I’m someone that sits on the fence when it comes to the spirit world, I don’t disbelieve it, but until I see irrefutable proof, there will always be a little part of my brain that will say ‘weeeell, maybe’.
The rest of my brain, however, wholeheartedly believes and the little, disbelieving corner of grey goop lets it because it’s nice to think our departed loved ones are still around and that we can communicate with them.
It was that optimistic part of my brain that jumped at the chance to join a Paranormal Investigation Tour at the very haunted Port Arthur World Heritage site on Tasmania’s south-east coast.
Port Arthur has two distinct histories. An old one and a modern one, both terrible in their own ways. For those that are unaware, in 1996, a psychopath gunned down 35 people and wounded another 23. It was an event that shocked the nation to its core and spurred Australia’s strict gun laws.
I had no interest in disturbing these souls. I paid my respects at the beautifully sombre memorial while walking around the site during the day but was glad to see the paranormal tour is conducted far away from the massacre area.
The nocturnal residents I wished to meet were from the convict era.
From 1833-1877 Port Arthur was a prison for Tasmania’s convicts who had become secondary offenders during their lengthy Transportation holiday.
While physical punishments were handed out, it was the psychological punishments that made Port Arthur unique. Most notably, those in need of extra punishment were hooded and made to stay silent in light-sealed, tiny cells. An act administrators thought would give the prisoner time to reflect. Instead, it often had the unintended outcome of inducing mental illness through lack of sight and sound.
These days the Port Arthur convict site provides a detailed insight into the lives of the convicts and those that supervised them. Ruins dot the surprisingly beautiful landscape while a few cottages still lay intact.
Ghost tours are run every night and walk through many of the old buildings and ruins, where guides tell the stories of supernatural experiences that have been recorded over the years.
But on the last Saturday of each month an extra tour operates, the Paranormal Investigation Tour. Those who are after more than a story can join and help the site record ghostly data with spirit-sensing equipment. I’m totally up for this extra creepy experience!
We meet at an on-site cafe after dark. Our guide Tammy, introduces herself, the tour and the equipment.
There’s an EMF reader that lights up when any electromagnetic energy is sensed; apparently, spirits can interact with this. I grab it.
Also on offer are dowsing rods, which I’m not a fan of so I pass them along.
Others take a full spectrum video camera that captures UV and infrared light, like the ones you see on wildlife docos showing animals at night with the spooky black eyes. Tammy takes charge of an EVP recorder (Electronic Voice Phenomena) a highly sensitive voice recorder said to record the voices of spirit.
And we’re off!
The Port Arthur site looks stunning lit up at night and cranks the creepy up to eleven. The multitude of pademelons that come out at night are sure to scare the bejeezus out of people as they hop across the path or growl in the bushes.
We dive straight into the deep end and head to the Asylum… greaaaat, crazy ghosts.
It’s not so bad walking down its cavernous hallway in a group as multiple torchlights dart around like a disco, but once well in the building’s bowels, we’re set free to explore anywhere we like. I immediately walk off by myself and back down the reverberant hallway we’d just walked up that is now pitch black and devoid of people. One half of my brain is like ‘yeaah, independent-woman-don’t-need-no-man, let’s do this!’, the other half is in the fetal position repeatedly mumbling ‘what are we doing, what are we doing!’
Little rooms flank each side and taking my little EMF reader I wave it haphazardly in front of me, one green light indicating the device is on but nothing more. I walk back, sticking the device into each cell hoping to see multiple flashing lights, still nothing, not even an unpleasant vibe.
I’ve brought my camera and tripod and bring it out to see if it captures anything in a long exposure. I set it up in an ominously walled exercise yard. Nothing. I enter the austere chapel with some other guys from the tour and we try talking to spirits asking them to give us some sign of their presence. Nothing.
Next stop is the Magistrate’s Residence that also doubled as the Senior Surgeon’s residence which has a lovely dissection room in its limestone basement. Charming.
We head down the stairs and into a room that features a large limestone table and a wall behind it with a rather odd head-shaped indent in it. It’s rumoured that people have seen faces appear on the wall here. I’m looking forward to a ghost selfie.
Tammy places the EVP device on the table and tells the spirits about the equipment we have and that they can use it to interact with us. We’re then let loose again.
I still wasn’t getting any vibes and was happy to walk off by myself into the dark. I did wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that I’d white-light protected myself before the tour started, asking for protection from any negative energies.
Suddenly, I hear yelling in a nearby room. I rush in to find two guys from the group, Nesh and Chris, all hyped up.
“Something touched me. It tapped me on the shoulder!” said Nesh.
I immediately start taking photos of the room, hoping to capture the phantom poker. Nesh reenacts it on me and it’s definitely not a light tap. No one else except Chris was in the room at the time. How exciting!
We settle down and wait, asking the spirit to get touchy-feely again. At this point, I’m not feeling any remnant of fear, more excitement. I await my ethereal embrace.
Chris suddenly leaps up the wall, arms flailing as if a spider had dropped on him.
He’s been touched!
My turn! We wait again. Each with our backs against the wall. Nothing.
Nesh thinks that maybe it’s because I’m standing. When they received their ghostly grope they’d been crouching against the wall. How very submissive.
And with that thought, my skin starts to crawl, hairs stand on end and I get the vibe. It’s as though I’ve tapped into the spirit standing nearby rubbing his hands together with glee saying, ‘Yes, exactly’.
Nope, nope, nope. Not doing it.
Tammy was now standing at the door. We mention what happened and I ask if she knows of any certain spirits that haunt the room. She nods. I ask if it’s a good or bad spirit. She hesitates. It’s a bad one. I mention she can tell us more, but only once we’re outside!
Next stop is The Parsonage, said to be the most haunted building at Port Arthur, with stories of bright flashing lights, loud banging, ghostly footsteps, phantom strangulations and a number of spooky sightings. Awesome.
The following was printed in 1893, among a long list of other occurrences in the house, in The Clipper newspaper, titled ‘The Haunted Parsonage’.
“On one particular night, Mrs. Price was unable to sleep… Suddenly she became conscious that somebody had entered her room, and glancing towards the door beheld a human figure draped in white. Her first thought was to make a move or to speak, but it struck her that the intruder might be a burglar in disguise intent upon robbing her of her jewel-case… and that to attract attention to herself might possibly mean something serious against her life. She therefore lay motionless, but with half open eyes followed the movements of the supposed burglar. The mysterious figure having entered the room went through the motion of striking a match upon the wall, and immediately afterwards there was the appearance of light as from a lucifer. This done it then made its way round the foot of the bed to a cot in which one of the children slept. For a moment it stood looking at the sleeping child, then turning round, glided silently out of the room and was gone.”
We enter, again ask the spirits to interact and then we explore. After the events of the last house and considering this was the most haunted Port Arthur building, I was expecting some apparition action, but again, nothing. Tammy thinks that as the normal ghost tour had already been through maybe they’d scared off all the ghosts.
So we decide to head to a place that no one else had been to that night. The Commandant’s Cottage. I’d been here during the day and found it to be a delightful cottage set in a lovely garden, but it sure did look different at night!
The house sits high on a hill overlooking the water and was home to ten Commandants, Port Arthur’s most senior official, until the prison’s closure in 1877.
We gather in the cottage’s foyer and immediately a girl’s EMF reader lights up. It could potentially be the large alarm system situated on a nearby wall, but the reading is erratic and an electrical system would give off a constant reading.
I notice my EMF finally start to flicker too. Interesting!
We scatter once again and I’m immediately drawn to a bedroom at the front of the cottage. I’d been in there earlier in the day and felt it still had some residual energy from its former occupants. I consider residual energy different to spirits. It’s something I do believe in having had a previous experience with it. It also makes a bit more sense to the logical part of my brain. Think of residual energy as someone recording their voice on a tape and walking away. The tape still plays the voice on loop but you cannot interact with it.
The EMF was also flickering in the bedroom. We tried finding an energy source such as wiring in the walls or power sockets, but it was flashing quite a distance from them and not consistently. Eventually, we didn’t know what else to do and so wandered around the rest of the house.
In one room we appeared to be making contact with one of the Commandant’s, going through different names and waiting for the EMF to flash for the right name. The spectre didn’t seem to be sure of his name, so we made our way back to the bedroom, where I had a new idea. Taking another EMF I placed one on each side of the bed.
I then gave instructions to the spirit that they could communicate with us via the devices and that we would ask some Yes/No questions. The spirit was asked to move to the left device to indicate Yes and the right device for No.
This actually seemed to work, the lights would go off intermittently on either side of the bed as we asked it questions.
Are you female? No.
Are you male? Yes.
Are you a Commandant? Yes.
Are you Boyd? (Name of Commandant) No.
Are you Booth? Yes.
We then started to run out of potential Yes/No questions.
Were you, err… happy living here? Yes.
Eventually, the excitement waned and we gathered outside as the cottage was locked up.
Tammy then mentions that the bedroom was where a Commandant died.
Research actually shows that Booth died in New Town but spent a lot of time in the bedroom as his sickness took hold.
Further research shows that many years ago a psychic previously entered the house and described a male spirit in Booth’s bedroom as a man in charge, a very fair man who had died a painful death. She said he stood crying at the window while overlooking the settlement.
Heading down the hill we made our way to the imposing Penitentiary that fills the shoreline vista.
Built in 1843 as a flour mill and granary, it was converted into its namesake function in 1857, housing 480 convicts.
Tammy talks about the time a tour came through the Penitentiary and one guy thought it was really cool that they had actors in period costume behind the bars to act the part.
There are no actors pretending to be ghosts at Port Arthur. Oo-er!
Our time is nearly up and we head back over to the entrance to return our equipment and debrief. It was a fun night, even with the inappropriate touching! Getting to use all the ghost hunting equipment definitely took the experience to another level and was a lot more exciting than just listening to stories.
I’m not sure I caught anything creepy in my photos, apart from some potential misting in the Magistrate’s Residence. Something with more form would have been lovely, but the night was still exciting and definitely a unique experience.
We’re the last to leave but just before we do we notice the Church lights… they weren’t on before…
Where: Port Arthur Historic Sites, Port Arthur, Tasmania.
100kms south-east of Hobart. 1.5 hour drive.
When: Last Saturday of every month. Start 7pm in winter (Apr-Sept) and 9pm (Oct- Mar) in summer.
Tours last approximately 3 hours.
Cost: Adults $85 (18+ only). Bookings essential.
Other info: Tour is limited to 12 people. Tour can be booked for groups on other dates with advance notice.
Due to the late finish, accommodation nearby is recommended.
Drinks and light snacks are available at the start of the tour at the cafe.
Not suitable for people with mobility issues. Stairs are frequent.
Normal ghost tours run every night, except Christmas and last around 90 minutes.
Ghost Tour Cost: Adult $26.50 / Child $15 / Family $75
Children under 17 allowed if accompanied by an adult.
Visit Port Arthur website for more details or to book online.