Since my teenage years, I have been engrossed by ghost stories. I would often go to the library and look for books with accounts written by local witnesses, who have visited haunted buildings and have experienced sightings of ghosts. I have watched numerous movies and documentaries about haunted places. I find them thoroughly fascinating, especially if there is some historical evidence, rather than the stories based entirely on myth and legend.
The haunted places of Sydney
Sydney, where I come from, is rather famous for hosting several haunted sites like Wakehurst Parkway and the young intruder Kelly, who jumps in your car to crash it, or the Quarantine Station, where another cute blondie holds hands with the tourists. There is also the Gladesville Mental hospital, not far from the city center, famous for the 1,000 anonymous psychiatric patients who are buried beneath the hospital grounds. In Picton and Camden, both located just outside of Sydney, are, respectively, the Redbank Range Tunnel and its wandering ghost of young Emily Bollard, and Studley Park House, haunted by Ray Blackstone, who drowned in in a nearby dam in the 1900s.
There are several prisons or gaols in the oldest state — New South Wales — which are naturally pointed at as some of the most haunted places in the country. Maitland Gaol is one of them. It was the longest working penal institution in Australia, closing doors in 1998. Presently, it is open for tourists who want to relive this dark period in history.
The Darlinghurst Gaol
Darlinghurst Gaol is situated in the heart of Sydney. Today it is the home of the National Art School, but nearly a century ago, it was one of the most infamous prisons. The Australian poet Henry Lawson served time there and as many as 67 people were hanged, the majority of them publicly. It was a grim place, which Lawson referred to as “Starvinghurst Gaol,” due to the meagre rations that were allocated to each of the inmates.
The imposing building was constructed from sandstone by prisoners, who left markings on the building blocks that are still visible today. The process of building took several decades and it was built in stages. In 1885, the gaol was finally completed, a true testimony to the image of Sydney, being a convict town.
The Ghostly past
According to many records and interviews from the time, when the building was adapted to be used by the East Sydney Technical College in the 1920s, the site was “inhabited” by the ghosts of those hanged tragically in the gaol’s gallows. Three main rooms had been noted with experiencing a high ghostly activity, one of which was a classroom where prisoners were kept prior to their execution. Most of the witnesses were the security guards of the college, who didn't necessarily encounter the apparition of the Asian Lady, who was apparently roaming the corridors to look for her prisoner-husband, but who swore they saw doors slamming, lights flickering on and off, or to have smelled a very bad stench of rotten flesh, rats, and dirty socks.
Other times, the guards would hear violent knocking on the blackboard in the blue room, near the staircase. They could not be convinced that the noise was produced by anything else but the spirits of five prisoners. These accounts were followed by the story of a college lecturer, whose sighting of an old and grayish face of a ghost floating in the men’s toilets not only gave him the shivers, but made the teacher faint on the floor. Another tutor was adamant that he was followed by a ghost all the way home to Glebe Island Bridge, where he resided.
The Ghostly present
Today, the legacy of the place being haunted continues with the numerous reports from art students, who study there. I have personally heard about two strange occurrences that happened in more recent times. A friend of mine, who was a student there in the early 2000s, confided in me her experience. One Friday afternoon in April, she was finishing a piece in the ceramic workshop. She was alone in the room, as the others had just left, including her tutor. She suddenly felt a cold current of air and a chilly sensation in her spine. She had goosebumps on her neck and arms and generally felt uneasy. Then, she was deafened by a very loud noise behind her. When she turned around, eight raku vases, recently decorated and sitting beautifully on a steady stand at the back of the room, “exploded,” breaking into small pieces on the floor. My friend ran out of the room, feeling very disturbed, only to be confronted on the next day by her sceptical tutor who tried to convince her that the incident was the result of the shabby work of her colleagues — art students who had not yet mastered the skill of raku firing.
The other incident involved another friend of mine who was part of a maintenance team doing a one-off after builders, cleaning in one of the wings in the college. He was in the men’s toilets, removing some bin bags full of old plaster, when a blueish, old, wrinkled face appeared in front of him, floating menacingly in the air.