Q is for spooky

It was while sitting on one of the hospital beds in the far corner of the ward that she looked up and saw the thin grey apparition drift past, wearing a billowy long skirt and then disappear. “Something just brushed my leg,” she said quietly to me, “it was like a chilled breeze.” A pale light from the glow of the Harbour cast soft shadows through the old french windows and the shape of the wartime hospital beds became clearer as our eyes adjusted to the dim evening light. Our guide at the Q Station Ghost Encounters tour became a little disoriented and said he clearly felt the activity in the room as well as a stifling cold feeling on his arm. But as he was full of animated stories and close encounters, I think the presence of the young Matron who died in the very hospital she had cared for so many in, gave our tour and her the collective appreciation everyone was hoping for.

Manly’s Q Station is the revamped Quarantine Station of Sydney, rich in a dramatic history in the first settler’s story with chapter after chapter theming disease, suffering, sickness and death. Even the opening scene is horrifying and it’s no wonder that over 200 years later, the site is alive with ghostly tales of tormented souls and unreleased energies. If it were a book, you’d turn to the first page and read with despair that when the First Fleet landed in Sydney’s Harbour, they unknowingly brought with them smallpox and passed the disease onto hundreds, if not thousands of the local tribespeople, almost wiping out a civilisation. The site of the Q Station is built on this sad legacy and ironically operated as a quarantine station from 1832 to 1984. The idea behind it was that settlers arriving in the colony who might have an infectious disease, would be kept in quarantine until it was considered safe to release them. In truth though, our rudimentary and misinformed medical practices most often did more harm than good. There are tales of dozens of small coffins being buried in the hillside from doctor’s transferring smallpox infected blood to healthy children to prevent them catching the disease, a case of attempting to prescribe an antidote gone horribly wrong, yet that was the thinking of the time.

It was no surprise that the other gal felt the presence in the hospital ward and saw the ghostly figure; after all, her childhood home was openly shared with a spirit that everyone in some shape or form had experienced. Her families’ large three story house in Jangpura, Delhi was full of tales of shifting furniture, flickering lights and a heavy presence that followed everyone in the home. When friends and family were visiting, they too could feel something that made them uneasy, though the sight of a chair or bed literally crossing the room was reserved only for her family. Even when we’re in Delhi with them now, there is no shortage of colourful chronicles of ghostly experiences and wonderful tales being told. It was such a known and accepted presence that the stories of Jangpura keep the spirit of the house alive. I guess that’s just what the night-time tours at Q Station are all about.

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It takes about 3 hours to meander through the original rooms, wards and cottages of the complex, set into the Northern Head of the Harbour and now also home to a hotel and restaurant. In the cover of night though, it’s easy to fall back in time and just for a moment feel what life was like for the sick and suffering patients, the doctors, nurses and Quarantine caretakers who found themselves in a new world that was a turbulent, oppressive and mostly unknown. As we stood in a small, white weatherboard cottage close to midnight trying to imagine the lives of the families who lived there, we heard about the spirits who roam there still; the young girl trapped in the bathroom, the gruff tall protective man with her and the tales of tourists touched by their energies. Maybe our ghostly encounters are in response to our susceptibility and openness, they feel our sensibilities and we feel theirs. Whether or not you actually see a ghost, a few hours at Q Station understanding its history, spirits and otherworldly encounters will absolutely give you the chills and leave you wondering what else is on the other side.

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