The man looked a little ridiculous, holding a metal divining rod in either hand and mumbling questions to the wind. He barely spoke above a whisper, but it didn’t matter. Alma – if she was really there – could hear.
Our group was huddled around the spot where 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke’s body was discovered in 1921, just a day after she’d disappeared while fetching meat for her grandmother. Back then, this spot was just metres from the bustling marketplace where she’d bought the meat and was never seen alive again.
Today, the alleyway looked like a dead end, until it angled suddenly to reveal a booming bar. Only a few metres from our group, some men stood outside the entrance, smoking cigarettes.
I leaned in close, both to better hear the man’s questions, and to scrutinise his closed fists to detect any manipulation of the rods. I wanted to remain skeptical, but I was fascinated.
A ghost, our guide said, could cross the sticks over one another for a negative answer, or spread them wide for a yes. But now the rods did nothing at all and the man looked slightly pathetic as he muttered relentless questions about the last day of Alma’s young life. The rods remained as immobile as TV antennae.
“Is the music bothering you? Is that why you’re not responding?” the man asked. The rods sharply drew together and everyone gasped. No.
“Are we bothering you? Do you want us to leave?” he prodded. The rods flew as abruptly apart.
The Classic Melbourne Ghost Tour
It was a busy Friday night in Melbourne. We were enjoying one of the first warm post-winter stretches and though the sun had set, the air remained muggy. Melburnians had come out of hibernation in hordes. The streets were filled with revellers flooding the al fresco bars and laneway eateries. Before my
Melburnians had come out of hibernation in hordes. The streets were filled with revellers flooding the al fresco bars and laneway eateries. Before my Lantern Ghost tour had even begun, I got a thrill about my hometown’s lively spirit, pardon the pun.
But it was difficult to get into a spooky mood. Our exuberant tour guide Julie looked out of place in her maudlin get-up, complete with black cape and hat, amid the summer throng on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets.
As we stood beneath the towering spires of St Paul’s cathedral, she told us of Flinders Street Station’s resident ghost George, a nineteenth-century fisherman who wanders Platform 10 looking lost and forlorn in this modern day world.
And should you ever smell lavender while waiting for the lights to change at one of the intersection’s corners, I advise you to make a run for it. A ghostly prostitute is nearby, her spirit lingering to taunt men with a twirl of her pink parasol, luring them close enough to glimpse the gash that rips her face apart from ear to shoulder.
The tour led us through the city’s southeastern laneways, marking a winding route I won’t easily retrace. It reminded me that I haven’t cracked all Melbourne’s secrets yet; every seemingly abandoned alleyway offers a treasure you’ll only discover if you have the gall to pass through all the seemingly proliferate supernatural activity to get there.
And it reminded me that while I’ve got AFL games and Melbourne bookshops downpat, many of the city’s secrets will remain off-limits to me, including the exclusive Melbourne Club hidden behind a teasingly high wall (and whose website offers nothing but a door, denying further access to all but its members).
It was there I learned about Melbourne’s extensive tunnel network – the most impressive in the world – a certifiable maze encompassing 1500 km of underground passages. These tunnels link up various sections of the city.
Though few have been confirmed, rumoured tunnels include those from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Young and Jackson pub, from Parliament House to the Melbourne Club, and from the Melbourne Club to the red light district, among so many others.
Along the tour, we learnt all about the city’s past residents and its history, from Dame Nelly Melba’s lively spirit at the Windsor to Melbourne’s very own Phantom of the Opera (or rather, the Princess Theatre).
At times, the story-telling connections to Melbourne seemed a little stretched – for a city so young, it’s perhaps difficult to come across homegrown ghostly legends. But it will be an enjoyable night out regardless.
The end product of a good ghost tour is the lively debate about who among you does and doesn’t believe. My sisters and I laughed about our ambivalence, keen to remain skeptical but admitting there were some … things … out there we couldn’t explain.
Yet my little apartment seemed unusually dark when I returned home that night. I dashed to turn all my lamps on and had almost settled in bed before I jumped up to lock my front door. I tried to laugh at myself as I ensured no one was hiding behind my cupboard doors and got down on my knees to check underneath my bed.
Lantern Ghost Tours Tickets
Where: The Old Melbourne Ghost Tour begins above the Melbourne Visitor’s Centre at Federation Square and wraps up Chinatown. It’s leisurely walking, so you don’t need to worry about your fitness level!
When: Tours run Friday-Sundays. They begin at 8.30pm and generally last about one and a half hours.
Cost: At $29 per adult, it’s not a bad deal for a good night’s entertainment. Children 8-16 are $24 each.