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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...

Normally I don't dream very often. If I do, I don't remember it at all. Once every several months I'll wake up recalling a dream. Yet for the past two nights in a row I've experienced a plethora of dreams all night long which I recall much of in the morning. These have been quite varied, from strange bedfellows to odd happenings and yes, even a few frighteningly ghost-themed ones. In fact, dreaming seems to be an Aussie connection of mine. Four years ago, I visited a university campus in my dreams (and hopefully I'll see if the exact place does exist in December) to find my friend Joel. Almost a year later, I had a dream of Joel visiting me to tell me about a visit to the United States. It was only after telling him about it I learned that at the time I was sleeping he was discussing a summer stay in the states working as a camp counselor.

There are many different theories of dreams and possible meanings behind them. Some appear to look into the past, others foretell of future events. And some are so bizarre they can only be chalked up to the mind dumping out a ton of random thoughts and images in a heap of insanity. Psychologists have tried to explain the meanings behind symbols found within dreams. Famed psychologist Carl Jung and French sociologist Émile Durkheim even theorized that some dreams (and creative thought) could be the result of tapping into some "collective unconsciousness" shared by all of humanity. But for Australian Aborigines there was something more sacred behind it.

What the native peoples of Australia refer to as "Dreamtime" isn't solely a sleep state of being. It encompasses a range of beliefs and experiences from the creation of the world ("The Dreaming") to future events. To them, the past, present, and future coexist. Time is eternal; its layers all happening simultaneously. They believe we can all access this time both through real experiences and dreams or waking visions. To experience a dream about a visiting ancestor was an opportunity to learn something they wanted to pass along to us. All dreams were a profound and meaningful experience.

To better understand why dreams were so revered, it's important to understand what Aborigines believe about the time when we sleep. During the night when we rest, they feel that our souls leave the body (what we would call an out of body experience or OBE) and enter the Dreamtime. Here we mingle with all time, past and future, and encounters can range from communications with the dead to the prophetic. According to Aboriginal beliefs an eternal part of every person existed before being born and continued to exist after the death of their physical body.

This made their view of death slightly different from ours. There was a period of mourning for the loss of a tribal member during which they would inflict wounds on themselves with clubs, shells, and rocks. At which time the wounds healed the mourning period would reach an end. The spirit of the deceased would go to "sky camp" but the dead could return, either through a real-life encounter or dream, to cause harm or warn of danger. While they held views similar to what we consider to be ghosts, these experiences were often quite different. That's not to say that ghost stories aren't part of their culture. There most certainly are tales of spirits and haunted places where few would dare to enter.

Ghostly encounters are believed by many in modern times to be mere hallucinations and dreams mistaken for reality. Yet the line between real vision and dreamed illusion remains difficult to discern. Is everything we dream pure fiction and coincidence? The millennia-old culture of the Aboriginals didn't think so. While we may never agree on the origins of precognitive thought, past life memories, and strange encounters with ghostly phenomena the mind is capable of some remarkable things. For all we know our everyday experiences are the dreams. Who can say what we might wake up to discover.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Preparing for Departure...

Now there are only three weeks before I leave. Time is going by too fast! I have so much to get finished in this time and over this week I'll be figuring out exactly what I'll be doing each day of my trip. There is a tentative plan in place of what city I'll be in on which days but with so much to explore I know I won't be able to see everything. Australia is almost the same size as the United States. It would be impossible to cover the whole US in two weeks and the same applies to Oz.

Being the greatest distance I've traveled so far in one trip (approximately 9500 miles each way) there's been a lot more to consider than a typical trip. I opted for trip insurance just to be safe (covering lost luggage, illness, etc) and made sure well in advance to get an ETA. Australia is one country which requires an actual tourist visa on top of a passport but now you can apply online and get one within 24 hours for a minor fee. I should have my currency at the end of this week (I'll probably do a post about that later on) and accommodations are taken care of so the bulk of everything is set.

As I often do, I intend on traveling light. Luggage fees can get out of hand and having too much can be cumbersome when you arrive in a foreign city. Still it's good to leave a little extra room in the bags you take for souvenirs or anything else you may want to bring back with you. I plan on taking one check-in bag and one carry-on, as well as my laptop (which is supposed to count separately). It will be summer so there's no need to take a lot of heavy clothing. I find that carrying basic essentials is better than being bogged down with too much. But it's wise to take one change of clothing in your carry-on, just in case the airline misplaces your baggage.

This will be the first time I've been on an airplane since January 2005 and my disappointing trip to New York City. While I do have a fear of heights I don't have a fear of flying even after being on TWA Flight 800 a few months before it exploded on take-off back in the 1990s. But being crammed into a plane for a whole day isn't the most appealing thing in the world. The destination will be worth all the misery though. And though it is a crazy time I will try my best to get a blog entry in here and there. Let's hope the stress of it all doesn't drive me to start smoking again!!

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...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Forgotten Dead of the Big Smoke...

I still remember taking the Haunted Walk in Ottawa, Canada last year. It was a great experience and chance to learn about the hidden history of the city. One of the more interesting parts was exploring the city's earliest cemeteries. The first was a military site on Barrack's Hill, now referred to as Parliament Hill. That area now traversed by Sparks Street became a huge cemetery. You wouldn't know it today. All traces are covered by roads, buildings, and sidewalks. Yet construction work still unearths the occasional grave site and bones. Surely Sydney wouldn't be the same, right?

Not exactly. You won't find Old Sydney Burial Ground on any modern map. Many Sydneysiders walk right past it every day without giving it any notice. It dates back to 1792 and is situated at the southwest corner of George and Druitt Streets. Today the spot is better known as Sydney Town Hall.

The cemetery was in use until it was filled to capacity in 1820 and by 1840 had become a health hazard and unsightly place due to the haphazard burial techniques in clay soil. Interestingly enough the site was never consecrated or officially announced as a cemetery and it never had a trustee. No official records were kept though in 1845 it was estimated that some 2000 souls (both free citizens and convicts) were buried in these two acres of land.

As early as 1842 there was talk of removing the bodies and building a town hall. It wasn't until April 4, 1868 that the first foundation stone was laid on the new building. At the same time, the long process of exhumation began. Most graves were badly deteriorated. The bones and headstones that were uncovered were moved to  the Church of England cemetery at what is now Rookwood Necropolis. Unfortunately for these early dead people of Sydney's history many were left in the ground beneath the growing building.

Since 1871 when the Town Hall was being completed bones and headstone fragments have been routinely unearthed at the site. Even as recently as 2007 grave sites have been discovered and excavated. Of course, this isn't the only place in Australia hiding an old cemetery. There's Cathedral Park in Newcastle, Victoria Market in Melbourne, Canberra's Lake Burley-Griffin, and several others. While the dead have been forgotten and neglected they don't always rest in peace. It's no wonder that there are rumors that the ghosts of Sydney's former residents haunt Town Hall to this very day.