Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Inspiration, Spooky Stories, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Story Behind the Story

The Ghost of Ascot House.

Rumours of a ghost at Ascot House in Queensland, Australia, have been circulating as far back as the 1890s. It wasn’t until some one-hundred years later, that the ghost could finally be put to rest.

Ascot House was built for wealthy businessman and politician, Frederick Holberton, in 1876, and was originally named ‘Tor’. Situated in Newtown, a suburb of Toowoomba, it once stood on 13ha (32 acres) of land. It eventually changed hands, and the new owner renamed it Ascot House, and undertook numerous renovations. Ascot House contained a gothic tower, sweeping staircase and large high-ceilinged rooms.

Many years later, the house would fall into a state of disrepair. During the 1940s, flats had been added, which housed people looking for cheap accommodation. It was not until the 1980s that the house was sold to a successful renovator, who proceeded to bring the house back to its former glory.

Artist impression of Ascot House. Artist unknown.

No sooner had the new owner moved into Ascot House, that she would hear footsteps walking down the hallway at night but seeing no-one. Once, during the early hours of the morning she felt fingertips brush her shoulders. One warm evening, she leaned against a wall where the surface was icy cold. The cold patch lasted for months and defied explanation.

There have been numerous eye-witness accounts, including one man who saw the apparition of a young woman that looked as if her neck was broken. It had been rumoured that a young servant girl had hung herself within the house.

After many years of searching, the owner identified the young woman as Maggie Hume, who had worked at Ascot House as a housemaid under the employ of the original owner, Frederick Holberton. At 23 years of age, she committed suicide, not by hanging, but by taking strychnine. According to the police reports, it was believed she suicided after learning she was pregnant. At the inquest, a couple of male staff members confessed to having ‘connections’ with her.

As a single woman committing suicide, Maggie was buried in an unmarked grave. Now, a headstone has been placed at the site, giving her the sympathy she never received in life.

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Movies/Television

Revisiting ‘Sleepy Hollow’

Halloween is rapidly approaching, so I’ve decided to get in a bit early on watching movies for the season. Recently, I re-watched Sleepy Hollow (1999), and with scary pumpkin heads (amongst other things), makes this a good Halloween movie.

Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, a young police constable sent to the village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate some gruesome murders.

Classified as a Gothic supernatural horror film, there is a suitable amount of gore without overwhelming the audience. Beheadings, digging up graves, and dissecting corpses is balanced with the arrival of impending doom of the headless horseman.

Despite the horror, the film has some lighter moments, mainly through Johnny Depp’s character, who at first comes across as awkward, weak and a bit eccentric. It is his unconventional approach to the investigation that helps him to solve the case, as well as become a stronger person.

There is a good cast alongside Johnny Depp, including Michael Gambon and Richard Griffiths (both of Harry Potter fame), Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter, Blackadder), and of-course the legendary Christopher Lee (always a winner in my book 😉 ).

Boo! I love the gloomy atmosphere of this film.

My favourite moments throughout the film would have to be the headless horseman and the outdoor scenes.

The combination of set design and visual effects helps make this film one of the best in terms of gloomy atmosphere. The village is a perpetual dark and eerie place, and the nearby forest is surrounded in a thick fog. The appropriately named ‘Tree of the Dead’ is old and gnarled, with a bloodied past.

The headless horseman, played by Christopher Walken, has a facial appearance every bit as horrific as the rest of him, with wild hair and eyes, and sharp, pointed teeth.

With such a menacing presence, the film comes to a satisfying, but frightening conclusion.

What films do you have planned to watch this Halloween?

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Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Spooky Stories

The Ghost of The Blue Mountains.

Australia’s colonial history has a bloodied past, with some of these stories handed down into folklore. The story of a ghost at Mount Victoria Pass is no exception and had been popularised in Australian literature during the 1890s.

The ghost is believed to be that of a young woman by the name of Caroline Collits. She married her husband, William, in 1840. He came from a respectable family but was generally regarded as a person of ‘weak mind’ and a bit of a spendthrift.

Their marriage was not a happy one, and eventually, Caroline left him and moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, John Walsh. Caroline’s new housing arrangements caused rumours that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law and was regarded as a woman of ‘loose character.’

There was talk of a reconciliation with her husband, and together with her brother-in-law, met William in a local tavern. After leaving the tavern, John Walsh attacked William Collits. Caroline intervened, allowing her husband to escape and called after him to run for his life. This was the last time she was seen alive.

The ghost at Mount Victoria is Australia’s own ‘woman in black’.

Caroline’s battered body was found the following morning near the road on Victoria Pass. Her skull had been smashed in with a large stone, which had been found nearby, covered in her blood and hair. Despite his pleas of innocence, John Walsh was arrested for her murder. He was later convicted and hanged.

In the years that followed, rumours of ghostly encounters surfaced as travellers used the road on cold, windy nights. One such encounter involved a couple of young men whose horse became so spooked, it refused to go any further. As they moved closer to the bridge, the figure of a woman appeared, dressed in black. She did not move or utter a word. One of the young men described her eyes as if ‘there were sparks of fire in ‘em.’ She then went on to raise both her arms and open her mouth, making a noise which ‘sounded like no ‘uman or animal I ever ‘eard.’ The horse bolted, taking his male companions down the road with him.

This story would influence the poet, Henry Lawson, some years later when he came to live in nearby Mount Victoria. One of the verses described the incident as follows: –

Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.

‘The Ghost at the Second Bridge.’ Henry Lawson (1867-1922).

These days, the road is part of a busy highway, where the old bridges are barely visible. It would then come as no surprise that sighting of Caroline’s ghost in the area have not occurred for quite some time.

She may yet wander the road alone, her mournful cries unheard, but her story continues to live on.

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Australia's Historical Places, Australian Folklore, Ghosts & The Paranormal, Inspiration, Spooky Stories, The Curse of Marsden Hall, The Story Behind the Story

The Ghosts of Bungarribee.

I love a good ghost story and I consume as many books on the subject as I can get my hands on. A couple of years ago, while perusing one of our local second-hand book shops, I found another book to add to my collection. It contained a few Australian ghost stories I had never heard of before. One of them, about a haunted house that was once located in Sydney’s western suburbs, would become the inspiration behind my novella The Curse of Marsden Hall.

In 1821, Major John Campbell arrived in Australia with his family, soon buying land around Eastern Creek. At the time, it was believed the site was where a battle between two warring Aboriginal tribes took place, some believing it was a sacred site. These have since been disproven and ‘Bungarribee’ means ‘creek with cockatoos’ or ‘creek with campsite’.

In 1822, the house was convict-built, with some convicts dying during the construction. It is believed that one was murdered there. As the house was nearing completion in 1826, John Campbell’s wife died. The last section of the house, a round drawing-room and tower, began the following year. It was during construction that John Campbell, himself, died less than twelve months later. After his death, the house would change hands many times. Rumours began to spread that the house was cursed, or even haunted; the first reference dating back to 1838.

Legend has it that the next death after the Campbell’s was that of an army officer. It is believed he lost a duel and shot himself in one of the tower rooms, his body in a pool of blood. Another army officer was later found at Bungarribee, his body discovered on the grounds. Apparently seeking refuge and escaping creditors, it is believed the words ‘died of hunger’, were written beside his body.

Bugarribee Homestead during better days.

A number of strange events seem to focus on the circular drawing room and its tower. In the room where the officer shot himself, bloodstains appeared on the floor. Despite the best efforts of housemaids, they would reappear the next day. Muffled sounds, scratching, and scraping would be heard in the tower, as well as the clanking of chains at night. While sleeping in one of the tower rooms, people would wake up feeling cold hands around their necks or be touched.

There have been reported sightings of a young woman, dressed in white, crying outside the circular drawing-room. Sometimes she would be seen clawing at the glass as if trying to gain entry into the room. There are also reported sightings of convict ghosts, lights in the tower rooms (when not occupied at the time), and animals, such as horses, refusing to go near the house.

By 1910, Bungarribee began to deteriorate with age and neglect, and the land was subdivided. By the early 1950s, despite some attempts at restoration, the house was a complete ruin. The Government bought what remained in 1956, and the house was demolished a year later.

Today, the site where the homestead once stood is a public reserve called Heritage Park. The ghost stories of Bungarribee continue to be handed down into folklore.

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This Writer's Life, Up Close & Personal

Author Interview – Halloween Edition.

Image courtesy QuinceCreative

Hi everyone! I’ve had another author interview, this time with a Halloween theme.

This week I speak to fellow RWA member, and author/blogger Davina Stone. It’s a short, fun interview, with myself and two other authors of paranormal romance. I talk about my inspiration, my upcoming release, and a Halloween party guest of honour. Many thanks to Davina for letting me be a guest on her blog!

You can read the full interview at Davina’s website Spellbound! Fall in love with Spooky Romance this Halloween. Oh, and I also dress up for the occasion! 😉

And for those who celebrate it, Happy Halloween!

This cracks me up every time!
First Christmas, Ghosts & The Paranormal, My Books, The Story Behind the Story

‘First Christmas’ is Coming.

Yay, my next book is coming!

Normally, I don’t write anything with a particular theme in mind, but this one has a bit of history behind it. And let’s face it, 2020 has been a pretty crappy year.

Before Christmas, 2019, as part of the Romance Writers of Australia, the aspiring group held a competition. We were given prompts in which to write a 1,500-word short story, which was to be judged and awarded prizes. My short story did not get a prize and I didn’t have a problem with it, as I was stepping out of my comfort zone. I was, however, encouraged by the judge’s feedback: –

‘Such a beautiful, evocative story. An emotion-filled tale that would appeal to many readers who like historical novels too.’

After this, I decided with some hesitation, to enter my first RWA ‘Sweet Treats’ competition. There are three judges to this competition and ‘the third judge’ is well known for being not only the deciding factor, but brutal. I called them ‘the hanging judge’ and the feedback I received was indeed harsh. As a result, I can honestly say that: –

  1. It took me a few months before I could look at my story again, as well as read the feedback with a critical eye, and
  2. I won’t be entering any RWA competitions in a hurry. 😉

I, therefore, chose to focus on the positive feedback from the other two judges, which basically said that it showed promise.

‘Plot and characterisation great! The reader wants the MC to be happy after so much sorrow, and that matters. Tightening up the story will let these lovely characters shine.’

Like my first story, I believed in this one too. I didn’t wish to be put off by one judge’s opinion. I wanted readers to decide.

If I worked on it and did a bit of tweaking, I could put them both into a book and publish it in time for Christmas. The end result is First Christmas.

These stories are a bit different to what I usually write, but 2020 hasn’t been the best of years, and I wanted to write something with a bit of hope. Both short stories have a paranormal bent but are romantic in nature.

I’m working on having First Christmas released in November, so watch this space. 😊

Have you received negative feedback in a writing competition? Do you write with particular themes in mind? Given the current COVID-19 situation, have you written something different than usual this year?

Image courtesy Unsplash

This Writer's Life, Up Close & Personal

My First Author Interview.


I don’t normally post twice in one week, but this is a special occasion. I have had my first author interview!

Today, I speak with fellow blogger, Jonny Pongratz over at Jaunts & Haunts, about my writing process, film and television, and my short story, The Ghost at Willow Creek. I really enjoyed the interview and found it to be a lot of fun. Many thanks to Jonny for taking the time to do this, I really appreciate it.

You can read the full interview here at Meet the Author: Debbie Johansson

Does this make me a ‘real’ author now? 😉

Main image courtesy Pixabay

Australia's Historical Places, Ghosts & The Paranormal

Ghost Tour of a Haunted House.

Recently, I re-visited Monte Cristo, Australia’s Most Haunted House and went on a ghost tour. I had visited some years before, but this was the first time I had visited during the evening.

Over dinner, we listened to some history about the house and stories of ghostly encounters by the current owners. Afterwards, we then watched a short film. By this time, it was now completely dark, and we commenced our tour of the house.

We were in a group of around twenty, so there were times when it became a bit cramped and within the first two rooms we visited, it had been uneventful. As we began to progress further throughout the house, some of us began to feel a sudden shift.

Whilst standing in the breakfast room, as our host was speaking there came a loud noise from the room above us, as if someone had dropped something heavy. I looked over at my husband and pointed to the ceiling and he nodded to indicate that he had also heard it. I’m uncertain if anyone else did, as our host was talking at the time and before we left the room, we asked him if he had heard it, which he did not. Remember, we were the only people in the house during this time and we were all standing within the same room.

We were told that some people experience feeling heavy in the legs upon the stairs, and it certainly did feel that way to me. I was having a struggle walking up them and with each step I could feel they were getting heavier, even when we entered what is known as ‘the boy’s room’. This was the room that the original owner, Mr. Crawley, was said to have died in. This room is also the room in which our guide, the current owner’s son, slept in between the ages of five and thirteen. These days he doesn’t like to enter that room and refuses to sleep in the house.

A couple of women later stated that within this room, they felt someone pulling at them, one stating that she felt the bag over her shoulder was being pulled. There was definitely a heavy atmosphere within that room.

The following day, before opening to the public, we were allowed to go through the house and grounds again. Some people had stayed the night and had not experienced anything, but my husband and I slept elsewhere, and we returned early the following morning.

At one point, my husband and I were alone in the house, as the other guests had gone to breakfast. It was at this time, upon entering ‘the boy’s room’, where Mr. Crawley had died, I began to feel something. The heaviness that I had felt the night before came over me again and I sat upon the edge of the bed. The feeling began to climb up my body and around my stomach, almost to the point of feeling nauseous. I felt as if I were being drained. When I stood up, I felt my legs begin to collapse from underneath me and I had to quickly hold on to the bed post for support. During this time, my husband, the skeptic, remained standing nearby with no effect.

About half an hour later, I went in to see the owner’s son and told him what had happened. I informed him the feeling felt as if someone was trying to pull me down into the bed. This he found interesting because he then stated that when some people lie on the bed, they get the feeling that someone is above them, trying to push them down.

Apart from feeling some coolness, the loud noise in the room above us and smelling cigar smoke in Mrs. Crawley’s chapel room (she used to smoke cigars), this was the strangest thing that had occurred to me during my visit this time to Monte Cristo.

While that feeling came over me when in ‘the boy’s room’, my husband told me that I might be a ‘sensitive’ or ‘empath’. This was something I had considered after our visit to Quarantine Station in Manly. Perhaps now might be a good time to look further into it before venturing on my next ghost tour. 😉

Have you ever visited or lived in a haunted house? Have you experienced something you can not explain? Have you been on a ghost tour? I’d love to hear your stories!

Main image courtesy Pixabay

The Ghost at Willow Creek, The Story Behind the Story

Turning a Poem into a Short Story.

Some years ago, despite not being a big fan of poetry, I tried my hand at writing a few; even going so far as to get a couple of them published in a small publication. I even wrote a bush poem. This bush poem would ultimately go on to become my first published short story, The Ghost at Willow Creek.

Some years ago, while visiting relations on their property, I encountered an old grave of a six-year-old boy. Apparently, he had drowned in a nearby creek during a flood. This child was no relation of ours, but my cousins had planned on doing up the grave and taking care of it. Straight away all sorts of questions came into my head. The writer within me thought of the many hardships encountered by our pioneering women and no sooner had I returned home, but I was jotting down ideas.

The loss of a child had attracted me, for having two children of my own (neither one of them easy births), I became empathetic to the parents of this unknown child, especially the mother. The history and the landscape drew me in, and as it would always seem, my fascination with death and the afterlife. I have always had an interest in graves and cemeteries, often finding inspiration amongst them.

Wednesday Addams at Red Riding Hood’s grave.

As luck would have it, a writing competition soon came up and I thought of writing a bush poem inspired by this piece of history. Before entering, I had even sought the advice of a local poet. After reading my piece, she had suggested that the poem could become a short story. In the back of my mind, I had to agree with this idea because I felt there was more to this story than what could be relayed in a bush poem. In that respect, I was grateful that my poem ultimately, was unsuccessful.

As I wrote The Ghost at Willow Creek, it was not only the death of a young child that got to me, but the effects such a tragic loss would have upon the parents and their marriage. Being a wife and mother, I was following the old writing advice of ‘write what you know’.

The Ghost at Willow Creek is ultimately a story of love, loss and things that go bump in the night. A story my husband labelled my best yet, so I’m pretty happy with that! 😉

Have you ever turned a poem into a story? Do you experiment with different writing styles? Where do you get some of your writing inspiration from?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Ghosts & The Paranormal, Research

Contacting the Dead: The Ouija Board.

Ouija Board. Two words that can send some people to recoil in horror. Realistically, they appear harmless enough, after all it is just a piece of wood containing letters and numbers, but they have been used in numerous horror movies over the years that they can sometimes be seen as instruments of the devil.

Is there any truth in the Ouija Board being an instrument of contacting the dead? In an article on The Weird and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board, the answer to that question remains elusive.

Designed as a parlour game in the late 1890s, the ouija board is now owned by Hasbro, who still market it as such and have even recently put out a Stranger Things edition.

During childhood, my sisters and I once made our own with paper and a glass for a bit of fun, but I don’t think I’d be doing that these days. After watching so many horror movies and television shows regarding the paranormal, I now err on the side of caution. Perhaps it’s warranted, perhaps not. Over the years, the ouija board has managed to have a stigma attached to them.

Sometimes I think about trying one out for the sake of research, other times I think of the bad juju surrounding it and chicken out. Either way, it is certainly an object that has aroused curiosity. 😉

Do you think Ouija Boards can help communicate with the dead or is it just a load of rubbish? Have you ever used a Ouija Board?

Main image courtesy Wikimedia Commons