We have been spending time in and around what is said to be one of the most haunted towns in Australia, Picton. I’m not sure about the town’s reputation, one that dwells in murder, mishap and mystery as I can think of a few other contenders for the ‘haunted’ category but I do love to delve into these things.
As a child I grew up knowing about the Fishers ghost who haunted the old bridge at Campbelltown and I loved our infrequent visits to the area in those years. From a visitors point of view, nearby Picton which is also just south of Sydney, has some really lovely old stone viaducts, bridges and cuttings, the least of which is the haunted old mushroom tunnel. The tunnel is now generally closed to the public at the usual haunting times, as it is sited on private land… but even it too has a haunted history. Another wonderful place to visit in Picton is the local George IV Inn which is the oldest pub in Aus’ that is still operating. It is a treat to walk around and yes… there are some haunting stories in its history, but the bistro is a delightful place to sit and soak up the glorious colonial flavour of the building.
Most people equate ghosts, hauntings and things eerily spiritual, in Australia, with colonial times and certainly there is some credence in this. Take a ghost walk around Port Arthur in Tasmania, a truly haunted place and you will understand this. Many of the colonial ghosts are tragic figures that have faced more than their fare share of trauma in their often short lives, but there are others about which we hear little.
My very first actual experience with a colonial ghost aside from a eerie awareness as a child in some places, was in Sydney. My sister had rented a place in Riley St, in Sydney. A notorious district with a ribald history that nestles in close to the Kings Cross district. The achingly old terrace house had some wonderful surprises the least of which was the ghost. She moved unerringly through doors that no longer existed, drifting up staircases that had been long blocked off and in general she enjoyed spooking men, which entertained my sister and I regularly. She was quite harmless mostly but the bloke that rented the top attic room could tell you another story. Though in the end, even he eventually came to accept her intermittent presence and I often wonder what she gets up to even in these days.
Australian hauntings, or the presence of spirits goes back much further beyond the colonial times and it is a little recognised reality. While Aussie society is an often, wonderful eclectic mix of cultures we do tend to focus in on the European side of things, ignoring the often rich history that is right under our noses, literally. There are places in Sydney town that are steeped in legend and Lore, places such as the Sydney Botanical Gardens, and other ancient ceremonial grounds. There are haunting tales at the site of the Opera House, Bennelong Point, not to mention a host of sites along rivers, waterfalls, pools and rocks. You see, it is these natural features of the land that often host the ancient spirits of societies, or clans long passed into time. Tales and legends abound about ancient Australia.
As an Aussie who grew up largely in the bush, I was aware of the spiritual presence of things quite early in my years and it was an awareness that I simply accepted, even if I couldn’t put a name to it, or any of these things. As I grew into my adult years, you do however question what you know is around you. Things that you can feel about you but cannot see… so you learn to see them with your other senses. Some people call these senses instincts, but then again instincts don’t generally participate in your reality actively. Or do they?
This reality of mine truly fostered my interest in spiritual Lore, or the ancient Lore of the tribal people of Australia. Aboriginal Lore and legend became my passion after a time, as I realized just how much we failed to understand, to hear, or to even recognise the things that are the essence in the tales of the land. Many legends have been lost in the last 200 years of colonization and the assimilation, of what was a tribal people into an often, brutal westernized society. A society that none the less did offer somethings that the people found desirable, even if it came with a terrible price in terms of culture and family.
I have come to gain an understanding of the many ancient practices that we see today echo in other religions or societies, such as the ‘smoking ceremony’. That which in Australia rids the person of evil or undesirable presences and welcomes them into Country. You can see this same practice reflected in those old incense balls and sticks of the westernized religions as they waft them around the churches during service. Many of our practices and beliefs are more common than is often realised. They are essentially born of the same instinctive beliefs.
While seeking out the legends and Lore of an ancient culture you do come to equate the relevant common factors and practices between religions and beliefs throughout the world. But in seeking out the Lore and Spirit creatures of Australia, you are dealing with the most ancient and unadulterated system of beliefs, unsullied by commerce, that is still alive and thriving today in some remoter regions of Aus’.
The Australian Lore and legends are truly anciently primeval, and fascinating. That the tribal people had no written language has complicated the record of their beliefs. But then again, the ancient Aussie’ Lore dictates a belief system which is personal, deeply ingrained and one at which the individual arrives at with personal growth. This is the legend and Lore of the Wandjina… that ancient belief system that thrives in the red ochre lands of the Kimberley and across many of the regions of the Top End. In general Baiame, a southern counterpart held sway in what is now the more populated part of the continent, though he too adhered to many of the same belief principles born in the ancient cultures across this vast land. The ‘Creator’ is known by many names, as many as there are/were language groups, throughout Aus’. But the ancient Lore’s of Australia, bear common threads and practices that run through the belief structures found across this bloody big island.
In my lifelong interest in this ancient cultural belief system I have gained some small understanding of the Australian world of legend and spirit. Within the elements of legend I have woven contemporary tales in the Dreaming Series and the tales of the Spirit Children, that attempt to draw the reader into a small understanding of this world. I hope to bring these legends to you, the reader.
In my next blog we will explore some of these legendary spirits and how I have tried to bring this world to life in these tales of the Kadaitcha. I hope you will enjoy the journey into another time… and other worlds.
Catch you soon.