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GHOSTS OF QUEENSLAND

BRISBANE AND

THE BRISBANE REGION

 

Vex not his ghost; o let him pass.

King Lear, William Shakespeare

 

BRISBANE

 

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 stop.

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 inland.

Residents of Ipswich also lay claim to having seen Logan's ghost in more recent times at the spot where he met his death. There is a small reserve there now, 1.6 kilometres from the junction of Logan's Creek and the Bris­bane River. A night or two spent there (if you can stand the mosquitoes) might reward you with a glimpse of the ghost of the Fell Tyrant.

          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.

Years later 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.

 

BARDON

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 house.

BULIMBA

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 there.

CAMP HILL

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

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 Brisbane River.

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 breaking.

DUNWICH

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 it.

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.

DUTTON PARK

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.

FORTITUDE VALLEY

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 acquitted.

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 building.

HERSTON

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.

LUTWYCHE

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.

MOUNT COOT-THA

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.

MURARRIE

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 rearrange them.

NEWSTEAD

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 public inspection.

SOUTH BRISBANE

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.

TINGALPA

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.

WELLINGTON POINT

        ‘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.

WISHART

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.

WOODRIDGE

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 music.

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 again.

‘It’s not a frightening voice but it sure gives you a fright,’ the mother of the family told a newspaper reporter in 1990.

Ghost Mania

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 ghost.

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.

SOUTH-EASTERN QUEENSLAND

The existence of a liar is more probable than the existence of a ghost.

                                                        George Bernard Shaw

ALLORA

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 white owl.

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 story.

GOLD COAST

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 waterfalls.

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 local said.

JIMBOOMBA

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 Church nearby.

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.

LANDSBOROUGH

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 life.

LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK

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.

MALENY

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.

NERANWOOD

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.

ORMEAU

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.

POMONA

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 devoted following.

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 stage.

SUNSHINE COAST

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 operates.

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 result.

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 never returned.

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 heard since.

TOOWOOMBA

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 dizzy lifestyle.

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.’

WARWICK

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

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.

CHILDERS

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 owner.

ETON

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.

GAYNDAH

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 appeared.

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! Help!’ He scrambled out of his car and listened. The cries seemed to be coming from the middle of a nearby paddock. Matheson hastily pulled on his boots and set off in the direction of the cries, which were still coming at brief intervals. Before he had gone ten paces Matheson recalls there was ‘half a stone’ of sticky black mud clinging to each of his boots but he struggled on. Then he saw the flickering light. It wasn’t any shape you could put a name to: it swirled and changed, swelled and shrank, like a formless, luminous blob of jelly.

          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.’

GOGANGO

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 buggers up!’

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.

HOWARD

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.

MACKAY

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.’

MARYBOROUGH

History-rich Maryborough is generously endowed with ghosts- no less than eight at the last count, if you include a dog.

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, presumably, drowned.

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 rooms.

MOUNT PERRY

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 below.

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 Island

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 doorway.

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 a convert.

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.

NEBO

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 story:

‘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 gaping.

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.

PINE ISLET

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 decided to build a new lighthouse keeper’s cottage on the island that year and the only available flat land was a grave site. An order was obtained to exhume the body and relocate the grave.

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.

PROSTON

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 been hidden.

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 then disappeared.

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

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 ago.

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 house.

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.

ROCKHAMPTON

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.

The Headmistress' Ghost

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.’

‘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 victim’s tresses.

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 their experiences.

“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 warn us.

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.”

NORTH QUEENSLAND

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.

Virgil

AYR

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.

BABINDA

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.

BOWEN

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 her sinking.

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 Holbourne Island.

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.

EINASLEIGH

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 ‘er.’

MOUNT GARNETT

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.

PALMER RIVER

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

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 cathedral’s sanctuary.

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 severely crippled.

SOMERSET

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 Rockhampton.

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 pearling luggers.

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 Reserve.

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

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 press.

‘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.

TULLY

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 children.

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.’

WHITSUNDAY PASSAGE

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 Hayman Island.

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 suddenly disappearing.

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.

Romeo and 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 vanished.

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 sunshine.

WESTERN QUEENSLAND

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

BOULIA

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

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!’

CHARLEVILLE

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

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

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 lad.

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 haze.

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

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 them.

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 gun.

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 watch'd and

waited till his billy boil'd,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

 

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

And he sang as he watch'd and waited till his billy boil'd

You'll come 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,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

 

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag

You'll come 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,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

 

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag,

You'll come 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,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

 

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,

You'll come 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 ‘Craiglea’.

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 as song.

ISISFORD

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 expedition.

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 empty bush.

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 struck.

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.

JULIA CREEK

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

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 hillside.

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.

MALBON

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 dreams.

MITCHELL

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.

MOUNT ISA

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 four months.’

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

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 still there.

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 spot again.

THARGOMINDAH

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.

WINDORAH

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 aside.

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 ground.

          There are two versions of how Ned Hammond was found. The most likely tells of a search party finding him with a fractured spine trying to crawl home and his brother John riding 300 kilometres to fetch the nearest doctor but finding Ned dead on his return. The other version claims Ned managed to remount and the horse found its own way home. Along the way Ned fell from the horse again but one boot remained caught in a stirrup. Ned was dragged many kilometres, his head hitting the stony ground until, by the time the horse limped into the homestead, it was dragging a headless corpse.

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?

The Mystery 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 unwarranted.

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 disappears.

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 nights.

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.

 

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