AUSTRALIA: Things that go bump in the night

If ever asked whether or not I believe in ghosts, I would utter a resounding no. So I’m feeling decidedly cocky as we cross the cobbled courtyard by lamplight to the wharf of Q Station for the start of our ghost tour.

From the 1830s to 1984, in this very spot on the north shore of Sydney Harbour, migrant travellers disembarked ships that had been tainted by disease. Here they would stay, until considered “safe” for release into Australia.

But the spirits of those that died here are now said to linger in what many describe as one of the most haunted spots in Australia.

We start our tour in a brick room where people would be made to inhale sulphate of zinc several times a day to cleanse their lungs during the time of Spanish influenza.

“Be aware of any strange smells, or drafts,” our guide murmurs as she hoists the doors to the fumigation facility closed, delivering us into pitch black.

I press myself hard against the wall and swallow mouthfuls of air through parted lips, determined not to pick up any whiffs. I feel a breeze tickle my cheek, and gulp hard.

When the doors swing open, I’m almost giddy with relief.

“From time to time, you may feel a cold tingle in your fingers – that’ll be some of the little ones grabbing at your hands,” we are told as we move on. The guide talks of the children fondly, naming her favourites and bringing them to life with her stories. But my hands still quickly slide inside my pockets.

In the shower block, we are left to roam freely through the tiled cubicles in the darkness. There’s a nasty ghost that likes to hang out in here apparently and at one point, I’m convinced I can see him. A dark haze hovers behind our guide ominously.

“Did any of you spot him?” she asks and I find myself nodding.

Poised ominously on the hilltop, the hospital block has been rebuilt on the site of the original following a fire which razed it to the ground.

As we climb the winding hill, the evening chill closes in a little closer. I wrap my arms firmly around myself, blaming the breeze.

“You may taste a medicinal taste,” the guide warns. “Of things that the ghosts may have tasted while they were here”.  Sure enough, I’ve had a bitter taste on my tongue all evening. But surely that‘s from the glass of sauvignon blanc that I glugged during dinner?

We leave the lanterns outside the hospital block, and troupe into the surprisingly small and homely space. The institutional beds are all made up.

“Jump on one of the beds,” she says. I perch awkwardly on one of the corners, while others make themselves, curling up amid the dingy white cotton.

But it’s when we arrive in the morgue that I really lose my cool. A ghost with an eye for the ladies lurks somewhere therein, we are told, so watch out for a licking feeling at your ankles. I wait for the group outside, willing them to hurry up.

“The accommodation isn’t haunted,” promises the guide when the tour draws to a close. We’re staying in the first class quarters, built especially for the passengers of a “higher class” than the hoi polloi.

Fear and a day of activity are finally starting to take their toll and exhaustion is creeping in.

In the morning, the sun will cast its light across Q Station’s pretty stretch of beach and abundant wildlife, evaporating the spooky stories and the darkness.

But until then, no matter how tired I am, I am certain I won’t be getting any sleep.

Perhaps I do believe in ghosts after all?

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