Australia. especially Sydney, boasts many stories of the supernatural – haunted houses, wandering ghosts, places where your skin will chill and creep and, of course, urban myths that we pass around with glee.
Ghost stories are ages old and, like much lore, are often cyclical. Of course, to work best ghost stories require a certain complicity between the teller and the listener. Originally these stories survived in the oral tradition but over time, and influenced by our dramatic changes in entertainment, they have become increasingly reliant on electronic transmission, especially via email.
Much folklore tends to be an exaggeration of what actually happened but the supernatural goes that bit further. Certainly some supernatural claims appear to be steeped in an historical event. The well-known story of Fisher’s Ghost in Sydney’s west grew out of an actual event however the ghost part of the story is purely the work of a creative mind. Or is it?
Australians are as supernatural as any modern society. Not surprisingly countries with active religion, especially catholic, like Ireland and Latin territories, have more ghost stories. Sydney was built on Irish and British settlers and many of our haunted sites go back over 200 years. That isn’t to say that new ghosts are shunned – they are not and just as many new sightings are recorded as old.
The Edwardian and Victorian eras saw a large interest in the supernatural and spiritualism. Seances were extremely popular as relatives attempted to make contact with loved ones who had died in battle or disease. Spiritualism was particularly active in the later part of the nineteenth century coinciding with a worldwide interest. Sydney, especially in the first quarter of the twentieth century, saw the growth of the Liberal catholic Church (no relation to the Roman Catholic Church) and the Theosophical Society – both had a defined interest in seances, astral travel and the like. At one stage the Theosophical Society held the license for Radio station 2GB. Annie Bessant, a world leader of the Society, visited Sydney and there was even a time when followers believed that God was to appear ‘in person’ at Balmoral Beach and a visit there today will show evidence of the site. Sadly he or she failed to make the deadline.
In November 2004 I had an item published in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘Spike’ Column announcing my quest to collect Supernatural Stories of Sydney. This led to an interview on Radio 2UE with Mike Charlton. Both led to a flow of spooky stories.