Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Queer Paranormal Road Trip: Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast

I had every intention of discussing at least one haunting in Sydney while I was visiting in the first few days of December. Due to limited internet, that never happened. And with the realization that three days hardly was enough time to cover my list of places to see I regretfully never paid a visit to Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn (originally my first choice of accommodations but it was booked solid by the time my trip was finalized). I hope to remedy this next time I'm in Australia and still intend on devoting a fair amount of time on it in the next LGBT ghost book.

As Sydney sprang up from the wild landscape of New South Wales in the late 18th Century, a need for more permanent buildings arose. The earliest brickmakers, among them Londoner James Bloodworth, took advantage of clay deposits in the region and began producing bricks in earnest in a village which came to be known (obviously) as Brickfield. Today it is part of a popular restaurant and entertainment area named Surrey Hills. Here you will find the heart of Sydney's gay and lesbian life on nearby Oxford Street. And in a row of historic Victorian townhouses along Riley Street is a small but beautiful gay-owned inn called Brickfield Hill Bed & Breakfast.

The four-store terrace dates back to 1885 when it was built as a boarding house for Lydia King. Traces of this past were unearthed during restoration work by present owners Ivano and David. The four guest rooms are beautifully decorated with antiquities and simple elegance. Yet this is not without the modern conveniences, including free wireless internet and LCD televisions complete with DVD player. Surprisingly, given how expensive Sydney can be, they are very affordable and far less expensive than any hotel room you can find. But a hotel won't provide the same historic surroundings... or rumors of a ghost.

Both Ivano and David are staunch skeptics when it comes to ghosts and spirits. That hasn't stopped guests from reporting unusual experiences while staying at Brickfield. People have reported hearing fabric rustling and catching a glimpse of "a tall woman walking in a long black sateen dress" at the inn, most often on the stairs outside the dining room and or the upstairs landing. Even the innkeepers have heard footsteps on the stairs on more than one occasion while the building was empty yet they dismiss it as likely sound coming from the adjacent rowhouses. This cannot explain why a number of overnight guests have come out of their suites in the morning to ask what "the maid" was doing in their room in the middle of the night. There is no maid on staff, although this and the woman in black could be the same individual.

Perhaps Mrs. King is still keeping watch over her boarders from beyond the grave. Or maybe it's dark cast shadows in a creaky old Victorian, mixed with the excitement of a different city and too much Carlton's, which fuel the imagination. Whichever you choose to believe the question might be answered after spending the night—or an extended weekend holiday—in a room there. Even if you don't get a visit from "the maid" you can be sure to find plenty of spirits at the nearby Oxford Hotel or Colombian Hotel. Just remember that tipping in Australia is often included in the price (and the bartenders are better paid than in the states) so there's no need to fumble for a $1 coin.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Ghost of 2010...

The Christmas holiday season has once more come to an end as another year slowly fades away. Following the excitement-filled trip earlier this month, my actual holiday was extremely subdued. In Victorian times, Christmas (not Halloween) was a time to tell ghost stories. While I did pass some of the 25th reading about haunted places, there was a larger shadow looming over the day. The ghost of 2010.

Everyone is haunted. It may not be my a specter making its presence known in your house or workplace, or even a chance encounter somewhere in the world. It's the memories of what we have and haven't done which can keep us awake at night or bring a smile to our faces seemingly for no reason at all. For me 2010 was yet another tumultuous year or changes, experiences, and chances. I've looked out across the Pacific from both sides. I've pushed myself to achieve and let fear come in the way of new possibilities. I set out to fulfill a few dreams and didn't let anything stop me. And I've closed a few doors that were necessary for my own well-being. It's hard to fathom everything that has happened. In the past two years I've felt more alive than I allowed myself to be for quite some time.

As always, there are some regrets. A life lived without any regret is nearly impossible. Everything we do requires making decisions and choosing one path over another. Unless we settle into a mundane, constant routine without wavering even the slightest bit life is a journey not an observation. The more we forge ahead and blaze new trails, the more frightening and uncertain it becomes. I made a decision that my life should be an exploration fraught with challenges and new experiences. Not every one has been pleasant but I wouldn't change my decisions for the world. It's an indescribable feeling to be in a situation you've played out in thoughts and imagination many times and think, "Wait a minute. This is really happening. Wow."

Already, 2011 is going to be another year of continued growth and adventure. In just a few more weeks I'm starting back at my old university, finally taking steps toward a degree I've postponed for so many years now. And in my mind I have tentative travel plans to a few selected places, some of which will hopefully happen. Travel is one of my biggest driving forces in life. It's not enough to sit back and read about the world. I want to engulf my senses in foreign lands, dine with the natives, and absorb everything imaginable. Even with the paranormal I need to see, feel, and hear the sounds of those places that for so long have been notes scribbled on paper or flat photographs on a screen.

If I have one wish for 2011 it's that more people do the same. Yes, these are uncertain times for many of us. Life can become a challenge just living day to day. But nothing is impossible. With enough desire and creative calculations, all of us can make small steps at making our lives exactly what we want them to be. Dreams aren't just silly thoughts to be cast aside or ground out by harsh realities. They are points on a map that require careful navigations. No ambition is too silly or absurd. Often the biggest obstacle for us is believing others when they tell us our dreams are impossible, stupid, or unrealistic. Doubt is a powerful force. And too often it leads to stagnation and forfeiture.

We can learn a lot about life from the lives of those who passed away and perhaps even haunt the buildings and houses in your neighborhood. Great things have been accomplished by people we've never even heard of. Not every ghost story is a lamentable tale of regret or self-imprisonment. Some spirits have lived more than we could ever imagine. Don't allow the dead to have more life than you. Remember that where you are is only the smallest speck on a huge sphere whirling around at 600 mph. There's so much life out there, so much to interact with. Don't wait for life to come to you. It's all around, waiting for you to take notice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking Back at My Australian Adventure...

Australia definitely didn't disappoint me when it comes to the paranormal. Although I didn't set out to make my trip all about dead people, I did find a little time to seek out the bizarre, the otherworldly, and the creepy in the land far away. But first, a word on jet lag. I haven't traveled across this many time zones in a decade, and even then it was only a five-hour difference. This time, it was 14 hours. After a whole five days back in the states I still can't get myself sleeping normally again. My mind is awash with thoughts, memories, and reflections on the two weeks on the other side of the world. And no amount of caffeine can get me feeling human (and alive) quite yet.

Still, I plod on. And there are so many wondrous things to tell about Australia. For those of you who wonder, no I didn't meet Oprah nor did I even cross paths with her entourage. Thankfully. That's no disrespect for her or her audience. But the experiences I had were vastly different from the McCafe-drinking, Outback-hiking, "G'day mate" schlock tossed around in a tourist-driven tour. This was the "choose your own adventure and get lost several times in the process" type of travel that I've grown to love. It's being out of your element and often a bit fearful of what could happen. Stepping out of your comfort zone and into the reality of a city, far from the tourist maps and beaten path, can be the best way to see a place for the first time. There's not much room for illusions and false pretenses. It's not wandering around the rim of the volcano, it's diving in head first and hoping you aren't burnt to a crisp.

Sydney was my first stop and where I wearily landed on the first day of December. It is the wettest December in 20 years. Seeing my friend Joel waiting at the airport did improve my mood but there wasn't much time to waste. The journey was on after a long bus ride to the hostel. Rain or shine, when you only have a few days in a city you have to make the best of it. We did quickly realize that there wasn't any feasible way to see everything on my list in three days, but I did get a good taste of the city. And I can mark another item off my Bucket List: walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge. And it turned out to be a beautiful day for it too! Still, Sydney did leave a mark on me. The sun is a lot stronger there than I'm used to so on the ferry to Manly I developed a rather nasty sunburn that peeled off during the remainder of my stay. Somewhere in Sydney, there's still part of me floating around undoubtedly.

Another day went by picking up Joel's car, stopping by a few out-of-the-way spots including Campbelltown (home of the Fisher's Ghost Festival), visiting the lovely Sam and Deb for lunch in Wollongong, and a treacherous foggy drive to the capital Canberra. Another three days went by quickly visiting the sights and museums and staying with Joel and his boyfriend Brett. I want to thank both of them for their gracious hospitality and good company. I'm forever in their debt for everything. I met even more fascinating people during those days and learned about a few tragedies from the past. A very helpful staff member at a museum even took the time to give me a detailed account of all the ghosts and paranormal happenings in and around the building! I'm not even sure if it's mentioned on any ghost tours so I felt quite honored to get a taste of haunted Canberra.

Following that leg of the journey, there was a while day of travel in store. Unfortunately, navigation doesn't always go according to plan. Somehow on our attempt to take the scenic route along the ocean via the Princes Highway, we found ourselves lost in the Snowy Mountains. We passed through part of Kosciuszko National Park (home to the tallest mountain in Australia of the same name) and caught several glimpses of mountain snow still clinging to the highest points of land before getting directions and taking the shortcut toward our destination. This meant taking a terrifying drive on a stone-and-dirt mountain road through the Snowy Mountains for a few hours before returning to civilization. We reached Inverloch at nightfall where we stayed the night before heading to suburban Melbourne the next day. In light of our adventure I felt a day of shopping would be better than more long drives and sightseeing.

Melbourne went by the fastest. I'm not sure if it was the overexposure to ideas, restaurants, places, and people flooding me at the speed of light or the fact that the trip was nearing its end. I met up with the curator of Melbourne Museum (and we exchanged signed books), stopped at the Haunted Bookshop, and saw some remarkable old buildings. Given the tight budget I was on the final leg had its moments. And tensions did run high at times. For anyone who has ever spent two solid weeks with a friend, traveling or not, you know that nothing is ever all sunshine and lollies. Perhaps it was just my own perspective but I felt that toward the end, Joel needed a break from me. I know I needed some solitary time myself and my emotions went rampant a few times along the way from the lack of quiet alone time. But I like to think that there wasn't any permanent damage done to the friendship. Even if things had gone smoothly the entire time, I'd worry. It's just my nature.

I took a bus back to Sydney to give Joel a break from the insane amount of driving he did during the trip. Then it was a matter of catching my three flights back to Cleveland and arriving six hours after leaving Sydney. Hence the jet lag. When you travel for 24 hours and only six hours actually pass, it's natural for your internal clock to pop a few springs. I landed wearily at Hopkins International with a head full of experiences and thoughts as well as luggage filled with souvenirs, pamphlets, and mementos. And a new hat. And a zillion ideas on reviving a novel I started years ago only this time set in Australia. And don't forget the bit of uneasiness about possibly leaving with unresolved emotions between myself and my dearest friend. Not in that way; I mean emotional casualties of too much time in close quarters combined with a frantic, fast-paced sojourn.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. Seeing so much of Australia in two weeks was amazing. Having that time together with Joel did more for me than I ever thought too. And it wasn't exactly how I had imagined it all going. For one, there were fewer iffy moments than I anticipated. And secondly I actually enjoyed meeting his boyfriend! Perhaps that's all I really needed. Seeing Joel in person for a change, having some good and not-so-good moments together, and watching them both interact together to see that yes they both were happy together and life was good. though all that realization did make me feel awkwardly in the way on my final day in Canberra before going to Sydney for my departure. I wanted them to have some time together and felt a bit guilty about Brett's non-involvement in the whole experience. Yes this was to be my first true vacation in as long as I can remember, but the last thing I ever want to do is be "in the way."

I know this all seems like an abridges version of the trip, and it is. But I wanted to give a short version of events and not go in-depth on every day, every moment. It would simply take too much time... not to mention become too dangerously close to being a diary instead of the blog I intended to have. I did see plenty of haunted places but during daytime hours. This was intentional, though. Ghost tours weren't in the budget (not would there have been much time for them) and I wanted to photograph several places in good light. I will be sharing a lot more about the hauntings in the future, though. Australia is still my favorite place in the world. And on March 1, 2011 I'll be giving a presentation at Cuyahoga Falls Library at 7:00 PM regarding many haunted places, famous and obscure, in the land down under. I'll also toss in a few moments from my trip, share a few souvenirs with the audience, and fix some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about Australia. But for now, let's just try to survive the holidays...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From Tropical Spirits to Frozen Entities...

I successfully managed to neglect my blog the entire trip. It wasn't intentional. Having just two weeks to explore so much new territory was a challenge enough without fitting in some writing. I'm still trying to digest everything. Plus I made some fascinating discoveries, had a few unintentional adventures, and mat some wonderful people along the way. It really was a great experience. While not every single moment was perfect, I don't regret it. Even the less-than-wonderful moments made the trip more real. Not the Oprah Winfrey trip of misinformation and touristy things. The real Australia. And I've left with wonderful memories and a few ideas for writing work that I'll start on in the coming months.

Since I didn't get to write about the trip on here (and did get to take notes in a diary I kept with me) I'll be sharing some things from Australia on here in the next few weeks. I also have to get to work on a library talk on Australia ghosts that will be happening this winter (more details to follow). I do want to thank everyone I met for making the trip not only a positive experience but even possible. The budget was incredibly tight and without my friend Joel (as well as friends of his who graciously made accommodations open to us) this wouldn't have happened. I know with being together almost non-stop he's a true friend for tolerating me as much as he did. lol I fully admit I have my moments...

It will take a few days to get my sleep back to normal, adjust back to a colder climate, and shuffle through the countless notes, pamphlets, and things I brought back. But I will. And now that Christmas is fast approaching, there's so much to do before the year is over. This time, however, I will have a chance to jot down some things here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Creepy World News...

It's that time again. Time to wade through the news and seek out those oddities of life, death, and whatever might come after.

Going Gayly to the Grave...

Do you think those drab coffins aren't good enough for you? Want to be buried with some style? If you're in Cologne, Germany you might be in luck! One gay undertaker couple is stepping up to help. Thomas Brandl and Michael Koenigsfeld have tailored a line of urns and coffins specifically for the gay community, featuring rainbow colors, nude figures, or whatever your homo heart desires. Being so unique, the coffins have sparked a lot of interest and quite a bit of positive response. "People are cutting back in the recession but the one group of consumers who still have high spending power are gay couples," Michael told Orange News, "and very few people are designing for them in this market." We've always been told 'you can't take it with you' yet this no longer applies to sexual identity.

Feast or Famine...

Hunger is a strong force, as residents of the Russian village of Verkhnyaya Chova are learning. An unseasonably hot summer and its resulting fires destroyed scores of forest berries and mushroooms: an important food source for brown bears. Last month a bear did the unthinkable. A corpse from the town's cemetery was dug up and eaten. The Emergencies Ministry has started 24-hour patrols of Komi Republic to protect residents and livestock. If you are what you eat, does this make them dead meat?

Shaking Up the Dead...

New Zealand ghost hunters may have found something that brings out the ghosts. Following the September 4th 7.0 earthquakethe largest in recorded Kiwi historycentered outside of Christchurch reports of paranormal activity doubled. Anton Heyrick of Christchurch Paranormal Investigators told The Press, "People are calling us, saying that they had always felt like there was something in the house, but since the earthquake it had become more intense." He speculates that the powerful force behind the seismic event (or the subsequent renovations to damaged buildings) could be behind the spike in occurrences. Unsettled dead or mass hysteria? It certainly warrants more observation.

Recruiting Religious Reinforcements...

The Catholic Church might have taken a beating in recent years, but now the popularity of exorcisms has the clergy scrambling to keep up with demand. A special two-day workshop was held earlier this month with 56 bishops and 66 priests in attendance to learn the arcane rite. Vatican law requires that only properly trained priests can perform the Rite of Exorcism, of whom only 5 or 6 existed in the US before the workshop. Undoubtedly the combination of "demonic spirits" on paranormal television and economic stress may have more people believing they're possessed or have a spawn of Satan living under their roof (aside from the odd relative). It's a shame Fangoria doesn't still sell those DIY Exorcism Kits. They could've saved themselves a lot of time and money.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You Can't Take It with You...

Less than a week away until I jet over the Unites States and cross the Pacific Ocean before touching down at Sydney International Airport beside Botany Bay. My preparations are nearly complete. Packing very light, however, has caused a lot more thought than I expected though. Maybe I'm trying to compact everything too much. And inadvertently it's getting frustrating while the clock ticks down. To have a check-in or just a carry-on? That is the question.

With regulations there are many things I can't take if I don't check in a bag. Yet I'm not bringing a whole lot with me. I'll never understand how a bottle of body wash or lighter constitutes a threat to the security of an airplane. Maybe we're a little too preoccupied with the idea of suicide bombers taking out crews and less careful of packages being sent in the cargo hold. But that's just my view.

I'll probably check in my one bag, half stuffed with bubble wrap to avoid a mess of shampoo and soap, and bring a change of clothes in a carry-on just in case the lords of luggage make a wrong turn at Albuquerque. This is the final week before I leave, only five more days remain. After this weekend you won't hear from me until I'm in Sydney (internet permitting).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Hidden Heart of Hauntings...

Yikes! I've let a whole week pass by. Well, not intentionally. And not just from gearing up for the trip. I've been doing a lot of research and digging up interesting things. The only problem is they haven't involved Australia or ghosts. Yes, it might be strange to believe but I actually have other less morbid interests. That's one thing I have in mind for my trip as well: balancing spooky places with everything else I want to see. And I think it's necessary. Focusing on dead people and spirits all the time isn't healthy for anyone.

In fact, only a handful of people get into the paranormal for some valiant pursuit to answer the age-old question of what happens after death or to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of what we refer to as ghosts. Many hunt for spirits as a form of adventure and excitement, perhaps even to feel like they're actually in a horror movie, or (as the recent trend goes) as a popularity/status symbol. Though I started out long before it was the "in" thing to do, I figured out what my main motivation was. History.

Ghost stories keep our history alive (both literally and ironically). How many murders would be forgotten by the majority of people were it not for a haunted house? How many sad, fascinating stories would have died out centuries ago without those ghostly legends being passed on from person to person? Yes, there are plenty of tales which are not complete truths, yet even urban legends and iconic ghost stories are based upon a certain amount of fact. Sometimes the paranormal folklore can even lead to unsolved murders or other mysteries. They're a part of nearly every culture on earth. Through the dead, obscure forgotten history lives on.

If there were no true stories, no historical foundation, behind misty human forms and footsteps in abandoned mansions nearly all the appeal would disappear for me. I say "nearly" because well, I do like the bizarre, creepy, and mysterious so obviously it would still pique my curiosity. But I would be like so many other people and treat ghosts as a thrill to have once every Halloween. Ghosts would have all the fascination of a magician's trick. They'd be like thunderstorms; something I love to watch but won't go out of my way to try to find one.

With history, there is always something to be learned. I know plenty of people who treat the past as something to be learned in school from a book then brushed aside, yet it's so much more than that. It can be tangible in the form of artifacts and antiques yet relative to time and place shifting drastically in story as you move from place to place and see it from other people's viewpoints. It's full of amazing achievements and horrible deeds. In many ways, humankind is unchanging through the centuries. People fight wars over beliefs, politicians are corrupt, drama is entertainment, and the rich have power over the commoners. It's astounding that we, as people living in the 21st century, see our lives as so drastically different from past societies, such as ancient Rome. But strip away the gadgets, the clothing, the architecture and look at the people and you'll see a mirror image.

Much of what we know is the past as filtered through propoganda. Just listen to schoolchildren learning about Thanksgiving and you'll see what I mean. Those poor, helpless Pilgrims striving for freedom and good will daring to cross an ocean and harmoniously mingling with Native Americans, it all culminating in a great feast of two different people who lived happily ever after. That's how we'd like to remember it but it isn't the whole truth. And that is often the key with ghost stories. They're renegade historical truths cloaked in the supernatural. They tell us the sides of history we want to keep buried. Pure truth, like a disembodied spirit, terrifies and haunts. We would rather wake up from the nightmare than discover it could be real.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Death by the Acre...

Two weeks ago I wrote about Sydney's first cemetery beneath present-day Sydney Town Hall. At that time I mentioned that a number of bodies exhumed were re-interred at Rookwood Necropolis. The interesting thing about this cemetery is it's the largest multicultural burial ground not only in Australia but in all the Southern Hemisphere. In the three square kilometers (over one square mile) of grounds approximately one million souls have met their final rest. Though some may not be so peaceful. Rookwood is also said to be the most haunted cemetery in the world.

An ideal spot for a new cemetery at Haslem's Creek (now Lidcombe) was chosen in 1862. The 200 acres were far enough away from Sydney as not to worry about encroachment (or so they believed). By 1879 the government needed to purchase an additional 577 acres to make more room. Originally a railway led to the cemetery for funerals but that ceased in 1948 after automobile funerals won out in popularity. Four of the five stations were demolished, with the last one being sold to Reverend Buckle in 1951 who dismantled it and reconstructed the depot as All Saints Church of England in Canberra's suburb of Ainslie. Yet many buildings remain, including a dozen chapels, three florist shops, and two cafes. It's practically an entire city for the dead.

Some of the oldest sections of the cemetery are overgrown with abundant indigenous plants as well as many various horticultural specimens. The Friends of Rookwood Inc. offers a variety of historical tours covering some famous and fascinating people buried throughout the cemetery. And undoubtedly one of the most interesting people you will find among the headstones is William Davenport.

The Davenport brothers, Ira and William, were highly acclaimed in their time as Spiritualist mediums. Born in Buffalo, New York the duo toured the United States for 10 years and met a great deal of skepticism from Houdini and others intent on exposing their magician's tricks as fraud. At the age of 36, William passed away from Tuberculosis on July 1, 1877 at the Oxford Hotel in Sydney. Ira returned to the US until his death in 1911 at which time he was buried in Mayville, New York.

As far as wandering souls are concerned, there is some debate about how haunted the cemetery really is. And we don't just mean last year's horny Satanist. If you ask tour guide Robyn Hawes she'll tell you there are no ghosts at Rookwood. Yet for decades haunting rumors have persisted. Allegedly both visitors and employees have experienced paranormal phenomena in Rookwood. Perhaps it's caused by a lonely convict of Davenport himself making one last appearance to better his reputation? Or is it just that pesky belief that all cemeteries must be haunted? Either way it's worth a visit just for the old Victorian headstones.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paid by the Dead...

Every day millions of US citizens see dead people. Perhaps as a statue on the street, a picture or photograph, or the name of a building or bridge we may not take much notice of it. But death is all around us. This is certainly reflected in our currency. With the exception of Benjamin Franklin (who has been 6 feet under for many years) every bank note shows a deceased former president. Are they the only notable people from the past worth recognizing? Hardly. But that is how it has been for over a century. And people tend to hate change.

In Australia, the currency also carries faces of the dead. The only exception is the five-dollar note, which depicts a rather youthful Queen Elizabeth II and sketches of the capital city of Canberra as it was redesigned beginning in 1913. But the remaining faces have all been laid to rest. However, unlike the United States these people are far less political yet more interesting and diverse.

The $10 note pays tribute to writers. There's bush poet Andrew Barton "Banjo" Patterson and poet/journalist Dame Mary Gilmore. Two pioneering individuals can be found on the $20 note: convict-turned-shipping-magnate Mary Reibey and Reverend John Flynn who founded the world's first aerial medical agency: the Royal Flying Doctor Service. On the $50 note you can find inventor David Unaipon (first Aboriginal to wrote and publish a book) and the first female representative elected to Parliament (in 1921 just a year after women were given the right to vote in the United States, though in Australia women voted since 1901) Edith Cowan

Last we have the highest denomination, the $100 note, which features the likenesses of world-renowned soprano opera singer Dame Nellie Melba as well as engineer and World War II commander General Sir John Monash. Australia's $1 and $2 coins, introduced in 1984 and 1988 respectively, along with the 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent pieces show the more natural, native side of the nation. From kangaroos to emu to a tribal Aborigine the images pay tribute to what was already on the continent before the influx of Europeans. Of course, they all can still be found there.

These iconic people will undoubtedly hold up to wear much better than Lincoln, Washington, and the others on US dollar notes. That's because Australia was the first country to make their notes out of a polymer beginning in 1988 to help curb counterfeiting. Having just received my converted currency from the bank I can see the advantages. It behaves very similarly but since it's a form of plastic it can't be ripped in two. Of course, nothingeven plasticis infallible. Currency values fluctuate in uncertain times. Right now, the Australian dollar is having a bit of trouble. But nothing lasts forever. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creepy Outback Cryptid Critters...

Nearly every country has at least one story of a mythical or unexplainable creature. Having been separated from any nearby land some 48,000 years ago, Australia is naturally a place of exotic and bizarre animals many of which are found nowhere else on earth. The kangaroo, koala, and platypus were demystified by European colonization but there are other mysteries based on stories passed down by Aboriginal peoples which today remain unidentified beasts of legendary proportions.

Probably the best known cryptid said to roam across the continent is the Yowie: Australia's very own version of Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch). Named Narcoonah by natives in what is now South Australia this large hairy ape-like creature has reportedly been sighted by white settlers since the 1840s. As more towns sprung up across the country sightings continued to increase and still happen today. It is believed there are at least two "species" of Yowie ranging from the small 4-5 foot tall hominids to enormous 6-10 foot varieties. Yowie researchers believe it's possible that these creatures are some distant ancestor to Gigantopithecus which was native to China around 1 million years ago, intermingled with ancient man, and may have crossed a land bridge to arrive in Terra Australis.

As with reports of Bigfoot, Yeti, and similar creatures scientists say it's impossible for such a large creature to remain unknown and not result in at least one discovery of a carcass over the past few hundred years. That hasn't stopped countless people and researchers from trying to track the elusive animal. Australian Yowie Research and Australian Yowie Research Centre are a few of the many organizations dedicated to collecting reported sightings and hunting for evidence. Josh Gates of Destination Truth even went to Queensland in 2008 to try to hunt down the creature. But so far the only evidence anyone has produced is footprint casts, odd audio recordings, and unidentified images. You would be hard pressed to even find one of the Cadbury variety these days.

But mysterious creatures are not only confined to land. To the north of Sydney lies the Hawkesbury River, known by Aboriginals as Deerrubbun. It has been a popular spot for thousans of years where the Ku Ring Gui and Dharug tribes believed the Dream Time was found. Prized for its abundant seafood the Hawkesbury might hold another aquatic animal. It's said to be the home of a prehistoric monster.

Similar to Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, the Mirreeulla (or "giant water serpent") was introduced by the Dharuk to early settlers through stories of capsized canoes and vessels blamed on a monster of the deep. It's been described in cave art and recollections as a large bodied animal with two sets of flippers,an eel-like tail, and the head of a snake mounted on a long neck—like a living plesiosaur would be envisioned. Reports of the creature happened throughout the 20th century. More recent sightings have occurred in August 2009 and March 2010.

But there are so many others. The legend of a very peculiar creature called the bunyip. Reports of black panthers. Sightings of extinct animals in Tasmania. Australia is a land of oddities, both known and unknown. Who knows what the next fishing line will pull out of a New South Wales waterway? Or what glint of an animal will be caught in car headlights?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

True News is Stranger than Fiction...

It's been a while since I've reported on a few of the weird goings-on around the globe. Luckily it's been a great year for the bizarreness of humanity. Here are just a few stories that fell through the cracks (including a few from Oceania) found inside the Sydney Morning Herald.

Just Looking for a Ghouled Time...

In Durack, Northern Territory a woman named Jennifer Mills-Young has been the victim of what many Australians have labeled a "randy poltergeist." The ghost, given the name Kevin, attacked Jennifer, a mother of two, in her bed while alone in the house, grabbing her wrist and trying to drag her out of bed. "I yelled at Kevin that he was not welcome in my bedroom and that he couldn't come into bed with me. I told him to f--- off and to close the door behind him," Jennifer told a reporter for The Northern Territory News. "A moment later I saw how the bedroom door was closed."  Jason King, a Sydney-based paranormal investigator, has offered his services to help the woman, who was and still remains very skeptical of the paranormal.

Feasting on Misfortune...

There's something rotten in Wellington, New Zealand. Is isn't the corpses. And thanks to an unidentified man it isn't the funeral banquets either. A well-dressed man in his 40s made several stops at Harbour City Funeral Home and similar businesses in the eastern suburbs between March and April to dine on the banquets and take some extra to go. According to the Dominion Post he was stopped after a week by funeral director Danny Langstraat and his staff who felt he had crossed the line. Mentally ill or just looking for a free lunch? We may never know.

A Very Unlucky Number...

People may chalk up the superstitions surrounding the number 13 to coincidence, but one teenager in Suffolk, England may disagree. Friday August 13th proved to be a shocking day for the 13-year-old boy who was attending an air show when a thunderstorm rolled in. A lightning strike hit the boy and two other crowd members at 13:13. "Lightning strikes can cause cardiac arrest," said a St Johns Ambulance volunteer at the event, "but when our volunteers arrived, the boy was conscious and breathing." He was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for burns on his shoulder.

Rook to Alpha Centauri...

Could aliens pose concerns of national security leaks? Possibly in Russia. State Duma deputy Andrei Lebedev wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in May asking for a full investigation into the alleged alien abduction of multi-millionaire businessman Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on September 18, 1997. On that date, Kirsan reported that a cylindrical craft piloted by "human-like creatures in yellow spacesuits" landed on his balcony and whisked him away to "some kind of star" in an effort to prove the existence of UFOs. Lebedev was concerned that the aliens may have urged him to divulge state secrets to them and asked for proper protocol to be followed when a high-profile figure is abducted. But they might be overreacting a little. Kirsan happens to be the head of the World Chess Federation. Perhaps they just wanted a few pointers in exchange for a tour of the universe?

In the Shadow of Death...

As time ticks down for me to embark on following one of my dreams it should be a cheerful time. But it's not. I should be excited and elated. I am in part, but not wholeheartedly. It's difficult to be so happy about something in the wake of so much sadness across the nation. Sadness in the form of so many people younger than myself who will never get to experience so many of the wondrous things the world has to offer.

There have been an alarming number of suicides, predominantly among teenagers, in the past two months involving gay individuals. The most recent happened on Friday when 14-year-old Brandon Bitner of Pennsylvania ran in front of a truck to end his life. This follows a long line of other widely-publicized deaths: Tyler Clementi, Justin Aaberg, Seth WalshCarl Walker-Hoove, Raymond Chase, and many others. Though teenage bullying was often the culprit there have been others, such as 26-year-old gay youth activist Joseph Jefferson, who had other unknown motivations.

It may seem to reflect an increase in gay youth suicides though it's more likely that media exposure is simply alerting us more to the problem. Benjamin Radford, editor of Skeptical Enquirer, went so far as to say that the numbers are grossly inflated and exaggerated and based on outdated information, even quoting Joel Best from his book Damned Lies and Statistics. (I find it astoundingly obtuse to say that statistics lie... and back up your argument with statistics.) Personally, I don't care if the number is ten or 10,000 suicides. It shouldn't be happening period.

Many people have made a stand on bullying and suicide prevention lately. I want to make it a point to do the same. Teenage bullying is not unknown to any of us. Most of us have suffered from it and survived. But regardless of age, bullying is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Bullying is a cowardly act based on fear and insecurity. It's not okay to taunt, attack, and harass someone for being different. And it's not okay to sit idly by while people attack others for who they are. You never know how far that one act will go or to what lengths it might drive the victim.

In dealing with the paranormal aspect of the world, you're surrounded by death. But it still leaves a major impact. And I'm not so far removed from understanding suicide from all angles. It took me a whole year to come to terms with the suicide of a college friend Chris Stutler who never lived to see his 30th birthday. I once talked a complete stranger (who turned out to be a friend of a friend) out of killing himself. And in my own life I'm a survivor of a failed suicide attempt during my early 20s. I know how it feels to want everything to be over. I also know that sometimes it's only after you do something that you wonder what you just did (and why you did it).

But there is always something more to live for. It's nearly impossible to accomplish everything you could possibly imagine in the span of one lifetime. Even worse is never trying, not doing it for fear of being unpopular, or simply giving up on everything life has to offer. Never allow someone else's narrow-minded view of the world to color your life and dreams. The experience of life is what you make of it and what you create of it. If you feel the need to end everything talk to someone first. You are never alone. Life is never so bad that it can't get better. Don't let a bully cheat you out of your own chance of happiness. Believe in yourself and chase your dreams, whatever they may be.