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Brisbane's ghostly past revisited
   
By Louise Rugendyke

When I was seven years old and visiting my cousins, Dad and my Uncle Richard decided it would be really funny if they hired the movie Ghostbusters to give the kiddies a nice fright.

It worked.

We all dived screaming under our pillows, petrified at the thought of sharing space with spectres, spooks, apparitions and poltergeists.  Because when you're seven and just getting a grip on the fact Santa isn't actually real, being faced with the whole other dimension of ghosts tends to freak you out.  But when I was 15 and I watched Ghostbusters again, it suddenly dawned on me that it was nothing more than a combination of dodgy special effects, Bill Murray and that ridiculous marchmallow guy at the end.

Everybody has their own beliefs about ghosts and their own experiences with ghosts, factual or otherwise, so it was with great interest I read that Brisbane had its own ghostly tours up and running.  The enterprising soul behind the ghost tours is Jack Sim.  He greeted me decked out in a black fedora hat, a dark pinned-striped jacket and matching pants. He looked as if he knew what he would be talking about.  Firstly, Jack walked me through City Hall, home of at least three ghosts.

"On numerous occasions over the 50 years at the City Hall...a ghost has been seen ascending the [City Hall] staircase," he said.  "Although no actual outline of her has been seen, those who have seen it have said it has a real feminine feeling to it.  "Elegant," was the word the gentleman I interviewed said.  He said there were no distinguishing features to it and he associated the ghost with the ballroom here and he felt it had something to do with that, but he wasn't really clear on further detail."

The female ghost has also been spotted standing at the top of the stairs overlooking the foyer.  The other two ghosts that Jim Soorley shares his office with, inhabit the downstairs region of City Hall.  One has been continually riding the lift since the 1930s (he was killed while installing it) and the other one dates back to the war when two American sailors had a fight in the Red Cross tearoom downstairs.  Apparently they were fighting over an Australian girl when one sailor drew a knife and stabbed the other to death.  And Jack claims since then people have heard the sounds of a struggle, the mettalic sound of a knife being drawn and then the subsequent sound of murder.

Goosebumps?

Yeah, I've got them.

Apart from scaring us all silly, Jack's main purpose is to preserve Brisbane's oral history.  "Brisbane is probably the most haunted city in Australia," he said.  "It has a very violent past.  Most people our age (he is 26) have forgotten about it or haven't heard about it [Brisbane's ghosts]."  Jack said he also wanted to capture tourists and locals imaginations.  "I want to grab the tourists who only spend one day in Brisbane and then move on to Cairns," he said.  "I want them to stay in Brisbane because we've got a fascinating past."

Jack fist became interested in ghosts when as a boy his grandfather used to tell him about the ghost that inhabited the house.  The ghost used to just sit quietly on the back steps and his grandfather used to sit with it of an afternoon and smoke a cigarette.  Jack said the ghost used to terrify him, "every time the toilet would go at night, I'd think 'oh no, old Charlie's coming to get me'.  It used to terrify me."  His grandfather used to cut ghost stories out of the paper and keep them for Jack until he took over.

For the past six months Jack has been seriously researching Brisbane's ghostly past, following up newspaper articles, talking to the inhabitants of haunted houses, restaurants, pubs, cemeteries and Boggo Road Jail.  The result is several different tours throughout Brisbane exploring our haunted past.  One of the cemeteries they visit is Toowong.  Jack describes this a "beautiful and peaceful cemetery" unlike Lutwyche and Bridgeman Downs cemetery.  One of the tales relating to Toowong is that of an old woman who lived in the area for 60 years.  Every night she would see and hear beautiful white lights over the cemetery singing to her.  So when the council opened up some new plots she was the first to snap one up and was subsequently buried there.

Other than that Jack said there had also been some reported sightings of spectres wandering through the area.  He said it would be a toss-up between the Lutwyche and Bridgeman Downs cemetery as to which was the worst.  He said in Lutwyche you could "smell death" and people had got "funny feelings from it".  Bridgeman Downs was always surrounded by a really thick, pea-soupy type fog, that's really tough to drive through" and Brisbane bus drivers had complained a few times of seeing apparitions crossing the road.  Some bus drivers had become very reluctant to drive through the area.

And at Chelmer there is a lamp post, that was a scene of a car accident four years ago.  The passenger in the car was killed.  Since then, residents on either side of the road have witnessed the lamp flickering on and off in the middle of the night, even though the council has checked it for defects.  A cold presence can be felt in the area.  Jack says violent and unexpected deaths like car accidents keep ghosts wandering our streets.  "If someone is struck with death so fast, it comes and they are not aware of it; they never think to pass on...it never even enters their conscience," he said.

It's 4pm and Jack's tour group has gathered outside City Hall.  So I've decide to do a quick survey among the group to find out their ghostly preferences.  Ethel Scott is 82 and there is no doubt in her mind that ghosts are real.  "When I was a little girl I'd wake up screaming because I could see this light glowing on my wall and my mother told me it was just my guardian angel.  Ever since then I have believed," she said.  Her daughter Ms Bailey believed that ghosts "only exist in other people's minds" but she conceded she believed in spirits.  Jack's girlfriend Angie Draper said she was "a cautious believer"and was still waiting to see a ghost - but she has felt presences.  Leighann, 29, had come on the tour hoping to spot one and Con, 21, thought there was a "fat chance" he would see a ghost that night.

And a final piece of advice for future ghost-spotters, Jack recommends that we go with our "gut instinct".  "Most people say they can feel something standing next to them in the same room...or most people are intuitively aware there is something standing in the same vicinity with them they can't actually see or feel.  Just go with you gut instinct."

TAKEN FROM "THE QUEENSLAND INDEPENDENT" JUNE 1998.  Page 23.