As the nation’s second oldest colony Parramatta has a relatively long history filled with eerie tales and grim happenings. From the city’s Prince Alfred Park, which was once the location of town hangings, to the mysterious encounters of Old Government House, and unexplainable tales from the Parramatta Female Factory and asylum, many believe, the paranormal calls Parramatta home.
The paranormal phenomenon has been intensified by shows like Ghost Hunters International and The Othersiders and movies like Ghostbusters and Paranormal Activity, driving many punters to seek out their own supernatural encounters.
For the dedicated, it’s become a career. Lead investigator of Haunted Australia Kade Jones and his team have just wrapped up a paranormal investigation of Parramatta’s notorious Roxy Theatre. Built in 1930 the Roxy was the premier entertainment venue of its time but over the years many have told of mysterious and unexplained encounters within.
‘’We found that there is most certainly a female present, whether she is the young girl as rumoured is unknown,’’ Kade told PS after his team’s two-night investigation. ‘’And there also seems to be a male presence around the theatre area too.’’ The rumoured girl is the tragic story of a young girl who fell to her death from the first-floor balcony to the foyer when the crowd panicked and tried to escape a fire.
While the team's first night of investigation was relatively quiet, they encountered a number of eerie happenings on the second night including a glass that flew off the bar and smashed, batteries running dry in the bar and theatre area, a figure seen in the projection box by two team members and an unknown voice picked up on a camcorder recording.
Kade says his team thoroughly investigate a location before entering it to ensure the integrity of their investigation and help them reach out to any spirits they may encounter during it. He says the team are rarely scared but there are tense moments with Kade once being scratched down the left side of his back during an investigation of a former asylum. ‘’If I didn’t get nervous then something would be wrong,’’ Kade says. ‘’Scared, no, but nervous, yes!’’
A couple of blocks away at Old Government House the PS team gathers in the courtyard to attend the notoriouis ghost tour. Built in 1799 the house is the oldest public building in Australia and the location of many eerie encounters. We are led by our guide Debbie through the outside grounds of the residence where she recounts the tragic tale of Lady Mary Fitzroy who was killed in a carriage accident in the domain not far from the house in 1847. Legend has it her body was carried to the house and laid in the foyer. Superstition would have seen her feet facing the door and mirrors covered to stop her spirit from reentering the house or getting trapped.
Our group continues the candle-lit tour with Debbie weaving ghostly experiences through an oral history of the house. We hear the tale of two managers - two decades apart - hearing what sounded like a dinner party while they were locking up for the night. On inspection of the dining room, they say they found nothing, but the noises stopped instantly. There’s also the mysterious lady in blue who hovers on the landing and floats up and down the stairs. She has been seen my many guides and visitors with some believeing she may be the ghost of Governor Bligh's daughter Mary and may be to blame for the upstairs bedroom door creaking open after being securely closed and locked for the night.
Friends of Old Government House chairman Matt Fisher says the ghost tours are well patronaged. ‘’I think it’s like a scary movie for people – you hate watching it but love the thrill of it,’’ Matt says. He’s had a few of his own ghostly encounters in the house having seen the blue lady and when he dressed up as Governor Lachlan Macquarie's confidential orderly sergeant Charles Whalan. Matt says he went into the Maquarie bedroom to get changed and when pulling on the costume's jacket, a replica made by one of Whalan’s descendants, there was a moan and a dip in the bed like someone was lying down on it. He believes the house is haunted and says while it scares him it is also exciting. ‘’It means the house is still alive.’’
* Old Government House ghost tours are held on the third Friday of each month or by appointment. Details: friendsofogh.com
* For more information on Haunted Australia: haunted-australia.com.au
The most terrifying stories:Past Times Tours guide and local historian Judith Dunn shared some of Parramatta’s most well known, and truly terrifying, ghost stories.
The floating woman wearing grey satin
This particular ghost haunts a Parramatta house (we won’t say which to save the owners from supernatural sightseers) that was built in the 1830s. The ghost belongs to the woman who owned and built the house, a widow who lived alone in it with her several children. Subsequent owners of the house claimed to have seen her ghost floating in the middle of the room in the hallway. This may seem like quite a peculiar place for a ghost to loiter, but some believe the house was once two stories and the ghost floats where the staircase have been. “Her favourite daughter died in that house and we think she is going up the staircase that is no longer there to attend to her daughter,” Ms Dunn said.
The ghost cat
In the mid-1800s, the Governor of NSW and his cat used to live inside Parramatta Gaol. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant existence for the cat, which was tormented by the prisoners. After the cat died, its returned in the form of a ghost to haunt the prisoners. When they approached the cat, so the legend goes, it would simply disappear. “There were some pretty hardened men in that gaol and they would say long after the governor’s cat died a cat appeared and would just melt through walls,” Ms Dunn said.
The disappearing prisoner
The legend is that in the mid-1800s a Parramatta Gaol warden looked down into the courtyard from his lookout post and saw a prisoner climb through his cell window, walk across the compound and disappear into dark shadows. The warden raised the alarm that the prisoner had escaped but when the officers ran to the cell they found the prisoner dead on his bed. Some think the warden saw the prisoner’s soul departing and his spirit leaving for the afterlife.
The drowned fugitive
Parramatta’s Hambledon Cottage has its own ghostly resident who gurgles and gargles late at night. A convict gang were building a holding receptacle into the cottage grounds in Hassle Street in the 1800s. While working on the holding tank, some of the more daring or desperate prisoners decided to dig a tunnel to use as an escape route. “Unfortunately,” says Ms Dunn, “they were pretty close to a creek”. When work was over for the day, one of the men hid in the tunnel and started to continue to dig his escape route. He dug into the creek and the passage he was in was flooded. “Apparently people in Hambledon Cottage hear gurgling noises and the sound of running water and they reckon it’s the ghost of this man drowning in the creek.”
Notorious haunts of Parramatta
Old Government House
The Roxy Theatre
St John’s Cemetery
The Female Orphanage
The old asylum