Behind the doors and walls of some Brisbane houses, the past and present live comfortably together.
Brisbane’s youthful good looks betray some sinister moments that have, as some believe, led to countless tales of spirits scorned by wrongdoing and lingering in the ether, unable to pass on and still residing in the houses they lived in.
Look up the definition of a ghost or spirit and you’ll find various interpretations of an apparition of a dead person that manifests itself to the living.
Motivated by curiosity, the macabre, or by history, as in the case of Brisbane’s most known ghost hunter Jack Sim, ghost hunters the world over look to homes to find these earthbound spirits.
“Homes are the biggest decision and financial commitment you’ll have in your life, and in the era when houses were owned for long periods of time, it was very normal to be in that space,” says Sim. “It’s much more likely that homes are haunted than graveyards.”
Carol Maxwell and her husband bought their Clayfield home in 1990. The worker’s cottage dated back to the 1890s and had been expanded into flats then converted back into a house, but the couple renovated extensively to modernize the property for their family home. Before long, unexplained occurrences began.
“I was home alone one day having a bath and I turned the tap off but could still hear water running. I got out of the bath and walked into the ensuite and the hot water tap was on full bore,” says Carol Maxwell.
“The television would come on in the middle of the night and the answering machine would start up. My electric tooth brush would turn on in the middle of the night. There were occasions where I felt a coldness in bed and almost like someone was lying beside me, and that’s not a nice feeling. They’re things you can’t easily explain away.”
Although she never saw a ghost at the house, Carol says her young daughter told her mother of seeing someone in the house.
“My daughter, Angela, told me she saw an older lady in what she described to look like period dress. She said she was very, very tall, so I’d most likely say she wasn’t on the ground, she wasn’t standing.”
Concerned for her family, Carol sought advice.
“I spoke to a colleague who told me ‘you have to talk to (this spirit)’. I felt really silly but one day I had a chat with her. I said we had cohabitated for some time and she could stay, but please don’t scare my children.”
“Things quieted down then but every now and then things would start happening again. I think she’s possibly still there and will most probably stay there. My daughter lives in the house now with her husband and they haven’t seen anything though.”
Brisbane medium Nikki Chapple says politely asking spirits to leave your house is often the most effective way to restore peace if you’re feeling disturbed.
“When you’re building or renovating you’re stirring up activity,” says Brisbane medium Nikki Chapple.
“Always be patient and say ‘I acknowledge your presence but you’re making me uncomfortable, please go’. If you want to take the next step you can burn sage, lavender incense or candles, throw down salt or put up protective symbols.
“Ninety per cent of the time spirits only want to be acknowledged and if you ask them to move on, they will; but there are negative ones that won’t go.”
With her services growing in popularity through word of mouth, Chapple is often a last resort for people feeling an unwanted presence in their home.
“I’ve had a couple of nasty ones,” she says. “I had a wife from Caboolture waking up at night with a black mist hanging over her unable to move, speak or do anything. As we walked into the room, the husband was thrown across the room. There was another one at Upper Kedron where I couldn’t get rid of the spirit on my own and had to bring other mediums in.”
Reassuringly, Chapple says these instances are rare and most spirits are simply connected emotionally to the place or person they linger with, which can also be a comfort and an opportunity to communicate with the other side.
“We all feel things that can’t be explained and because there’s such a stigma around it we don’t pay attention,” she says.
“People are often in pure denial. They’ll hear footsteps in their house and say it’s movement because it’s an old home. I forget that people don’t see what I see sometimes.”
Jack Sim’s most haunted houses in Brisbane:
Whepstead Manor, Wellington Point
The original home was built in the 1890s for the Burnett family of sugar cane farmers. Burnett was a wealthy man but he went broke and lost the house. It became a convalescence home for sick people in 1936 and while it was a hospital it was run by a matron, Dolly. There is said to be a ghost of a Chinese worker who’s thought to have hanged himself in a tree. Burnett’s wife can also be felt in the home – you can smell lavender when she’s about. Guests at weddings during the 1980s when the home was a restaurant reported seeing a ghost who was dressed like a matron.
Newstead House, Newstead
Brisbane’s oldest surviving residence, Newstead House was built in 1846 by Darling Downs pastoralist Patrick Leslie.Today the most well known stories of ghost activity are in the dining room.
Farrington House, Alderley
The stately 1880s home has undergone many transformations including as an old people’s home until 1956 before being subdivided into flats. Locals maintained someone hanged themselves in the attic of the house. One of the stories was at certain nights you could see them in the window.