History has shown us that ghosts and the supernatural seem to be commonplace and that a large percentage of people in the western world, indeed from all races and religions, not only believe in ghosts but have also experienced something that they believe is of a supernatural origin. Indeed, many people have reported the same supernatural occurrence happening at a specific place over a number of years thus legitimising their experiences, even though they have had no contact with others who may have seen, or heard, or experienced the same thing.
Can all these people be wrong? Are they deluded or deranged? Have they simply misinterpreted what they have experienced? In many cases, yes. And yet, there are still cases that defy explanation.
Blundell’s Cottage is a small rubble and brick construction nestled in Commonwealth Park next to Lake Burley Griffin. Built in the early 1860s it reflects the history of Australia’s white settlement through the establishment of large stations that laid the foundations for the rural socio-economic growth, in this case the Campbell family and their employees on Duntroon Estate.
Sitting quietly under Yellow Box, White Cedar, and Pencil Pines, its cultural and historical significance lies in its direct link to agricultural workers from the very first days of settlement in the Canberra region. However, this is not my concern.
Tragically, in 1892, Flora Susanna Blundell, whilst wearing a white crinoline dress, burnt to death when the dress touched a hot iron, immediately engulfing the poor girl in flames. Today one can visit her grave in the Presbyterian Section of Queanbeyan Riverside cemetery. And thus stories of her ghost haunting the old house have some basis in history.
Stories of Blundell’s Cottage and its haunting are fairly common. The staff that man the little museum talk about odd things that happen in cottage, including items being mysteriously moved overnight to unexplained feelings of someone watching you and even more unnerving, the smell of burning human flesh. Bizarrely it is said that only people wearing a necklace can feel the presence of this spirit which probably explains why I have never seen or felt anything whenever I have visited the place. And the reason for this? It is said that Flora was wearing a necklace, maybe a favourite one, when she died.
And so, knowing the cultural and social history of this quaint little rubble stone cottage, I ventured out one freezing winters night to simply wander around the site to experience whatever may, or probably may not, happen.
Walking down to the cottage one is struck by the beauty of its present position overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. But it was not always like this, remembering that the lake itself is an artificial construct of the 1960s and being the centrepiece of Walter Burley Griffin’s capital city, was not always there.
Instead, the cottage sat above the shallow river valley surrounded by open fields where livestock roamed. It was in fact a part of the Duntroon Estate, one of the oldest sites in the Canberra region and, not surprisingly, also the subject of numerous ghostly reports which we shall investigate later.
How can this quaint little cottage, a tangible reminder of our pastoralist past be haunted? Sitting serenely near the lake with an English cottage garden and white picket fences it looks more like a prop from a film about rural England than a haunted house.
And yet I cannot dismiss the stories of burnt flesh and objects moving as the ramblings of unhinged people. The guides that work at the cottage are volunteers but they generally come from university educated cultural heritage backgrounds. Apart from that, while on a visit one cold July night with Destiny Tours two members of the group claimed to be able to smell something burning as we stood on the cold wooden verandah to the front of the house. Even more surprising was when my partner claimed that she could smell something, however, not while on the verandah, but while walking around the side of the dark rubble stone building. Of course, she later dismissed this as the smell of wood smoke from fireplaces in suburban homes even though there are no residential dwellings in the immediate vicinity and it was a dead still night.
Whatever the case, the visit was interesting even if suggestion and the atmosphere may have played a large part in anyone experiencing anything slightly untoward.
Extract taken from A Case for Ghosts by JG Montgomery (Ginninderra Press 2012). His latest book, WYRD- A Personal Journey Into the Beliefs and Philosophies of the Known and Unknown (CFZ Press Devon England) is now available. A new book Meditations in Orange is now available through Pendragon Publishing & Design.