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.
National Museum of Australia (Part 1/2)
The very modern National Museum of Australia may help us understand this a little more. Opened in 2001, its beginning was shrouded in tragedy when in 1997 a young girl, Katie Bender, was killed by flying debris from the implosion designed to destroy the Royal Canberra Hospital which had stood on the site since the 1940s. These days a small memorial sits on the foreshore of the lake commemorating her untimely and unnecessary death.
And yet it is not the foreshore site that we are interested in as the museum is not only haunted, but throws up some interesting questions with regards to ghosts and theories involving the reasons why they exist, or more so, where they exist.
Firstly we stop at the Circa Theatrette where, in the third quadrant, people report a presence that feels as if it is watching them. So spooked are some staff that they have been caught on security camera furtively glancing over their shoulder at an unseen presence before rapidly exiting the place.
After discussing a number of supernatural occurrences we move on until we come to an exhibition that appears to be celebrating tree houses which my guide points out is actually cubby houses and a children’s play area. The display itself includes a rough wooden replica of a child’s tree house that is overhung by a large ghost gum. There is a set of steps that lead up to the tree house and a small balcony where one can stop and view the exhibit. According to my guide small ghostly heads have been seen floating above the railing on the balcony by museum hosts during opening hours. Strangely, she adds, there is no guarantee that they are human heads, or even those of children.
Although hardly believable, considering the relative newness of the museum, how could these ghostly heads exist? They appear to be interacting with the present and not with the past in a stone tape theory sort of way. Are they intelligent ghosts? Are they ghosts of children who died in the old Royal Canberra Hospital when it existed on the site? Even more perplexing, why are they congregated around the tree house, a child’s play thing? Could it be that these spirits have somehow transcended time and now exist within the present whilst actually being ghosts from the past? And if so, then why and how? We shall see later that this is not the only case of an unusual type of haunting in the National Museum.
Interestingly, my guide later shows me a lift in the Gallery of First Australians which the security guards don’t like taking after hours as it stops and when it does children’s laughter can be heard coming from the floor just above the lift entrance. Frightening stuff indeed and a good enough reason for me not to take the lift as well. Are these children the same as the strange heads that are reported floating around the tree house exhibit? And why does the lift stop? Are these benign or malevolent spirits, or just playful?
Whatever the case, it is the next ghostly sighting that really intrigues me and makes me question all my previous beliefs about ghosts and the supernatural as, like the tree house heads, this ghost appears not only intelligent and able to interact with present day people, but also appears to be from the past whilst following present day building layouts and structures. Put simply, this ghost walks the corridors of the museum as it stands today, and not as it was when it was a hospital.
This ghost is a nursing sister and has been seen on numerous occasions by staff and visitors to the museum. Indeed, my guide was once asked by a couple of visitors about a woman in an old style nurses uniform who seemed to be part of a re-enactment. It goes without saying that there was no re-enactment in the museum at that time.
The ghostly nursing sister is somewhat surprisingly seen all over the museum but is generally witnessed along a first floor corridor that holds the Upper Nation or Snapshots Gallery. This gallery overlooks the Citizen’s Arch, a large white structure from 1901 celebrating the Federation of Australia, the opening of Federal Parliament, and a visit from members of the British Royal family. The corridor itself is open and roughly 30 metres in length and seven or eight metres wide with a railing that overlooks the Citizen’s Arch and other displays on one side, and a row of glass cabinets on the other.
One of the experiences I was told involved a guide who at the end of the day had begun their rounds to check that no-one was left in the museum overnight. After other guides had checked the previous galleries he did his check of the Snapshots Gallery corridor. The corridor itself was empty and the host was looking into the glass fronted cabinets when he saw, in the reflection of the glass, a woman in a nurse’s uniform walk behind him. Looking around there was no-one there. According to my guide this was the first sighting of this mysterious nursing sister, although not the only one.
Another unusual occurrence that has been witnessed was by a person standing at one end of the corridor who plainly saw the ghostly nurse enter the corridor from a doorway at the other end, before walking along the corridor and straight through a small group of other visitors, before disappearing. Interestingly it is reported that no-one else saw the spectral nurse, and the people whom she walked through apparently felt, heard, or saw nothing.
It has been suggested that she is not just a nursing sister, but possibly a head nursing sister as she apparently does not like to be criticised or thought of as a common nurse. In fact Tim the Yowie Man used to take visitors on ghost trips through the museum and at one stage said something slightly disparaging about the ghostly woman at which point a loud screeching, grinding noise was heard coming from the next gallery at the end of the corridor. When investigated the gallery was found to be empty, the loud screeching noise apparently coming from an interactive display item that requires a person to move it to make the sound.
Indeed, so convinced are staff about the ghostly nursing sister that they speak of her in hushed tones. In fact my guide actually mouthed the word ‘bitch’ to me when telling me about her.
Another case in point that highlights the unusual types of hauntings found in the museum is the ghost of a young boy in 1940s or 1950s garb who has been repeatedly reported by staff. Once again we are looking at what appears to be an intelligent sort of haunting by a ghost who really should not be interacting with the new museum environment given the newness of the site. It is reported that this ghost actually follows staff members, which is quite a frightening thought and definitely suggests an aware and intelligent spirit.
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, Smiths Alternative Bookshop, the National Portrait Gallery and Bookpassion.