Ghost Writers: Waxing poetic on restless spirits of the dead

Inspired by this week’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, weirdaustralia takes a literary left to explore the world of the supernatural from a more poetic perspective.

Ghost Kingdom was penned by Elinor Jean,  aged 9 from Braidwood in the Southern Tablelands of NSW. It was published in The Canberra Times on 26 April 1992.

Ghost Kingdom

Ghost house creepy, eerie
lonely and desolate far from anywhere.
Gloomy voices behind you creaks and groans as
you make your way through the house.
Strange shapes musty corridors something haunts the house … spooks and werewolves.
Ghostly trees dance in the moonlight
ghost dance
boughs linked together
boughs of moss and bark and leaves
boughs of age-old plight.
Birds of sunken nations
alight on such trees of history.
The lonely moor home for hags
home for spirits of life flown by
spirits of dragons, spirits of wolves
spirits of far gone kings.
Wicked witches fly over the moor by night.
Mountains of stone,
stone piled upon stone reaching to the clouds
tombs of ancient giants.
The ghosts of kings and queens prowl around in
a mystified dream of past history.
House. Wood. Moor.
Ghost territory.

Ghost Riders was written by another young budding poet, June Stewart, aged 13, from Ethelton in South Australia. Her poem was published in Adelaide’s The Mail on 9 March 1953.

Ghost RidersGhost headless horseman

Galloping! Galloping! A faraway sound,
Is borne on night wings and scattered around.
Galloping! Galloping.! Hark, oh hark.
There’s somebody galloping through the dark.
Was it a ghost of forgotten days?
Or was it a trick of the new moon’s rays?
Listen! Listen! They’re in the woods,
Look! Six figures in white hoods.
Galloping! Galloping! Into the night,
The ghost riders in unseen flight.
Galloping! Galloping! Under the moon.
Then they alt disappear into the gloom.

While Ghost Kingdom and Ghost Riders bloomed from the vivid imaginations of the young, the next two poems, both simply titled Ghost, may just have sprung from real-life encounters.

The first, from Yvonne Webb, appeared in the The Australian Women’s Weekly on 21 November 1936.

Ghost

There is a woman in my house:Ghost Victorian
Some light foot upon the stair,
And about my silent halls
Floats the fragrance of her hair.
I must search my rooms and see
What this woman is about,
Spreading perfume everywhere —
I must find and turn her out.
Turn her out into the night,
Send her somewhere else to roam,
She who comes with woman-ways
Haunting all about my home!

Next is Winifred McElwaine’s haunting poem Ghost which appeared in The Australia Women’s Weekly on 15 December 1934. Could Winifred have been writing about her own lost child?

Ghost

Adrienne, the dead child, moves about the orchard,Ghost child
Plays among the branches of the fruit trees there.
Many folk have seen her, swinging from the peach tree
Bunches of red cherries, threaded through her hair.
have sat and waited here among the blossoms,
Waiting for the dead child, waiting all in vain:
Why do others see her? Those who never loved her?
Adrienne, my darling, will you  come again?

One of Australia’s most renowned poets, Henry Lawson, was no stranger to the mysteries of the Blue Mountains. In 1903, he wrote about the local Hairy Man in The Weekly Scotsman: 

“As far back as I can remember, the yarn of the Hairy Man was told in the Blue Mountain district of New South Wales. It scared children coming home by bush tracks from school and boys out late after lost cows; and even grown bushmen…”

In the following poem penned by Lawson in 1891, he recounts a sighting
of Ghost henry-lawson1the ‘ghost in black’ while travelling up Victoria Pass in the dead of night. The ghost is said to be the restless spirit of Caroline Collit from Hartley Vale. Married to a drunk at 13, she was later murdered by him after trying to break up a drunken brawl. Her head had been smashed in by a rock.

The ‘ghost in black’ is said to still haunt a treacherous stretch of road that I have travelled many times. I have never seen her myself … but I always keep a an eye out, just in case.

The Ghost at the Second Bridge

You’d call the man a senseless fool, —
A blockhead or an ass,
Who’d dare to say he saw the ghost
Of Mount Victoria Pass;
But I believe the ghost is there,
For, if my eyes are right,
I saw it once upon a ne’er-
To-be-forgotten night.
‘Twas in the year of eighty-nine —
The day was nearly gone,
The stars were shining, and the moon
Is mentioned further on;
I’d tramped as far as Hartley Vale,
Tho’ tired at the start,
But coming back I got a lift
In Johnny Jones’s cart.

‘Twas winter on the mountains then —
The air was rather chill,
And so we stopped beside the inn
That stands below the hill.
A fire was burning in the bar,
And Johnny thought a glass
Would give the tired horse a spell
And help us up the Pass.

Then Jimmy Bent came riding up —
A tidy chap was Jim —
He shouted twice, and so of course
We had to shout for him.
And when at last we said good-night
He bet a vulgar quid
That we would see the “ghost in black”,
And sure enough we did.

And as we climbed the stony pinch
Below the Camel Bridge,
We talked about the “Girl in black”
Who haunts the Second Bridge.
We reached the fence that guards the cliff
And passed the corner post,
And Johnny like a senseless fool
Kept harping on the ghost.

“She’ll cross the moonlit road in haste
And vanish down the track;
Her long black hair hangs to her waist
And she is dressed in black;
Her face is white, a dull dead white —
Her eyes are opened wide —
She never looks to left or right,
Or turns to either side.”

I didn’t b’lieve in ghosts at all,
Tho’ I was rather young,
But still I wished with all my heart
That Jack would hold his tongue.
The time and place, as you will say,
(‘Twas twelve o’clock almost) —
Were both historically fa-
Vourable for a ghost.

But have you seen the Second Bridge
Beneath the “Camel’s Back”?
It fills a gap that broke the ridge
When convicts made the track;
And o’er the right old Hartley Vale
In homely beauty lies,
And o’er the left the mighty walls
Of Mount Victoria rise.

And there’s a spot above the bridge,
Just where the track is steep,
From which poor Convict Govett rode
To christen Govett’s Leap
And here a teamster killed his wife —
For those old days were rough —
And here a dozen others had
Been murdered, right enough.

The lonely moon was over all
And she was shining well,
At angles from the sandstone wall
The shifting moonbeams fell.
In short, the shifting moonbeams beamed,
The air was still as death,
Save when the listening silence seemed
To speak beneath its breath.

The tangled bushes were not stirred
Because there was no wind,
But now and then I thought I heard
A startling noise behind.
Then Johnny Jones began to quake;
His face was like the dead.
“Don’t look behind, for heaven’s sake!
The ghost is there!” he said.

He stared ahead — his eyes were fixed;
He whipped the horse like mad.
“You fool!” I cried, “you’re only mixed;
A drop too much you’ve had.
I’ll never see a ghost, I swear,
But I will find the cause.”
I turned to see if it was there,
And sure enough it was!

Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.

I stared at Jack; he stared ahead
And madly plied the lash.
To show I wasn’t scared, I said —
“Why, Jack, we’ve made a mash.”
I tried to laugh; ’twas vain to try.
The try was very lame;
And, tho’ I wouldn’t show it, I
Was frightened, all the same.

“She’s mashed,” said Jack, “I do not doubt,
But ’tis a lonely place;
And then you see it might turn out
A breach of promise case.”
He flogged the horse until it jibbed
And stood as one resigned,
And then he struck the road and ran
And left the cart behind.

Now, Jack and I since infancy
Had shared our joys and cares,
And so I was resolved that we
Should share each other’s scares.
We raced each other all the way
And never slept that night,
And when we told the tale next day
They said that we were — intoxicated.

Copyright © weirdaustralia 2014

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