Friday, November 5, 2010

A Celebrated Murder...

Not everyone in Australia believes in ghosts. Yet spirits certainly are a part of the history and culture across the nation. Just listening to the bush ballad Waltzing Matilda shows one clear example. Said to have been based on a true story, the song ends with the swagman's ghost still haunting the billabong (purported to be Combo Waterhole in Queensland). But there is an iconic true ghost story well-known among Aussies. It's celebrated every year in this month with a festival.

Frederick Fisher was a former convict turned farmer in the early 19th century trying to turn around his life in Campbelltown outside of Sydney. In 1826 he had another brush with the law following a knife incident. Anticipating a long return to prison, he gave his neighbor William George Worral power of attorney. Luckily for Fisher the trial went better than expected and he was released with a light sentence. On June 17 Fisher mysteriously vanished. When questioned, Worral told the townspeople that Fisher had left him everything and sailed to England to make a fresh start. Suspicions arose almost immediately.

Worral was arrested on September 17 on suspicion of murder yet no body could be found. One night in October a wealthy farmer named John Farley (or James Hurley in other story versions) was heading home from Patrick's Inn and encountered a terrifying sight on the Queen Street bridge. The ghost of Fred Fisher sat on the rail and pointed in the direction or Worral's land beside a creek separating Worral's and Fisher's properties. Terrified, Farley raced home and soon told authorities about the disturbing encounter. On October 25 two local boys reported seeing blood stains on Worral's fence. Police called in an Aboriginal tracker named Gilbert and soon discovered Fisher's body exactly where the ghost had been pointing.

The trial began on February 2, 1827. During the proceedings Worral was found guilty. At the gallows three days later Worral confessed but claimed it was a case of mistaken identity (he thought Fisher was a horse in his wheat crop) yet no one believed him. But that was not the end of Fisher's ghost. Hauntings blamed on Fisher are abound in Campbelltown. Today, the stream where the body was discovered is renamed Fisher's Ghost Creek. Since 1826 the ghostly image if Fisher has been seen numerous times at the bridge on Queen Street. He has also made appearances at the nearby Town Hall Theatre, said to have been built at the site of Worral's homestead.

Today Campbelltown celebrates its infamous ghostly celebrity every year in November with the Festival of Fisher's Ghost. The event dating back to 1956 includes a parade, street fair, six-day carnival, and immense display of fireworks. This year's celebration started on November 4th and runs through the 14th. See the website for complete details. And if you happen to be around Sydney be sure to take some time to join in on the festivities. While you might see many Halloween-style ghosts parading down the street, one of them might be Fisher himself. It's believed that he visits the festival every year, after all...

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