Ghosts and Grunts

Extraorrrrrrrdinary tales of the undead

Many years ago, when I was in primary school, there was a book in the school library that caused a bit of a stir. It was a collection of (allegedly) true Australian ghost stories.

I can’t recall much about the contents. It probably included all the usual suspects such as Frederici at the Princess Theatre and Fisher’s ghost. But there was one chapter that started up a whole load of trouble – one about a bunch of quite terrifying events alleged to have occurred to a bunch of kids on a school camp at the Old York Hospital.

This caused quite a ruckuss. It was all anyone would talk about. In creative writing class, all anyone would write were stories about ghosts and (for some reason) ninjas and kung-fu on school camping trips to the Old York Hospital. The situation got so bad that the year seven school camp was cancelled out of fear that the students would run off to go ghost hunting (or possibly ninja hunting). The fact that it was a fairly conservative Catholic primary school with a dim view of all things “occult” probably didn’t help matters either – I think the book eventually vanished from the shelves never to be seen again before the whole thing eventually died down.

It did however leave me with a lifelong curiosity about the old hospital, and when a photographer on Flickr got in touch with me this week about the old Castle Fun Park in Mandurah, and I noticed some photos of the hospital in her photostream, I decided to do some research about the story I remembered as a kid. And I found the motherload!

First up I located a lengthy article about the events at the old hospital by one Miriam Howard-Wright. The article was published in a magazine, but I strongly suspect that the book that caused such a stir so many years ago was written by her, with the article reworked into the notorious York chapter.

I also found a fantastic old documentary about Australian hauntings up on YouTube. Broadcast in the 1980s it very likely sparked the Old-York-Hospital mania I remember so well. The video transfer is a bit off, and it’s heavily infused with a rather 1970s “the paranormal is now a serious subject of scientific enquiry” vibe, but it’s still a damn good watch. One of the most entertaining aspects of it is actually the accents – the narrator appears to be English (presumably on the basis that no one could possibly take a documentary narrated by an Australian seriously) and there are a couple of examples of the old “refined” Australian accent which is now nearing extinction (such as the woman at the info centre in the Rocks). The sheer preponderance of cigarettes also shows how much the country’s changed in the last 30 years.

Finally I stumbled over another documentary, this one from 2001, about Australia’s “Most Haunted Town” (apparently Kapunda). It’s hosted by Warrick Moss, who made his mark in the field by hosting 90s paranormal infotainment classic The Extraorrrrdinary (you have to say it like that – it’s the way he did it). It’s nothing particularly ground-breaking, but gets my vote for the second half, which consists almost wholly of shaky-cam, infra-red footage of Moss stumbling around in the dark, grunting (and swearing). Now that’s entertainment!

One of these days I’ll make it to York…

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