A Haunting in the Hawkesbury

 

It was late 2008, during a Friday luncheon at the oldest hotel in Australia, the Macquarie Arms Hotel in Windsor, NSW; when my daughter Tilly (who was two years old at the time) had an encounter with one of the hotel’s residents – of the paranormal kind. But, before I go any further Dear Reader, I will first go into a brief history of the Macquarie Arms Hotel…

 

In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie had granted land to emancipated convict Richard Fitzgerald. The instruction given to Mr Fitzgerald by Governor Macquarie was for him to build a two-story hotel that would service the town of Windsor and provide accommodation to passing gentry. Mr Fitzgerald set to work, and in 1818 the Macquarie Arms was opened to the public. The hotel was also known as the Royal Hotel (1872-1900) and in its early years was occupied by the 73rd Regiment Red Coat Soldiers – who lived in the upper levels while down in the cellar, the convicts lived. The convicts managed to secure themselves access to rum, smuggling it up from the banks of the Hawkesbury River through the aptly named “Rum Smugglers Tunnels” to keep themselves merry and warm whilst living in the cellar.

Later, the Macquarie Arms would become a private residence before reverting back into a hotel.

With such longevity, it goes without saying that the hotel has a life within it. Tales of ghosts are inevitable in a place so old and so worn as the Macquarie Arms. From reports of seeing soldiers on the upper levels, to run-ins down in the cellar with convict brothers Richard and Fitzpatrick, who met an explosive demise in the cellar thanks to an incorrect mix of chemicals in their endeavour to make rum. Then there are the stories of little Mary who lived in the main bedroom on the second floor and at seven years of age, had perished in a fire that had trapped her on the upper floor of the hotel.

Back to late 2008 and the luncheon. I had been to the Macquarie Arms a few times prior to getting married and having children, but this was the first time going there with our daughter. At the time I was also pregnant with our son Mish, and as a stay at home mum with a rambunctious toddler and another bub on the way, I was looking forward to eating a meal that I had not prepared, and spending time in the company of other adults. I love the Macquarie Arms Hotel, as I walked through the gate I looked down at the well-worn steps (it was the last time I was able to see my feet and the ground beneath me before the big belly swell) and found myself wondering about all the people that had stepped through over the 190 years the hotel had been standing. Tilly, holding my hand, leapt up over the big step with ease and she began to try and wrestle herself free of my grip, wanting to march right through the front entrance on her own.

Stepping through the entrance, Tilly and I stood and waited for my husband to arrive. Whilst waiting, I looked at the lunch time menu deciding I would have one of everything (what? I was eating for two!) and when I looked down at Tilly to ask her what she would like from the children’s menu, I found her engaged in chatter with someone off to our right in the dining room. She was smiling, waving and saying “Hi! My name is Tilly!” She would wave again and let out a giggle. She then put her little hand over her eyes and went “peek-a-boo!” Hmmmm…okay. I sidled back so I could see into the dining room to see who she was talking to. I couldn’t see anyone there. I walked over, holding Tilly’s hand and stood in the doorway of the dining room. It was empty save for tables and chairs. Tilly was still chatting away to someone…something…

“Imaginary friend” I thought as my husband arrived and we proceeded upstairs and onto the balcony that faced over towards the Hawkesbury River.

Tilly and I were seated on the end of the table closest to the doorway into the hotel. We were facing the direction toward the far end of the balcony and the river. Tilly, in her high chair looked about and then her gaze settled on the far corner of the balcony. She smiled and immediately began waving and saying “Hello! Hello again man!” I followed her gaze and the corner was empty. I wanted in on this, so I asked her who she was talking to. “That man” she said, pointing over to the corner. “What man?” I asked, the hairs on my arms began to stand up. “The man there in the red coat. See?” No, I didn’t, I didn’t see, couldn’t see, but it did not mean that something was not there. Her face told me that there was something, someone standing right there, and they too were interacting with her.

Then as lunch was served, Tilly, who had been happily chatting away to the “man in the red coat” suddenly waved in the direction of the corner and said “bye-bye!” and that was it. She turned her attention to her food and made a stellar mess of the kid’s serving of spaghetti bolognaise, turning herself orange and smelling of tomato sauce. Over lunch, I quietly informed my husband, who has a very weak disposition when it comes to all things spooky of what had just transpired, and he instead chose to cling to the hope it was just an imaginary friend and she was just being a typical toddler. I decided to think of it as that way too, until it came to her afternoon nap when we got home from the lunch. As I sat on the side of her bed patting her to sleep, she sleepily said; “He was a soldier…” and with that she rolled over and was sound asleep.

BOOM! (or should that be BOOOOO!) Paranormal activity right there!

Fast forward to last Friday evening where after spending all day cooped up in my home office working, decided to drag the kids out and head into Windsor to stock up on candy from the lolly shop and maybe grab some dinner whilst in town. Satisfied with our candy stockpile, we wandered down in the direction of the restaurants that sit adjacent from the Hawkesbury River. We were intending on having stir-fry, but as we approached, I found myself looking across the road at the Macquarie Arms Hotel. I had not been there since that lunch in 2008 and I knew that we had to go there for dinner instead. The kids were immediately sold on the proposal – they know all too well of Tilly’s encounter and the history of the hotel, and they were now hoping to see if the soldier or one of the other ghostly occupants would make themselves known over a chicken schnitzel, fish and chips and a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, washed down with a few glasses of lemon squash (lemonade for my dear overseas readers) while seated in the exact same place we were sitting in back in 2008.

 

Unfortunately for whatever reason, the ghosties did not feel in the mood to join us for dinner – however this did not stop those of us alive from engaging in a discussion on all things paranormal in the Hawkesbury region. I was telling the kids about other stories I have read regarding the paranormal activities in this area – and there are plenty of stories and first (second, third… ) hand accounts available on line should you wish to investigate it further (I have provided some links on the Hawkesbury region and paranormal accounts for your further reading pleasure).

Although we were stood up by the spirits, I did take the opportunity to take some photos of the upper level of this beautiful building. I will be honest – I was hoping to capture a flash of a human shape or an orb, but no luck (I did get the tip of my shoe in the photo of the staircase, but that does not count). I will however, in the near future be looking at going on a local history/ghost tour of Windsor so you just may never know what I will see then… I will keep you all posted!

Jasmine x

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Sunset over the Hawkesbury River

*All photos are mine, and were taken using my trusty old iPhone 6S Plus – JJ

Links for further reading:

http://www.macquariearms.com.au/history/

http://www.discoverthehawkesbury.com.au/heritage/heritage-trails

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85930517

https://www.hawkesburygazette.com.au/story/3905753/the-ghost-of-the-regent/

http://unexplainedaustralia.com/21-ghosts-hauntings/68-wisemans-ferry-ghosts

 

 

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Escape from Pompeii – The Untold Roman Rescue

Last Friday we decided to take the river ferry in from Parramatta into Darling Harbour and spend the day strolling around the harbour with grandma. As we made our way round to the Harbourside Shopping Centre for a pancake brunch, we passed the Australian National Maritime Museum where out the front was a big sign promoting their latest exhibition: Escape from Pompeii – The Untold Roman Rescue. We quickly decided that after we had eaten, we would go and check it out.

With tummies full of crepes, pancakes, ice cream and maple syrup, we waddled over to the museum and purchased our tickets (FYI they offer a discount to ADF personnel). We were told that at 2pm they would be screening a short film about Pompeii. With time to spare we went out to the dock and let grandma explore the Australian naval vessels; the Destroyer HMAS Vampire and the submarine HMAS Onslow. Due to my dislike of confined spaces I opted to sit out the tour of the submarine and instead checked out the exhibits in the building that is situated between the two vessels. I was intrigued by the map locating where the remains of Australian navy ships lie. The images of the wreckages underwater were sad, eerie and intriguing. Some were sunk following being decommissioned, others were lost during war, taking their crews with them to the bottom of the ocean.

Soon enough hubby, Grandma and the kids emerged. My kids bolted across and onto the HMAS Vampire. My mother-in-law informed me that she had suffered a “ding to the shin” whilst trying to step through a doorway, and that Mike had successfully bashed his head on everything inside the submarine. I noticed his bald head was looking a bit worse for wear with a few newly acquired dents. We all wandered around the deck of the Vampire; Sydney had put on a glorious day for my mother-in-law (who had come all the way over from Canada to see us). The sun was out, the sky was blue and the breeze was divine. Ship tour done, we still had a bit of time to kill so we wandered over to the replica of the HMS Endeavour. The kids climbed all over the ropes, watched the school of fish swimming around the bow, and soon enough it was time for us to go in and watch the short film on Pompeii.

I forgot to mention that the film is in 3D, so we got to wear these groovy 3D glasses.

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Running for approximately 8 minutes, the film details the progression and result of the eruption of Vesuvius. There are no people, you are watching from above the rooftops. The first tremor hits – roof tiles tremble, dogs bark, birds frantically fly away and you can hear a baby cry out. Eventually the tremors get stronger, the city starts to crumble, ash falls down to earth. With each passing hour, you begin to feel the dread. The fear. These people never stood a chance. You watch as Pompeii is wiped out and eventually everything is still and silent. I have never been to Pompeii, it is a place I would so love to see. In the meantime, I have read books, watched documentaries about it (even the Doctor Who episode – The Fires of Pompeii, which featured the now 12th Doctor as Caecilius); but this little film made it real for me. I thought about all the victims, lost for 2000 years. Even now, five days on I am still thinking about it. I can still hear the rumbling, the dogs, the crying baby.

It was very well done.

After we watched the short film on Pompeii and the following 3D film on Great White Sharks (brilliant by the way – highly recommend watching it) we went on to see the exhibit. In this exhibit, I learnt that the Roman navy had attempted to evacuate people from the area. This evacuation was led by Pliny the Elder, who died during the evacuation.

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, which destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Oplontis, while going to the aid of survivors and spurred on, no doubt, by his scientific curiosity, Pliny lingered to observe the volcano at close quarters. Landing at Stabiae from a small boat he was overcome by the sulphurous fumes and died on 24th August 79. Pliny the Elder – Natural History: A Selection, Introduction, p xi.

He was 55 years old.

Pliny the Elder - Natural History: A Selection

The exhibit contains rare artefacts from the areas affected by Vesuvius eruption in 79AD. It details Roman naval history, and how this terrible event highlighted the importance of its navy to the Roman Empire. You gain an insight into the lives of the sailors, the culture in the Bay of Naples and how beautiful and resplendent it had been in that day and age. You see how Pompeii served as a successful maritime port, boosting the trade business which flourished owing to the navy, and how quickly and horrifically it was erased.

The exhibition runs daily (0930am – 5pm) from the 31st March through to 03rd September 2017.

If you are in Sydney during this time, I highly recommend you check out this exhibit. You can find further information on the Australian National Maritime Museum website: www.anmm.gov.au

Note: all photos were taken by myself, using my trusty iPhone 6S Plus.

Wollongong, NSW

With my mother-in-law here visiting us all the way over from Canada, and the spectacular mild winter weather we have had of late, we decided to head on down to Wollongong to visit a dear family friend.

The drive was smooth and we arrived in time for lunch. My kids were in awe of the large yard and spent the whole time outside exploring the bush that surrounded the property, playing by the pond (my son “accidentally” stepped in the pond, his shoes and socks soaked right through and covered in mud). They ran around with the two dogs, spent time talking to the chickens and picking lemons off the lemon tree. They loved it so much, to have all that space compared to our home which is a tiny shoebox with a tuft of grass for a back yard, that they were devastated to be heading back home. Our friend mentioned a driving tour or Wollongong, including a stop at the beach and this was all they needed to hear to get them in the car quick smart!

Oh, my goodness, how beautiful is this place!!! We made our way to the beach and Wollongong had turned on the charm big time. The winter weather was a mild 14 degrees Celsius, sky was azure blue and the waves were bashing and crashing onto the sand. Surfers were in their element, riding the waves in, and my children were down the stairs and on the sand before we could stop them. They ran straight into the water – shoes on and they were loving every minute of it. We managed to get them to take off their now soggy shoes and told them they could go no more than ankle deep in the water as we did not have towels or change of clothes for them.
This is their understanding of ankle-deep… soaked right up to the waist…

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After they had worn themselves out at the beach, we had to strip them off to their t-shirts and undies and they huddled under my big knitted coat as we proceeded with our driving tour of ‘The Gong’. Dusk was coming in and as we wound our way around the Grand Pacific Drive, with the ocean to our right; the light created a magnificent hue over the coastline.

Wollongong Coastline at Dusk

We stopped at Bald Hill lookout where we said our goodbyes to our dear friend and we made our way back home to Sydney, but not before I managed to take this final photo…

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We love you Wollongong! We will be back soon (with towels and bathing suits) I promise!!!