I feel like we don’t get a lot of haunted stuff from Australia but we should!
HAIR standing on end and a shiver dancing down the spine: it must be ghost story time. Children safe and warm in their beds adore nothing more than stories of monsters, ghouls and ghosts before lights out.
Since it is the season of dark and stormy nights, and hunkering down at home is hands-down the #1 trend of 2020, why not curl up tonight and relish the enduring appeal of a good ghost story?
Ask Australian ghost geeks to nominate their favourite phantom and it seems the encore never ends for Frederick Federici, the often-sighted backstage spirit of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. His legend begins on opening night in 1888, with Federici in the role of Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s opera Faust. The play concludes with Mephistopheles and Faust descending into hell through a trapdoor in the stage.
“They disappeared down in puffs of smoke down underneath the stage, and when Federici landed, he was dead,” said Richard Davis, author of 2016’s Great Australian Ghost Stories.
Ever since that fateful night over a century ago, performers, theatre staff and patrons have reported eerie lights, strange noises and inexplicable occurrences.
“Even some quite famous people,” Mr Davis said. “Rob Guest, June Bronhill, Stuart Wagstaff — a whole lot of people have claimed to see the ghost of Federici.”
According to Jacqueline Travaglia, director and owner of Lantern Ghost Tours, which operates award-winning ghost tours around Australia, one of the theatre’s cleaners often felt someone or something behind her.
“It would touch her hair, shoulders and sometimes even back,” Ms Travaglia said.
“Many people who have never heard of the Federici story have claimed to see a ghostly figure in evening dress at the theatre.”
While Federici’s Victorian era ghost takes out the poltergeist popularity prize, he is far from alone in generating tales of an Australian afterlife.
Both Mr Davis and Ms Travaglia point to countless other spooky happenings, including at Sydney’s Q Station, Adelaide Gaol and Brisbane City Hall, and regional destinations including Port Arthur loom large in both of Mr Davis’s collections.
“I think the scariest stories come from old properties in remote parts of Australia, for example, a wonderful house called Monte Cristo Homestead in Junee (NSW),” he said.
Best-selling author and podcaster Karina Machado has been listening to ordinary Australians confiding paranormal experiences for the past 12 years. Her debut book on the subject, Spirit Sisters, was re-released this year to mark its 10-year anniversary and includes the story of Amy Shepherd, who saw a colonial family at a sleepover when she was eight years old.
“Amy got up, went to the loo and came back. As she was getting comfortable … she turned around and there were three people standing in front of her,” Ms Machado said.
“It was clearly a family: the dad, mum and a little boy. They were just staring at her like she was the prize exhibit at the zoo.
“She just stared back and it became a bit of a standoff.”
Eventually the little boy reached out to touch Amy, at which point she did what most of us would do: hid under the sheets.
“It’s one of my favourite stories, because it draws on an idea I love, which is who’s haunting who,” Ms Machado said.
“I spoke to a medium only recently who said very often (spirits) have an expression of extreme astonishment, like ‘You can see me?’”
Unexplained telepathy with a loved one, or running into someone from your past right after thinking of them, is spooky but extremely common, yet most people don’t interrogate or dismiss such weirdness as they instantly would if they felt an unseen presence.
Ms Machado said debating where the line is drawn was the start of a really fun and surprising conversation with kids.
“We have electricity, we have the internet – we know that there’s some form of communication that we can’t see,” she said.
“The universality of these stories is wonderful. Everybody can relate. Everybody has had some form of experience. Everybody.
“And I love that about them. They provide a little sense of hope and that’s so comforting.”