Extract from Haunted Australia (Schiffer 2017)
 

Lake George is an eerie place. Situated just north of Canberra, the 25 kilometre long and ten kilometre wide lake is now mostly dry although there are patches of shallow water on its southern end. It is an unusual place and over the years has built up an enviable reputation for ghosts, hauntings, UFOs and strange phenomena.

When full the lake is an immense stretch of shallow water that reaches beyond the horizon. Some 27,000 years ago it flowed into the nearby Yass River until the escarpment rose and blocked its surface link leaving it without any major rivers or streams to replenish the waters. Although it covers a huge area the lake is very shallow and so, with evaporation, dries out extremely quickly, in some cases within days.

Another interesting aspect of the lake is the tendency for strong winds to actually blow the water back upon itself meaning that the water can congregate in the centre with the shorelines dry. Or even more bizarrely, the lake can be dry on one side and have waves washing against its shoreline on the other side because of the shallowness and wind.

In the local Indigenous language, the lake is called Werriwa. Originally spelt Weereewa in the journals of the explorers who noted the name, it literally means ‘bad water’. Whether or not this describes the quality of the water, which can be stagnant for decades or something more sinister is not known. However, it is known that the lake itself was a special place for local Aboriginal clans in that it quite possibly had a women’s secret place somewhere on its western shores.

Over the years the lake has seen its fair share of deaths including five cadets from the Royal Military College, Duntroon who drowned in July 1956 whilst yachting on the lake. This event, plus numerous deaths from car accidents on the highway that skirts the lake’s western edge have given rise to a number of ghost stories. One of these is that of a phantom hitch-hiker.

The phantom hitchhiker tale is one of the most well-known camp fire stories ever told and it tends to follow the same sort of narrative every time, albeit, with slight variations. Man driving car picks up a usually young woman hitchhiker late at night. Hitchhiker seems slightly odd but quiet and pleasant enough. Driver doesn’t stop car but later looks around and notices hitchhiker has disappeared. He stops at next town and is told that hitchhiker is ghost of someone killed on the highway in some tragic fashion, usually murdered and buried in an unknown grave. Or else they drop the hitch hiker off at a place only to find out later that the place is where they used to live before they were murdered or tragically died.

And so it is with our Lake George ghost, except that there are no records of any young girl being murdered and, even though I have driven that road countless times at night, I have never seen anything odd, not even a real hitchhiker. And so this I am afraid, no matter how many times it is earnestly retold, appears to be an urban myth, that is, except for the following, which was mentioned on a local Canberra website in recent years:

“My brother tells me of this time he was driving past Lake George and saw this random guy, emotionless standing by the road, but apparently when my brother turned his head to see the guy again he wasn’t there. He rang the car behind him [they were travelling together] and they said they saw him too. He was explaining this to our mother and she reiterated this story of a friend of hers. Apparently, this bloke driving around the same corner as my brother saw another bloke standing beside the road waving to slow him down. He slowed down and saw the results of a nasty crash. which he could have plunged straight into had he not slowed down. Anyway, the bloke picked up a paper the next day and got the shock of his life when he saw a photo of that same person who was waving to slow him down listed as killed instantly in that car crash.”

Ghostly hitch-hiker or not? Who is to say, however, this lonely stretch of road also contains another spooky apparition, the so-called Collector ghost who has been described as a man dressed in all black and a top hat and who is said to have appeared occasionally since the 1930s near the town of Collector, just north of Canberra. Interestingly, this ghost has also been seen walking along the shorelines of Lake George, at Bungendore, and as far afield as the outskirts of Queanbeyan, just on Canberra’s eastern border.

Collector itself has an old pub that dates back to 1860s and was the scene of a terrible murder in which a Constable Samuel Nelson lost his life. Formerly Kimberley’s Public House, the pub is now known as the Bushranger Hotel and for very good reason as, on 26 January 1865, bushrangers Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn made their way into the town after spending the morning robbing people on a road south of Goulburn. Aware that the bushrangers were in the area two constables were dispatched from Collector to find and apprehend them leaving Samuel Nelson in the town on his own.

After taking a number of hostages Hall and Gilbert stole a number of items from the hotel, however, nelson soon learned of their deeds and set off to confront the bushrangers. Although accounts of the events are somewhat contentious, it seems that as Nelson headed down a grassy slope towards the hotel Dunn shot him in the stomach with a shotgun and, as he lay on the ground, shot him again, this time in the face. The gang then rifled through the dead constable’s belongings and escaped.

With the bushrangers gone, Nelson’s body was taken into the hotel and he was later buried in the local cemetery. Dunn managed to evade capture until Boxing Day 1965 and he was later hanged at Darlinghurst gaol in March 1866.

Now known as the Bushranger Hotel, the place retains an old world colonial feel and oozes charm with its narrow passages, rickety stairs and open fireplaces. And given its age and history, it is not surprising that it can be quite eerie at times as it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a previous publican, among others. Glasses on the bar have been seen to move on their own and sometimes are found neatly stacked. White wispy figures have also been reported, especially on the first landing of the stairs and patrons often report disembodied footsteps and the feeling of ghostly fingers being run through their hair. In the upstairs dormitory people have reported seeing a child’s handprint on the mirrors of the antique furniture and in one of the other bedrooms a dark figure is said to reside. Cameras and other electrical equipment often fails when being used upstairs and indeed, my video camera, which had functioned perfectly all day, suddenly stopped working when I was videoing the upstairs room, only to start working again later that night when I left the village. Is it possible that Constable Nelson’s tragic figure still walks these creaky old corridors? After all, a stone memorial to Nelson sits quietly next to the pub to this day.

But Collector aside, just east of Canberra lies the small rural town of Bungendore, an historic village dating back to the early 1800s with many well preserved examples of colonial Australian architecture. It boasts cool climate wines, a charming old world railway station, galleries, gift shops, and is in close proximately to Lake George. Add to this boutique coffee and cake shops, antique dealers, and other handicraft sort of cottage industries and this small town, only minutes from Canberra, is a delight for day trippers or holiday makers. However, for all its charm, we are only interested in an intriguing photograph, taken in 1949 at the Royal Hotel. A photograph that appears to show a ghost.

The Royal Hotel is old by Australian standards. Built in 1882, the colonial style two story building is still remarkably unchanged from those early days of settlement in the region. Indeed, one can easily picture men in hats on carriages dropping in for a quick drink and a bite to eat on hot dusty summer days. Like most old Australian pubs it has a bar downstairs with basic accommodation, including upstairs shared bathrooms.

The photograph, taken in 1949 by a local journalist, does not appear to be faked, nor does it appear to be a quirk of light or a combination of light and shadow, although this can never be written off. However, on closer inspection one is hard pressed to come to this conclusion.

The photo appears to show an indistinct, but somehow recognisable face and upper torso. He is wearing a hat, what appears to be a white shirt, and possibly a tie. As the photo is in sepia tones it is almost impossible to conclude that the hat is black, but it most certainly could be a darkish colour, possible brown as was the style at that time in Australian history.

Given the proximately of Bungendore to Lake George and therefore Collector, it would not be out of the question to suggest that maybe they are one and the same? In addition, the Bungendore ghost and the Collector ghost both appear roughly around the same time, that being the period from the 1930s up until the late 1950s, with some sporadic reports having been filed up to the present day. And as we have seen, it is not unusual for a ghost to be reported in more than one place.

However, having said this there is no way that we can adequately compare the two and so at this stage, these ghostly presences will have to remain as separate identities. But these old time ghosts are apparently not that rare in this region, indeed, at Bredbo, south of Canberra it is believed that the ghost of the ‘Man from Snowy River’ haunts the local pub.

Although many Victorians believe that the ‘Man from Snowy River’ was John (Jack) Riley, a legendary horseman who migrated from Ireland to Australia as a 13-year-old in 1851, WF ‘Bill’ Refshauge, author of Searching for the Man from Snowy River claims that Charles Lachlan McKeahnie, a rider from Adaminaby is the real ‘Man from Snowy River’ and who in 1885, at just 17 years of age, chased a runaway stallion across the wild country that is now the Kosciuszko National Park. And it said that McKeahnie's ghost now haunts the pub in which he died, ironically after a horse riding incident.

Apparently McKeahnie’s horse skidded on green timber on a newly made bridge and he fell off, hitting his head in the process. He was then taken to the nearby Bredbo Inn where he died two days later. Tim the Yowie Man, in his book In the Spirit of Banjo recalled waking suddenly at 3.00am to the sound of “a jingling of keys…. moving up and down the corridor” and when he went to investigate, found no-one there. Then, after settling down, he apparently heard the jingle sounding like it was rushing “straight past the door”. Puzzled, in the morning when he asked the pub owner about the noise he was surprised to find that the owner had no idea what it was although the pub owner’s wife confessed that she had witnessed a couple of unexplained happenings including doors opening by themselves.

Lake George is an eerie place. Situated just north of Canberra, the 25 kilometre long and ten kilometre wide lake is now mostly dry although there are patches of shallow water on its southern end. It is an unusual place and over the years has built up an enviable reputation for ghosts, hauntings, UFOs and strange phenomena.

When full the lake is an immense stretch of shallow water that reaches beyond the horizon. Some 27,000 years ago it flowed into the nearby Yass River until the escarpment rose and blocked its surface link leaving it without any major rivers or streams to replenish the waters. Although it covers a huge area the lake is very shallow and so, with evaporation, dries out extremely quickly, in some cases within days.

Another interesting aspect of the lake is the tendency for strong winds to actually blow the water back upon itself meaning that the water can congregate in the centre with the shorelines dry. Or even more bizarrely, the lake can be dry on one side and have waves washing against its shoreline on the other side because of the shallowness and wind.

In the local Indigenous language, the lake is called Werriwa. Originally spelt Weereewa in the journals of the explorers who noted the name, it literally means ‘bad water’. Whether or not this describes the quality of the water, which can be stagnant for decades or something more sinister is not known. However, it is known that the lake itself was a special place for local Aboriginal clans in that it quite possibly had a women’s secret place somewhere on its western shores.

Over the years the lake has seen its fair share of deaths including five cadets from the Royal Military College, Duntroon who drowned in July 1956 whilst yachting on the lake. This event, plus numerous deaths from car accidents on the highway that skirts the lake’s western edge have given rise to a number of ghost stories. One of these is that of a phantom hitch-hiker.

The phantom hitchhiker tale is one of the most well-known camp fire stories ever told and it tends to follow the same sort of narrative every time, albeit, with slight variations. Man driving car picks up a usually young woman hitchhiker late at night. Hitchhiker seems slightly odd but quiet and pleasant enough. Driver doesn’t stop car but later looks around and notices hitchhiker has disappeared. He stops at next town and is told that hitchhiker is ghost of someone killed on the highway in some tragic fashion, usually murdered and buried in an unknown grave. Or else they drop the hitch hiker off at a place only to find out later that the place is where they used to live before they were murdered or tragically died.

And so it is with our Lake George ghost, except that there are no records of any young girl being murdered and, even though I have driven that road countless times at night, I have never seen anything odd, not even a real hitchhiker. And so this I am afraid, no matter how many times it is earnestly retold, appears to be an urban myth, that is, except for the following, which was mentioned on a local Canberra website in recent years:

“My brother tells me of this time he was driving past Lake George and saw this random guy, emotionless standing by the road, but apparently when my brother turned his head to see the guy again he wasn’t there. He rang the car behind him [they were travelling together] and they said they saw him too. He was explaining this to our mother and she reiterated this story of a friend of hers. Apparently, this bloke driving around the same corner as my brother saw another bloke standing beside the road waving to slow him down. He slowed down and saw the results of a nasty crash. which he could have plunged straight into had he not slowed down. Anyway, the bloke picked up a paper the next day and got the shock of his life when he saw a photo of that same person who was waving to slow him down listed as killed instantly in that car crash.”

Ghostly hitch-hiker or not? Who is to say, however, this lonely stretch of road also contains another spooky apparition, the so-called Collector ghost who has been described as a man dressed in all black and a top hat and who is said to have appeared occasionally since the 1930s near the town of Collector, just north of Canberra. Interestingly, this ghost has also been seen walking along the shorelines of Lake George, at Bungendore, and as far afield as the outskirts of Queanbeyan, just on Canberra’s eastern border.

Collector itself has an old pub that dates back to 1860s and was the scene of a terrible murder in which a Constable Samuel Nelson lost his life. Formerly Kimberley’s Public House, the pub is now known as the Bushranger Hotel and for very good reason as, on 26 January 1865, bushrangers Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn made their way into the town after spending the morning robbing people on a road south of Goulburn. Aware that the bushrangers were in the area two constables were dispatched from Collector to find and apprehend them leaving Samuel Nelson in the town on his own.

After taking a number of hostages Hall and Gilbert stole a number of items from the hotel, however, nelson soon learned of their deeds and set off to confront the bushrangers. Although accounts of the events are somewhat contentious, it seems that as Nelson headed down a grassy slope towards the hotel Dunn shot him in the stomach with a shotgun and, as he lay on the ground, shot him again, this time in the face. The gang then rifled through the dead constable’s belongings and escaped.

With the bushrangers gone, Nelson’s body was taken into the hotel and he was later buried in the local cemetery. Dunn managed to evade capture until Boxing Day 1965 and he was later hanged at Darlinghurst gaol in March 1866.

Now known as the Bushranger Hotel, the place retains an old world colonial feel and oozes charm with its narrow passages, rickety stairs and open fireplaces. And given its age and history, it is not surprising that it can be quite eerie at times as it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a previous publican, among others. Glasses on the bar have been seen to move on their own and sometimes are found neatly stacked. White wispy figures have also been reported, especially on the first landing of the stairs and patrons often report disembodied footsteps and the feeling of ghostly fingers being run through their hair. In the upstairs dormitory people have reported seeing a child’s handprint on the mirrors of the antique furniture and in one of the other bedrooms a dark figure is said to reside. Cameras and other electrical equipment often fails when being used upstairs and indeed, my video camera, which had functioned perfectly all day, suddenly stopped working when I was videoing the upstairs room, only to start working again later that night when I left the village. Is it possible that Constable Nelson’s tragic figure still walks these creaky old corridors? After all, a stone memorial to Nelson sits quietly next to the pub to this day.

But Collector aside, just east of Canberra lies the small rural town of Bungendore, an historic village dating back to the early 1800s with many well preserved examples of colonial Australian architecture. It boasts cool climate wines, a charming old world railway station, galleries, gift shops, and is in close proximately to Lake George. Add to this boutique coffee and cake shops, antique dealers, and other handicraft sort of cottage industries and this small town, only minutes from Canberra, is a delight for day trippers or holiday makers. However, for all its charm, we are only interested in an intriguing photograph, taken in 1949 at the Royal Hotel. A photograph that appears to show a ghost.

The Royal Hotel is old by Australian standards. Built in 1882, the colonial style two story building is still remarkably unchanged from those early days of settlement in the region. Indeed, one can easily picture men in hats on carriages dropping in for a quick drink and a bite to eat on hot dusty summer days. Like most old Australian pubs it has a bar downstairs with basic accommodation, including upstairs shared bathrooms.

The photograph, taken in 1949 by a local journalist, does not appear to be faked, nor does it appear to be a quirk of light or a combination of light and shadow, although this can never be written off. However, on closer inspection one is hard pressed to come to this conclusion.

The photo appears to show an indistinct, but somehow recognisable face and upper torso. He is wearing a hat, what appears to be a white shirt, and possibly a tie. As the photo is in sepia tones it is almost impossible to conclude that the hat is black, but it most certainly could be a darkish colour, possible brown as was the style at that time in Australian history.

Given the proximately of Bungendore to Lake George and therefore Collector, it would not be out of the question to suggest that maybe they are one and the same? In addition, the Bungendore ghost and the Collector ghost both appear roughly around the same time, that being the period from the 1930s up until the late 1950s, with some sporadic reports having been filed up to the present day. And as we have seen, it is not unusual for a ghost to be reported in more than one place.

However, having said this there is no way that we can adequately compare the two and so at this stage, these ghostly presences will have to remain as separate identities. But these old time ghosts are apparently not that rare in this region, indeed, at Bredbo, south of Canberra it is believed that the ghost of the ‘Man from Snowy River’ haunts the local pub.

Although many Victorians believe that the ‘Man from Snowy River’ was John (Jack) Riley, a legendary horseman who migrated from Ireland to Australia as a 13-year-old in 1851, WF ‘Bill’ Refshauge, author of Searching for the Man from Snowy River claims that Charles Lachlan McKeahnie, a rider from Adaminaby is the real ‘Man from Snowy River’ and who in 1885, at just 17 years of age, chased a runaway stallion across the wild country that is now the Kosciuszko National Park. And it said that McKeahnie's ghost now haunts the pub in which he died, ironically after a horse riding incident.

Apparently McKeahnie’s horse skidded on green timber on a newly made bridge and he fell off, hitting his head in the process. He was then taken to the nearby Bredbo Inn where he died two days later. Tim the Yowie Man, in his book In the Spirit of Banjo recalled waking suddenly at 3.00am to the sound of “a jingling of keys…. moving up and down the corridor” and when he went to investigate, found no-one there. Then, after settling down, he apparently heard the jingle sounding like it was rushing “straight past the door”. Puzzled, in the morning when he asked the pub owner about the noise he was surprised to find that the owner had no idea what it was although the pub owner’s wife confessed that she had witnessed a couple of unexplained happenings including doors opening by themselves.



 

Taken from 'The Extraordinarily Strange Tale of Solomon Fox


Chapter One

 

A Tragic ‘Accident’

 

 

The fire started late one winter’s night when it cold and grey and a thick covering of snow lay like a white blanket over the countryside. At first it was just a small fire, not even big enough to warm your hands if you were to take off your gloves and lean down to try and feel its heat. Indeed, on any other night it would have simply gone out but tonight, for some reason, it kept burning away.

 

A gust of wind suddenly blew out of the chilled night, fanning the small flames which saw it increase rapidly in size until it began burning fiercely next to an old wooden door. Within minutes the door had also caught alight and the fire was no longer what one would consider small.

 

Soon it crept under the door and, finding an old timber panelled hallway, began to creep along the walls, its flames licking higher and higher and its ominous crackling getting louder and louder. The old house was no match for the fierce flames, its ancient wooden frame and walls soon succumbing to their relenting march. Before long the fire had completely taken hold.

 

Upstairs in the old, sprawling country house, the owners and staff slept peacefully, completely unaware of the danger. Their world was one of warmth and comfort and dreams and sleep. Indeed, even if they had been awake it is uncertain whether they would have known of the fire, given that the house was very large and mostly uninhabited.

 

But fire, as much as it keeps us warm and cooks our food, is a double edged sword, and in this case it burned away with impunity. Soon the house was engulfed by its extreme heat and flickering, dancing shards of yellow, red, white and orange.

 

Not far away, the local villagers also slept, warm and snug in their small but comfortable cottages and houses. They too had no idea of the drama unfolding at the country house until an alarmed cry came from the streets raising them from their slumber.

 

“The country house! On the hill!” Yelled the nightwatchman. “Fire! Fire! Wake up! Wake up!”

 

Soon the villagers awoke from their sleep and with heavy eyelids and chilled hands and feet, they filed out into the dark to see what the commotion was all about.

 

“The country house is on fire!” cried the nightwatchman urgently. “Fetch water quickly!”

 

Soon it appeared as if the whole village was at the burning house. They bravely carried buckets of water, hurling it onto the flames - but to no avail. And even when they were beaten back by the intense heat they continued stoically, for the country house was a part of their heritage and an important part of their life.

 

Then someone cried out. ‘What of the Lord and Lady and the child? Who has seen them?”

 

The villagers liked and respected the Lord and Lady as they were fair and gentle people who understood that their great wealth should be used to help those in less fortunate circumstances. They had always been an integral part of the village and the region, judging contests here and there, awarding prizes to farmers for the fattest pig or the biggest pumpkin and contributing food and money to those who were down on their luck.

 

But now there was no sign of them. Surely they had smelled the smoke and heard the flames and had escaped? Surely they were now helping fight the fire that threatened to destroy their home? Surely their infant son was now safe and sound away from the fiercely burning dwelling?

 

“Has anyone seen the Master?” yelled a stout man with a booming voice.

 

The villagers shook their heads.

 

“And the Lady and the child?”

 

Again they shook their heads.

 

The stout man found one of the staff, a tall and gentle man who was the head butler.

 

“Have you seen the Master?” he asked.

 

“No sir,” answered the man, who although was covered in black soot and singed clothes, continued to help bucket water onto the flames.

 

“Did they escape with you?” he asked.

 

“No sir,“ he replied. “Me and the other staff escaped out a side door when the fire got too big to fight. We tried to get upstairs to help the Master and the Lady but the flames were too fierce and beat us back.”

 

The stout man’s head dropped. Surely not. They must have escaped. He turned to the singed man again. “What of the child?”

 

The man smiled. “The child is safe. One of his nannies was soothing him downstairs in the kitchen when the fire broke out. She immediately took him outside and warned the rest of us.”

 

Suddenly there was huge crash and the two men leapt back. They watched with horror as the old shingled roof slowly started to collapse and the flames started to lick skyward. Then the flames burst through the upstairs windows silhouetting the house against the night sky and the villagers leapt back in horror as burning debris began to fall around them. It was clear that the house could not be saved.

 

On the ground there was confusion. Someone said that the child had been saved but no-one knew where he was. Others suggested that the Lord and Lady had been burned to death although all the servants were safe, having been on the ground floor when the fire broke out. Confusion reigned.

 

As the villagers stood there watching in disbelief a woman emerged from the crowd. In her arms was a child, a boy, not even one year old. He was tightly wrapped in a blanket and was sleeping soundly. The villagers looked at the boy with pity and some cried openly. It was clear that he was now an orphan.

 

In the darkness of some nearby trees, hidden from the villagers, a hunched, hooded figure silently watched and then turned and melted into the night. Somewhere in the night a crow cawed ominously.