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.
Westbourne Woods and the Brickworks
The Westbourne Woods near Yarralumla in Canberra have some sort of reputation of being haunted. I have heard that it is haunted by the spirit of ‘an Aboriginal boy, or something’. Whatever the case, it is dark and slightly unnerving as I step into the darkness of the huge old pines and a kind of primeval fear makes me hesitant and edgy.
Woods and forests have always been places of awe and fear. Indeed Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm often used woods or forests in which to place their heroes or villains. After all, who can forget that Little Red Riding Hood went into the woods alone where there lived a great big wolf, who, although not a ghost, conjures up images of werewolves.
And so we grew up with forests full of ghosts and goblins and elves and witches. And when alone in a forest at night under the soft glow of a full moon one can understand how these stories came about. Shadows loom out of the dim light, creatures scurry around in the undergrowth and birds scuffle in the branches above, mostly unseen but for a flash of movement in the corner of your eye. Whereas towns and cities are the domain of man, forests are the domain of otherworldly things.
And at night the woods become oppressive and evil. Darkness surrounds you and blinds your senses to the point where your hearing becomes hypersensitive and everything seems louder, closer or more threatening than during the day. It is easy to see why our forebears saw woods and forests as places of evil haunted by various creatures of the night and always dangerous to those without knowledge of it. Indeed, Hampstead Heath in London is one such wood and as such shall be discussed later in the book.
But Westbourne Woods is not an ancient forest littered with fairy tales of elves and goblins. It is a recently planted wood is Canberra, a new, bold, modern city with little history before 1901. How then can such a place be considered haunted? What apparitions, spirits or ghosts have been seen to give it such a reputation?
Could there really be the ghost of an Aboriginal boy in here? Or could there be the ghosts of early workers from Canberra’s past? Maybe the nearby brickworks hold the key so I turn on my torch and make my way through the tall silent pines towards the abandoned industrial site.
The Yarralumla brickworks is one of the earliest construction projects in Canberra and was built to produce bricks for many of Canberra’s early buildings. Indeed, one can still buy used ‘Canberra Reds’ from the local for sale classifieds. Opening in 1913 it remained in operation until 1976 and is now closed to the public due to safety concerns. At night it sits silently and ominously in between the pine trees, a sad and neglected reminder of our recent past now decaying away due to a lack of political will or enthusiasm for built heritage.
With its high natural draft chimney, low brick out buildings and lonely out of the way location amongst the old pines it is easy to see why it could be haunted and yet it is highly doubtful that it is. After all, why would a brick works be haunted? But then again, why would any building be haunted?
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.