Objects mysteriously moving, strange noises and flickering lights — Brisbane has all the trappings of a haunted city, but some of the accompanying tales tend toward the outlandish. Rachel Quilligan hunted for ghosts at some of Brisbane’s most haunted spots, and she may have been sent a message from the restless dead…
Strange occurrences at South Brisbane Cemetery
The night of the graveyard ghost tour was stormy and menacing, and when my camera started acting strange at the gates of the South Brisbane Cemetery I knew the spirits of the restless dead were sending me a message to stay away. That or I couldn’t work out the flash settings.
Every time I spoke of my impending trip to the cemetery people were alarmed at the prospect but I’m not so easily spooked, and stepping into the cemetery at Dutton Park felt more like a journey back through the history pages than a voyage to the land of the dead.
Brisbane is such a modern city now that it’s hard to imagine a time when desperate parents left lifeless infants on the steps of the cemetery caretakers’ home in the dead of night, hoping for compassion and the proper burial they couldn’t afford for their children.
But walking among the pale tombstones ornately carved with dates long past, the stories of murdered barmaids and crazed butchers from a time when the death penalty was legal easily come to life.
Our guide Lily, looking spooky in a long black dress, took us from grave to grave, recounting gruesome stories of murder, betrayal and tragedy. The lightning crackled in the sky behind and each story was punctuated with great gusts of wind.
“Perhaps the spirits don’t want us here tonight,” I say to my friend, who is more concerned with the warning about spiders dropping from overhanging trees than any sightings of ghostly nuns.
If the ghosts were trying to drive us out they succeeded, with a torrential downpour eventually cutting short the tales of hauntings, sightings and caretaker tools mysteriously moving of their own accord.
The heavy rain made it easy to understand how in times of floods coffins had lifted out of graves and been washed asunder, often ending up in the Brisbane River — much like the soil run-off did, rich with nutrients from the grave, making that particular segment of the river a great spot for fishing, if you don’t mind a meal fed on the fragments of the dead.
“Now you know why there’s a fish and chips store across the road,” Lily adds. Gross.
Trapped souls at Boggo Road Gaol
The oppressive nature of the gaol gives the spectacular old buildings a solemn and foreboding feel. We were all jumping at shadows, much the same as rookie guards once were when Ron Darby, ex-prison officer and resident prankster, used a sheet and wire rigging to scare them senseless with ‘Casper the ghost’ on their first night-shift.
We visited the cells where carved graffiti curled beside remnants of posters glued on by prisoners as late as the 1980s — this month is, in fact, the 25th anniversary of the gaol’s closing. Melted plastic from waste buckets scarred the backs of doors and underneath windows, markers of attempts to scald guards during riots.
Our guide tells us of the executions of convicted murderers, including Ernest Austin, the last man hanged in Queensland, who laughed maniacally as the trap door was sprung and he fell to his death.
We’re told how the ghostly sounds of a past suicide — the creaking of a leather belt and the tap of boots on bars — continued to echo through the cell block years after.
The legend goes that the spirits of those who die at Boggo Road Gaol are trapped forever within its walls — and with the lingering feeling of misery that permeates the grounds, it’s not hard to imagine how many lost souls were stuck forever in that limbo.
City Hall hauntings
The iconic building in the heart of Brisbane is said to be haunted by at least four ghosts. The story goes that several rooms known collectively as ‘Room 302’ were constantly disturbed by strange noises, and the sinister atmosphere eventually drove caretakers to lock the rooms up for good — until the section was renovated and turned into a child care centre. There have also been sightings of a ghostly female figure in the foyer and mezzanine balcony, and tales of the ghost of a WWII American soldier.
Two people have died at City Hall after falling from the top of the tower — one man in 1935 who was, according to the paper of the time, “crushed to pieces on the concrete floor of the top storey”, and the second a woman in 1937 who attracted hundreds of onlookers in the streets below as she walked around the narrow ledge on the outside of the tower before falling and crashing through the galvanised iron roofing, dying of injuries soon after.
With such sudden and violent deaths, perhaps it’s the ghosts of these poor souls who linger.
Ghostly girl at JC Slaughter Falls
Despite the name, JC Slaughter Falls (in Mount Coot-tha Forest Park) isn’t named after its grisly history, but rather James Cameron Slaughter, a renowned town clerk in the mid-20th century. The stories of a ghostly girl stopping cars, staring at drivers and sometimes getting inside to ask for help are prolific, and often accompanied by the retelling of the story of a girl who was brutally raped and murdered at the scene.
In fact a girl was murdered near JC Slaughter Falls — in 1927, 20-year-old Cecilia Josephine Miller was found dead in some lantana bushes. Her fiancé Reginald Leopold Vaughan was charged with the murder but didn’t face trial after being admitted to the Goodna Mental Asylum. He was found standing near the body drinking Lysol with a gunshot wound to his neck, and claimed to not remember the events of the evening. Newspaper articles from the time quote Vaughan as saying “… a cloud came over my mind … I must have been mad to do it.”
Perhaps the ghost of Cissie Miller still haunts the area.
Whepstead Manor, spirit magnet
Many stories circulate about the impressive, heritage-listed building at Wellington Point. Built by pioneer Gilbert Burnett in 1874, there are accounts of hauntings by multiple ghosts from former residents as well as staff from its incarnation as a restaurant in the 1970s. A woman has been seen reflected in windows and the scent of lavender perfume occasionally drifts through the house – this phenomenon is attributed to Martha Ann Burnett, Gilbert’s wife, even though she died 20 years after moving from Whepstead Manor, in a house located at Kangaroo Point.
There have also been sightings of an unidentified man in a bowler hat in the attic and in mirrors around the house, as well as two ghostly children. People have also reported having their hair inexplicably and painfully pulled; seeing candles lighting of their own accord; and stains on the carpet mysteriously appearing and disappearing.
Despite the stories, it’s doubtful these are ghosts of the Burnetts, who only lived at Whepstead House for two years. There were more people who passed on within its walls during its time as a private hospital from 1937 to 1965, after which it became a convalescence home.
Presence in pink
As Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence it’s no surprise that Newstead House has picked up a few hauntings in its time. Decorated in Victorian style and operating as a house museum, stepping into Newstead House feels like stepping back into history itself. No wonder the spirits of the long dead are confused and stay on!
The most common story from Newstead House is of seeing a woman in a pink, old-fashioned gown; allegedly a maid who had once worked there. Don’t we all wish we had a ghost that would mysteriously do our cleaning for us?
There have also been reports of strange noises, objects moving inexplicably and lights flickering to herald the arrival of spectral figures.
Toowong Cemetery and the legend of ‘Spook Hill’
According to an old Brisbane legend, the graves of two young sisters killed in a car accident can be found at the top of `Spook Hill’, a sloping road within the cemetery that is said to have a special power.
The legend goes that if you sit in the car and put it into neutral the car will defy gravity and roll forwards up the hill. People who have witnessed this phenomenon believe that the two dead girls are dragging the car up the hill, with the aim to kill everybody inside…
More local ghost tours
Brisbane City walking tour: The shopping in the Brisbane Arcade was so good, one spirit never left.
Nundah Cemetery: Special tours run only during Halloween for that extra bit of spine-tingling terror.
Redlands coach tours: Learn why the Logan River has its own ghost ship…
Visit ghost-tours.com.au for more information on Jack Sim’s Ghost Tours.
Do you believe in ghosts? Have you seen one in Brisbane? Let us know in the comments below!