During October and November 2011, Australia’s capital city, Canberra, played host to such international dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth II, President Obama and the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark.
While Canberra, a city built in a sheep paddock halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, may be best known for its very public political brawls and very private public service machinations, there is a far more ethereal aspect to the nation’s capital that recent international visitors would have been unlikely to experience.
This week, weirdaustralia offers an esoteric guide to Canberra featuring such attractions as a disappearing lake, UFO landings, secret underground bases, apparitions and hairy hominids.
Lake George and the mystery of its disappearing waters
The Federal Highway linking Australia’s largest city, Sydney, with Australia’s capital city, Canberra, skirts Lake George, just outside the boundary of the Australian Capital Territory. The lake is often described as being ‘enigmatic,’ ‘eerie’ and ‘mysterious’. The waters of the lake can suddenly disappear and then reappear, apparently, without any correlation to prevailing climatic conditions.
The lake was first discovered by European settlers in 1812 when Governor Macquarie and his vice-regal party explored the southern frontier. The party sent two aboriginals ahead to find a suitable route further south but on returning to camp, they had some astonishing news. They had arrived at the sea and could go no further.
According to one account of the expedition: “The members of that exploratory party, believing themselves to be more than 60 miles from the ocean, listened in disbelief. But, proceeding forward, they were overwhelmed to find the aborigines’ tale was evidently correct. At their feet and stretching southwards as far as could be seen was a vast tract of water, with waves rolling to the foothills of their vantage point … seemingly from the Pacific Ocean itself.”
But that inland sea, settlers would soon discover, would recede and advance like the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides.
In 1926, local chronicler John Gale wrote: “Since I have known it, thrice it has been an extensive pastoral plain, abounding in luscious herbage; as many times an inland sea. Certainly never so vast as when its waters … covering fathoms deep the site whereon the village of Collector now stands.”
Reverend Cartwright wrote about his travels with the 1812 expedition 43 years later from his parsonage in the nearby village of Collector: “Believe me, my little church and this parsonage where we are now, had they been in existence then, would have been under fathoms of water.”
Today, Lake George is a shadow of its former self. As you drive along the Federal Highway, you can see fence posts, erected during times the lake was more pastoral plain than inland sea, stretching out across its shallow waters. Will this vast inland sea return again soon, swamping not only the tiny village of Collector, but the highway between Sydney and Canberra as well?
There are many theories as to the strange comings and goings of the waters of Lake George. Some suggest that lake is fed by large underwater aquifers, and others that the lake is linked by vast subterranean channels to lakes as far away as New Zealand and even Peru. Whatever the truth, Lake George is a mysterious place.
The ghostly Good Samaritan of Lake George
In a popular Canberra online forum RiotACT, the following story was related by Absent Diane in November 2005 of a ghostly Good Samaritan on the road beside Lake George:
“My brother tells me of this time he was driving past Lake George … and saw this random guy, emotionless … standing by the road, but apparently when my brother turned his head to see the guy again he wasn’t there. He rang the car behind him [they were travelling together] and they said they saw him too. He was explaining this to our mother and she reiterated this story of a friend of hers. Apparently, this bloke driving around the same corner as my brother saw another bloke standing beside the road waving to slow him down. He slowed down and saw the results of a nasty crash. which he could have plunged straight into had he not slowed down. Anyway, the bloke picked up a paper the next day and got the shock of his life when he saw a photo of that same person who was waving to slow him down listed as killed instantly in that car crash.”
UFO encounters at Lake George
UFOs are frequently sighted around the lake. One such sighting involved a landed UFO reported to the UFO Experience Support Association by a woman travelling with her daughter.
“The witness reported that while she and her daughter were travelling from Canberra to Sydney they noticed a very bright light in the sky. The woman noticed the object travel towards them at great speed as if about to crash into them. The object stopped and suspended itself above their car, it was at that point they noticed a solid structure with a number of coloured lights.
“The witness wound down the window to listen for any noise, she did not hear anything, the object hovered for a short time before heading off behind them, they could see that the object was emitting what they called sparks from underneath…”
“… The witness looked through the front passenger window and noticed that the object had landed in a paddock not more then 20 metres away. She could see a number of lights or windows along its side.
“Next to the large object was a smaller UFO which also had landed … The two women had parked about 150 metres down the road, they noticed two other cars parked directly opposite the UFO. The two women noticed a single bright light which was moving rapidly towards them, they panicked and quickly drove off…”
In June 1974, a local elderly farmer had a bizarre encounter near the lake. The farmer saw a spherical object land nearby, he then witnessed three or four beings float to the ground from the craft.
According to the witness, the beings were three metres tall with small heads and no apparent facial features. They wore “glowing silver suits covering their whole bodies up to the neck”.
The witness described seeing a “chute” extend down from the side of the craft, apparently unloading metal cases. Then, cattle were unloaded by the craft and “taken away by normal looking men”.
Was this UFO and the strange floating beings involved in cattle-rustling perhaps?
Unfortunately for the witness, his story was met with some scepticism at the time with doctors diagnosing a case of mild paranoia and schizophrenia. But while his story is certainly bizarre, he is by no means alone in witnessing strange phenomena around that eerie, mysterious lake.
Secret underground tunnels and bases
As can be expected of any capital city, secrets abound in Canberra.
There are well known and there are not so well known secret buildings and instillations scattered throughout the capital.
It’s well known that beneath the streets of Canberra, there are tunnels connecting many government buildings. But rather than being for classified purposes, the tunnels are apparently utilised by public servants wanting to stay out of the rain when travelling between buildings. There are also reports, however, of more secret tunnels such as those supposedly running beneath Lake Burley Griffin.
Beneath Parliament House there is a vast multi-level underground facility, but again, nothing nefarious here. TV news crews have explored the facility and found it contains mostly janitorial closets, storerooms and workshops full of apprentices keeping the Parliament building above ticking. Of course, there are likely areas off-limits to anyone without the right security clearance … those areas we shall never see on the 6pm news.
More sinister rumours centre on one of Canberra’s most prominent landmarks. Black Mountain Tower, which can be seen from most locations around Canberra. The tower’s off-limits areas are apparently equipped to eavesdrop on embassies located in the suburbs below. The Chinese Embassy is the main target according to one whistleblower, a former technician who worked at the facility. The technician gave an interview to former investigative journalist Jana Wendt on ABC’s 7.30 Report. That interview is now subject to a D-notice issued by the federal government forbidding any further publication of the interview.
Rumours have also long persisted about the Deakin Telephone Exchange being used for espionage purposes by secret agencies such as the NSA and FBI. Barry Jones, a former Federal Labor MP was determined to get to the bottom of the rumours. As a minister, he toured the building and went home satisfied that there was nothing untoward going on within the building.
In the suburb of Belconnen there is a rumoured top secret three level underground base referred to by locals in the know as “the Sheep Paddock”. Apparently, this underground base is housed beneath an actual paddock in an area apparently abundant with large limestone caverns. Within the paddock are several antennae arrays and a small nondescript shed housing an elevator to the underground command post below.
Apparently, over the years, several sheep have “mysteriously disappeared” from that paddock.
Is Canberra also Australia’s ghost capital?
Could Canberra also be Australia’s ghost capital? Soon after government minister, King O’Malley, drove the first survey peg into Canberran soil on 20 February 1913 marking commencement of work on the national capital, ghostly apparitions have made their presence felt.
An article titled Canberra’s First Ghost published in The Adelaide Advertiser on 6 September 1930 included the following report: “While crossing Commonwealth Bridge across the Molonglo River at a lonely part of the city, two residents were horrified to hear unearthly noises from the riverbank 25 feet below, and presently they saw dimly in the moonlight a dark, unearthly shape rising as if from the stream. It peered at them eerily, with eyes of uncanny brightness, and then vanished.”
As the city grew so did the number of ghost sightings. On 6 August 1951, Launceston’s Examiner reported the sighting of a ghost in one of Canberra’s many government buildings. “Two cleaners who work in the Department of Health offices during the night claim that a ghost is roaming the corridors of the building … One said he spoke to the ghost on one occasion and it ‘just disappeared’. ‘It looked like a woman dressed in a long flowing robe with a cardigan wrapped around her,’ the cleaner said. ‘The outline, very vague and misty, just vanished when I said goodnight to it.’ The second cleaner said the ghost had been seen in various rooms and offices and had vanished when approached.”
Many of Canberra’s landmark buildings are said to be haunted. At the National Archive, a malicious ghost attacks people by pushing them up against walls and attempting to choke them. The War Memorial has a helpful digger dressed in a WWII uniform and Duntroon House is said to be haunted by the ghost of 29 year old Sophie Campbell who messes up the bed in her former room.
Perhaps the most famous ghost is that of an aboriginal man looking for lost treasure at Yarralumla, the Prime Minister’s Canberra residence. The Australian Women’s Weekly in its August 1939 edition, reported on the ghost known as the Black Shadow.
“The wanderer is popularly supposed to be an aborigine searching for a lost diamond. He’s a ghost who knows his place, never entering the house, but wandering about the lawns at Yarralumla, harmless and self-effacing.
“He has been seen from the dining room on cold, dreary nights when the breezes whistle down on Canberra from snowbound Monaro ranges. In summer he has been seen digging under an elm tree where a diamond of great value is said to be hidden and for which he is ever searching.”
And it seems the accounts of apparitions keep coming. The following was reported by midnitecalla in November 2005 on the RiotACT forum: “I was driving on the night of 14 August 1987 when I passed a small car on fire, but when I drove to Duffy shops to call the cops, I was told not to bother as it was a regular sighting … When I went back not less than three minutes later, the car was gone and no evidence of scorching on the road or the grass could be seen.” A young driver is said to have died on that road when his car ran out of control into a tree and exploded into flames.
The Jingera Yahoo – an early hairy hominid encounter
Finally, no guide to Canberra’s esoteric attractions would be complete without a report of Australia’s infamous yowie. The Queanbeyan Age published the following account from Jingera, just south of Canberra, on 24 August 1886:
“Whilst a young man named Flynn was looking after stock at the back of the Bredbo station one afternoon last week, he was surprised to observe a hairy human form, about seven feet in height, walking in the bush. The wild man walked with an unsteady, swinging, and fast step, his arms being bent forward and nearly reaching the ground, whilst the colour was described as “bay,” between a red and chestnut. Flynn did not take a second look at the uncanny creature, but rode as fast as he could to the homestead of Mr. Crimmings, nearly two miles away, to whom he reported the strange, mysterious affair.
“Since then, Mr. Crimmings himself has encountered the monster, and his account tallies exactly with that given by Mr. Flynn. But Mr. Crimmings heard the animal make a cry that sounded very like ‘Yahoo’. We hear that Mr. Joseph Hart, of Jingera, also saw the Yahoo as he was returning home one afternoon. The strange being is, no doubt, the ‘Wild man’ that has been so often talked of about Jingera for so many years past. It is the intention of Bredbo and Jingera residents to scour the bush in a strong body and capture the monster alive or dead. For this purpose they will meet at Mr. Kelly’s hotel Little Plain on Monday next to organise their forces and obtain a supply of ammunition. Should they capture the wild man alive, it is to be hoped the men of Bredbo and Jingera will feed him up and keep him till the Centennial Exhibition is open.”
It appears they were unsuccessful in their quest to capture the Yahoo.