an explanation.
Probably the most plausible theory to emerge in recent years
came from Colin Croft of Charleville, who discovered that he
could see a grass fire at night that was at least 80
kilometres away and below the horizon. Croft claimed that what
he saw was a reflection of the fire on a layer of hot air that
had risen at sundown and was hanging in the upper atmosphere.
This ties in with an old theory that said the light only
appeared when a lighted lamp was placed in a window at
Lucknow, the nearest station homestead to the Min Min Hotel.
While scientists argue and country folk speculate,
the sightings continue. Tourists report the light following
their cars and campers put the billy on in readiness to offer
a cuppa to the rider of the motorbike they think is
approaching. A group of station hands on horseback claimed
they cornered the light one night a few years back and played
phantom polo with it!
If the reader feels inclined to go Min Min Light
watching, take the Kennedy Development Road (the locals call
it ‘the Winton Beef Road’) from Boulia. Cross the Hamilton
River, then just west of the boundary between Warenda and
Lucknow is the site of the old Min Min Hotel. The old coach
road is about 500 metres north of the present road and there’s
not much left of the ruins, just a scattering of broken glass
and some rusting rails around the cemetery. It’s not the most
pleasant place to be after dark, but your perseverance just
might be rewarded with a glimpse of the legendary light.