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The Sydney Morning Herald

Restless souls look for truth

Author: Andrew Taylor
Date: 09/09/2006
Words: 616
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Supplement
Page: 7
Political ghosts and other ghouls are said to come out to play as tourists visit some of their famous old haunts.

DON'T LET CANBERRA'S impeccably planned streets, leafy green and quiet - bar the occasional chirrup of a bird - fool you. After years of exhaustive research, Tim the Yowie Man has uncovered the truth about our national capital.

"It's got more ghosts per capita than any other city in Australia," he says. "People are amazed a city of the size and age of Canberra has so many ghosts.

A decade ago, Tim saw "a big, black, hairy ape-like figure, a gorilla-like thing" wandering in the Brindabellas, west of Canberra. His subsequent quest to discover whether the yowie was real or a hoax earned him his name.

These days, Tim hosts a 90-minute tour of Canberra's dark underbelly in a 1967 Cadillac hearse called Elvira. Graveyards, gruesome deaths and political intrigues are all grist to Tim's macabre tour mill.

Among the sites visited by the six-metre-long hearse, which Tim suspects harbours a few ghosts of its own, are the Australia War Memorial, home to a poltergeist, and Commonwealth Park, where an art treasure supposedly lies buried beneath the flowerbeds of the Floriade festival.

Not surprisingly, political landmarks figure prominently on Elvira's itinerary, including that hotbed of paranormal activity, Old Parliament House.

Two decades after the politicians moved to new premises up the road, Tim says the sound of political argy-bargy still has some security guards refusing to work there. The ghost of the clerk of the House, who died not long after the building opened in 1927, is another troublesome tenant.

And although the Federal Government denies its existence, Tim swears there was a secret network of tunnels wide enough to drive a golf cart through linking Old Parliament House to the Prime Minister's Lodge.

Elvira also glides by the Hotel Kurrajong, where Ben Chifley, Australia's Prime Minister from 1945 to 1949, died of a heart attack in 1951.

Some say at times he can beseen standing at the window of his room.

"Chifley was a bit strange," Tim says. "He decided not to live in the Lodge like the current prime minister. He slummed it instead in the Kurrajong, which was this really basic hostel in the 1940s." Canberra's large diplomatic community also makes a sordid contribution to Tim's tour, which stops at the site where Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates known as Saudi Bill, was found murdered in 1998. Two men and a woman were found not guilty of the killing two years later.

Tim also tells the story of a suburban funeral parlour that sounds like it came off the pages of a John le Carre novel: "During the Cold War, Australian spies would sit upstairs in this funeral home with their binoculars and phone taps because directly opposite was the Soviet embassy."

Lake Burley Griffin has had a shady reputation since coffins from a Queanbeyan cemetery washed into it after heavy rains in the 1970s. But mysterious creatures may also be lurking beneath the surface of Canberra's manmade lake, Tim says.

"People have been spotting strange beasts long before it became a lake. There were a surprising number of reports from early explorers in the 1800s seeing something strange wallowing in the shallows of the Molonglo River."

Tim says many people have the perception that Canberra is a boring place.

"But if you scratch the surface, you come to realise a lot of weird and wonderful things happen here," he says.

See www.destinytours.com.au/canberra.htm for more details.

 
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