Who you gonna’ call?! Not quite Ghostbusters for me, but rather Tim the Yowie Man.
I’d heard about Tim’s famous local ghost tours and had wanted to do one since I moved to Canberra. I finally booked in for his special Halloween ghost tour and I couldn’t wait. I have this weird interest in the paranormal (but I don’t watch scary movies – I cannot deal with them), combined with my strong interest in local history, I was sure this tour would be amazing.
My partner and I arrived at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) to meet Tim and the rest of the group (about 20 people all up) and we jumped on a minibus, appropriately decorated with cobwebs, and set off for Blundell’s Cottage. As we arrived, there was a hearse parked out the front. It wasn’t actually part of the tour and was there by coincidence. I noted that it was parked in a disabled spot but as the front seat passenger was a skeleton I figured that was OK.
For those who don’t know, Blundell’s Cottage is close to Lake Burley Griffin, just off Parkes Way near Campbell. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Canberra and is said to be haunted by the spirit of young Florrie Blundell. She sadly died when she was 16 from severe burns. People don’t really see Florrie but rather smell Florrie. Many visitors have reported strong odours of burning flesh. While we were at the cottage, I am certain I could smell something but it wasn’t overly strong. It’s hard to describe but it was kind of a warm smell, almost like what you would smell passing a restaurant. Whether or not you smell anything, Blundell’s Cottage is definitely an eerie, yet beautiful, place and it’s super cool to spend time there.
Back onto the mini bus and a short drive later we’ve arrived at Duntroon. Tim tells us the story of Staff Cadet Casey, a practical joker who was locked in a cupboard by his friends as payback and forgotten about at the end of term. Tim told us that there are no official records to prove this, so it is likely that it’s an urban legend. If you have friends or family that have worked or studied at Duntroon ask them about Staff Cadet Casey – they will definitely know the story.
We stopped outside Duntroon House to see the balcony where Sophia Susanna Campbell jumped (or was she pushed?!) to her death. Sophia Susanna has been spotted at the window before, as well as wandering around the rose gardens. Apparently her bedroom is often found messed up with no logical explanation as to how it got to that state. Creepy! I didn’t spot Sophia Susanna this time around, but I hope that she is at peace.
Next we headed out to the Air Disaster Memorial near the airport. It’s not accessible to the public by car (unless you are on a Tim the Yowie Man tour!) so we had to pass through a series of locked gates to get there. This place is beyond creepy. 10 people (including several Cabinet Ministers) were killed instantly here back in the Menzies era and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding exactly what caused the crash and who was actually flying the plane when it happened. If that wasn’t enough, the body of Keren Ellen Rowland was found here back in the early 1970s. Keren Ellen had gone missing one night on the way to a party but her car was found on Parkes Way (quite close to Blundell’s Cottage in fact). A few months later they sadly discovered her in bushland near the Memorial but her killer/s was never discovered. The case is one of a handful of cold cases in the ACT.
Tim told us a super spooky story about someone on one of his tours who claimed to see Keren Ellen and was even able to describe the clothes she was wearing which matched that of the autopsy report. The story of Keren Ellen is especially sad as she was 5 months pregnant at the time of her murder. We all silently paid our respects to Keren Ellen and I hope very much that her killer/s will eventually be brought to justice.
While we were all standing around the Memorial, we heard footsteps in the bush behind us. I’m not going to lie here, but I nearly lost control of my bladder. It wasn’t the sound that an animal would make. It was an actual footstep. Everyone in the group heard it and we all had the same look on our faces. About a minute or two later, it happened again. Tim thought there might actually be someone in the bushes playing pranks given that it was Halloween so he went off to investigate. By this point I was well and truly ready to lock myself in the minibus because I would much rather it be a spirit making the noise than some freak in the bush. Tim came back safely with nothing to report. Who knows what or who was making those noises.
After the Memorial we went back to the NFSA for a light supper. The highlight was the most amazing pumpkin cinnamon donuts – oh my god. I only had one but I could have easily shoved my face into the whole plate. After the supper we went into a theatre where Tim gave a presentation to us and another group of people (there for a horror movie marathon) on the top 5 most haunted places in Canberra. Number one on that list was the NFSA. It was formerly the Institute of Anatomy and its history features many, many bodies being dissected, displayed and held there over a period of around 50 years. Notable ‘residents’ included the skull of Ned Kelly and the heart of Phar Lap. It’s also said that murder victim ‘the pyjama girl’ was housed here overnight on her way to Sydney for public exhibition. A projection of her serves as a memorial at the bottom of a staircase.
In the foyer at the NFSA there is a commemorative plaque to Sir Colin McKenzie, the founder of the Institute, and his ashes are housed in the wall behind the plaque. There are stories that people have seen an apparition coming through the wall from the plaque.
Some staff at the NFSA, past and present, refuse to enter the basement alone. A tradesman claims to have been pinned up against the wall in there and had to call out to a colleague for help.
On our way out, we walked through the basement briefly, past the room that housed Ned Kelly’s skull, and I felt so on edge I was silently cursing the people who were taking their time having a leisurely stroll. They could not have walked any slower. I felt like I was being watched and I could feel such a strong presence, I was well and truly freaked out.
Whether you are a believer in the paranormal or a total skeptic, you will still enjoy one of Tim’s tours. Tim’s knowledge of local history is phenomenal and he tells stories with incredible detail. Going on this tour was probably the best thing I have done in Canberra and I am already planning to attend another one.
Tim the Yowie Man conducts tours in Canberra and surrounds, and has a new tour coming soon! You can find out details and how to book at his website: www.yowieman.com.au