More feature: Into the dark

TWO grey shadowy figures play hide-and-seek in main passages of Fortuna Villa.An elegant woman in a ball gown floats around the Pompeii Fountain and front gardens and a well-spoken young woman asks visitors to leave.Some people believe in ghosts and paranormal experiences while others brush it off as a load of rubbish. But the consensus seems to be that while some have experiences that can be explained there are some who simply can’t.Bendigo is home to hundreds of historic buildings and homes, all here long before the time of any living residents. Whether you believe in ghosts and the supernatural or not, there’s no denying that many locals have some interesting stories to tell.Figures make their way through buildings, orbs light up, voices sound, smells waft and then there’s the simply unexplainable “eerie” feelings.Built along the New Chum gold reef, Fortuna Villa is said to be one of the most haunted places in Victoria.The mansion was once home to one of the richest men on the goldfields, George Lansell, and more recently to the Department of Defence mapping organisation.On a hot day in summer, a Sunday in the late 1980s, Patrick Thwaites was working as head of security for the Defence Force at Fortuna Villa.He was on the top floor of the house, alone in the villa compound, except for the guards on the front gate.“There was no breeze and it was very hot,” he said.“I had to keep the windows and doors closed because there were flies everywhere and we didn’t have fly screens.“Then, all of a sudden, there was a waft of air as if someone had fluffed a blanket.“With it I got a very strong smell of perfume.”The smell was so strong he got up and went out to the hallway to see who was outside.It was empty. He was apparently alone.“The smell stayed with me for about five minutes,” he said.Mr Thwaites doesn’t believe in ghosts but said this was one of a number of experiences at Fortuna Villa that he and others couldn’t explain.He puts it down to a visit from the “perfume ghost” who, he has been told, is a former governess who lived on the top floor with the Lansell children.Mr Thwaites remains adamant about his non-belief, but said there had been too many experiences he and others couldn’t explain. “There was something called the Ghost Book where we recorded all the sightings,” he said.“It had absolutely everything for probably about 25 years, but it has disappeared, it’s been souvenired.”He’d like to see the book, or at least copies, returned.Included in the sightings, according to Mr Thwaites, is at least one from cartographer and “resident Fortuna ghost hunter” Richard Arman.In 1986 he was reported as having seen a man’s head and torso pass through the banister of the main staircase.Mr Arman has kept his own list of many other sightings reported during the Defence Force’s Fortuna years.In the former security office of the main building a young woman would tell staff to leave.“Never seen by anyone, she would nevertheless come up close behind you and speak softly into your right year ‘Who are you? What do you want? … Please leave’,” Mr Arman said.“She would only ever say these words once then disappear. Her identity has never been established.“Numerous sergeants over the years, when on piquet duty of a night time, would experience such an encounter and in the old days it happened quite regularly.“While some got used to it after a while, others never did and the indoor security check of the building ceased to be mandatory after a number of complaints by duty staff.”A female soldier reportedly woke once to find a young soldier hanging by a rope at the end of her bed, but regimental checks never found details of such a soldier.George Lansell himself has even been spotted.“The last recorded time was in 2006 when a member of staff working the night shift was taking a task up to the reproduction section for processing,” Mr Arman said.“As he climbed the stairs to the stables he looked up; standing in the doorway of the stables was the faded bearded figure of George Lansell dressed in a white jacket and straw boater holding his walking stick.”But sometimes these ghostly apparitions are passed off as a person’s mind playing tricks, or simply as a person playing tricks.Fortuna has been the perfect place for practical jokers.During one summer at the villa, shortly after the ghost tours stopped in the 1990s, a hive of bees took up residence on the ceiling of a verandah outside.Mr Thwaites said the hive had become so full of honey it had started to drip onto the footpath below. Then one Monday morning when he arrived at work he noticed footsteps leading from the honey, as if a small child had walked through it.“They were only an inch or two long, that of a baby or very small child,” he said.“I was curious because nobody would bring in children, nobody was allowed to bring children.”During the following days the footprints attracted a lot of attention and the villa was buzzing with talk of a ghost child roaming the place after dark.The footprints disappeared over the course of the week but returned the following weekend.“Turned out the cleaner was having a bit of a joke,” Mr Thwaites said.“He’d arrive at 5am and get the butt of his hand in the honey and make the sole of the foot, and use his fingers to make the toes.“He had us all sucked in.“There are a few more stories like that which I can explain, but still I have had encounters that I can’t explain.”***“IT’S my birthday.”Written in shaving cream, these words appeared in a cell in the Sandhurst Wing of the Old Bendigo Gaol without warning one day.Nobody claims to have put it there, and nobody cleaned it up.Bendigo Historical Society president Jim Evans said the message could even still be there.It’s thought of as a message from the other side. A message from one of the mysterious spirits believed to be haunting the jail.But who?Three men were hanged in the gaol between 1885 and 1897, but Mr Evans says it’s not them haunting the jail. So who is it?“There’s been various sightings by wardens and presumably prisoners too,” he said.Fully formed figures and strange lights have appeared.“There was one (figure) standing in the central part of the jail where the wings meet,” Mr Evans said.“There’s been suggestions of strange lights too.”There have also been reports of a ghost haunting a cell below where the gallows used to be.Interestingly too, the names of all three men who were hanged in the prison started with H. H for hanged. Coincidence?“We think they’re still (buried) there,” Mr Evans said.“Over by the wall on the tennis court side of the exercise yard.”Edward Hunter was hanged at the age of 73 in November 1885 for the murder of James Powell at Charlton. William Harrison was in his 40s when he was executed in March 1889 and at just 25, Charles John Hall was hanged in September 1897 for the murder of his 21-year-old wife Minnie.***A CEMETERY after dark seems like a spooky and creepy place to be. It is. But it’s also the most obvious place for ghost-hunting.Twin brothers Chris and Tony Jordon are in their element at the Bendigo Cemetery. They’ve experienced the supernatural during tours of the cemetery and other historic Bendigo sites and hope to bring those experiences to locals and tourists through their company Bendigo Paranormal Tours.At 10pm on an icy cold night this week photographer Brendan McCarthy and I joined the brothers for one of the tours they hope to soon offer to the public.“Sometimes I get smells and tastes and stuff like that,” Chris said.“I can smell fire or chlorinated water.“Generally I see stuff but can’t always make it out. But I have seen fully materialised ghosts, like you and me.”Walking through the cemetery I wanted to see something. I wanted to take something out of the experience that made me think ‘yes, there is something out there’.I’m not sure if I got that, but there certainly were some things I couldn’t explain. Lights and shadows appeared out of the corner of my eyes for just a split second but when I turned to look they were gone.And despite the icy cold there were noticeable temperature fluctuations.“I’ve just got the warmest sense right now,” Chris said at one point.“It’s like a numbing warm. "It’s trying to keep us warm even though it’s not.”I could tell the difference. The bitter cold eased somewhat. It could have been perfectly explainable, but in that environment and with Chris and Tony by our sides it was hard not to wonder if there were spirits playing around.By the chapel in the cemetery grounds is where the brothers say they’ve experienced the most spirit activity – lights, orbs and shadows.As we approached, Tony’s torch began to fade and cut out. I didn’t realise until the following day that my voice recording of the night cut out at the same time. Tony’s words: “It’s dead, the torch is dead” and then nothing until the recording cuts back in later when Chris is drawn to a grave at the very back of the cemetery. As Brendan set up his camera to take photos of the brothers outside the little chapel, Chris felt something else.He said a small child had approached Brendan's left leg, as if curious about what he was doing with the camera."There was a small child, it probably wanted to play," he said."It was right by your left leg."Brendan’s camera also experienced some unusual “technical difficulties” after that.“It’s really strange, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often,” he said.Among the monolithic structures in one of the older sections of the cemetery, Chris was drawn to a grave marked only by a small plaque with the name Smith.“I can feel it on my little finger,” Chris said.“It’s like it’s walking around us. It’s on my right hand, behind me. It’s really weird, it’s like it’s holding my hand.“Can you feel the extreme cold? It’s like something’s playing around.”I approached Chris and reached my hands out to my sides. My hands felt heavy. As much as I wanted to, and still want to believe there was something there with us, there was something in the back of my mind trying to rationalise it.As we made our way out of the cemetery and the time approached midnight there were more temperature fluctuations, orbs and shadows.“I reckon there was something right there, walking up towards us,” Tony said, pointing along the path we’d just walked up.“It’s like there was something, these two legs just walking up to come towards us.“Then I had to blink to make sure.”Chris said the figures were “shadow people”.“They try to scare you off,” he said. “They try and get your heart racing so you’re like ‘I’ve got to get out of here’.“Don’t listen to them. Spirits can’t hurt you.”I can guarantee that if I’d been alone, I would have listened and I would have run.Feeling we were maybe outstaying our welcome we thanked the spirits and left the way we came.Outside the gate came the fun part – looking at the photos.There were certainly some interesting finds. Lights and orbs, unexplainable in the darkness of the cemetery. Some were easily explained as the reflection of street lights on shiny headstones and others as light refractions. But there were some that maybe couldn’t be explained.Just take a look and tell us what you see. - Send us your ghost stories to cos@bendigoadvertiser.com.au

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