For fans of ghost stories, poltergeists and hauntings everywhere, Lantern Ghost Tours are experts of the supernatural, so take my hand and come with me into the ghostly night.
The ghosts of Melbourne are many and varied – from the drunk wharfie who fell on hard times and is forever stumbling through back alleys, to a little girl, Alma, whose ghost has a tendency to follow women home. The newest incarnation of Melbourne’s Ghost Tours – which begins at Federation Square and takes you on a winding journey through the CBD to end in the heart of Chinatown – is a rich and varied experience, equal parts fascinating history lesson and exhilarating imagination game.
Our tour guide, Ross, is a sensational host who is warm and engaging from the moment he says hello. He brought us first to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, where he painted a picture for us of 19th century Melbourne, complete with its colourful degenerates, and centred his first ghost stories around Young & Jackson’s pub. From stories of murdered prostitutes whose ghosts have been spotted under streetlamps, to the story of Chloe – the model in the famous nude painting who has hung in the wall of Young and Jackson’s since 1909 – Ross’s stories were so evocative I swore I felt modern life fall away around me as I was cast back 150 years.
We travelled down the winding alleyways near Flinders Lane to see some fabulous street art and hear stories of ladies of the night who have squeezed street artists’ bums late at night, and drunk sailors whose ghosts have followed tour groups in the past. Ross took us onwards to Gun Alley, to tell us the heartbreaking story of 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke, who was raped and murdered in 1921. Ross compared the consequent public outcry to the more recent response to Jill Meagher’s murder – a comparison which immediately connected us with the stories of the past, and which made our hearts all catch in our throats. In the case of Alma, public outcry combined with lack forensic evidence and a huge strain on police, pushed the authorities into accusing the wrong man – Colin Campbell Ross – of Alma’s murder. Ross was executed for the murder, protesting his innocence even in his final words, only to be pardoned in 2008 when modern forensic techniques discredited the evidence that condemned him.
We wound our way up to the Princess Theatre, where Ross delighted us with stories of the famous Frederici, the ghost of whom is left a seat at the opening night of every performance at the theatre. Tantalisingly, Ross also told us that there have been sightings of Rob Guest in the theatre, who can sometimes be seen looking down from the Dress Circle during the bows, decked out in his Phantom of the Opera regalia. Ross also told stories of Dame Nellie Melba haunting a suite in the Hotel Windsor. Apparently, the managers of the hotel are now so used to her raging parties, that they barely bat an eyelid.
The tour wound up with a wander through the Chinese Museum in the middle of Chinatown. With the help of the museum exhibits, Ross built a world for us complete with stories of the gold rush, and of the Chinese experience when they came in search of their fortune. They are stories that are particularly poignant in light of the current debate surrounding migrants and refugees, and it illuminates a troubling part of gold rush history, which is so often glossed over.
The tour is meticulously researched and comes complete with pictures and newspaper clippings shown to the group via iPad. It is a thoroughly entertaining and enriching night, which both celebrates modern Melbourne and allows you to revel in its intricate and fascinating history.