Sydney is well-known for its beaches, landmarks and a vibrant city life unrivalled by the rest of Australia (apparently!), but what about when the sun goes down? It was with all the courage I could muster that I embarked on a tour that would reveal the underbelly of the city’s historically significant area located in the shadows of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
By day The Rocks, on the western shores of Syndey Cove, is a hive of activity with cafes, restaurants, tourist shops and hotels, but after dark its ghostly past comes to life. With my sister and our respective partners, we made our way to Cadman Cottage for the start of The Rocks Ghost Tour. Our host, Mark – a tall man dressed in a black cloak carrying what looked to me like a black leather medical bag – greeted us with a stony gaze and unnerving seriousness.
As ‘Ghost Host’ of the Dark South Side tours, he would lead our group (which included international visitors from the United Kingdom and one local Sydneysider) with lantern in hand through narrow cobblestone lanes and dank alleys to the heart of The Rocks, while we stumbled along behind fumbling words of fear and with only a torch to light our way.
The Rocks Ghost Tours got their start more than 20 years ago, when Brian and Colleen Harrison, both with the area in their blood and a passion for history and the stories that it reveals, launched the ‘Spirit of Sydney’. The ghost tours are errie walking tours of the local area and the stories are genuine tales of the haunted history of The Rocks. These two hour tours are not for the faint hearted.
Mark’s first tale, presented in an alley behind the eateries is of Mrs Greenfield who was chased by her knife-weilding husband. Understandably, her untimely death has meant she is not at rest, and there are reports of strange sounds and smells in the lane where her ghost is said to reside. Deeper we go into the area, along the notorious Nurses Walk where convicts who survived the voyage of the First Fleet, arrived inflicted with disease and were sent to the tent hospital along George Street. Death was often slow and painful, and if you listen closely the cries of the dying can be heard in the street late at night. Our tour takes us up the Suez Canal, to Gloucester Street and the trompe l’oeil – a mural showing the street in 1900, where the boy in the (right) corner will haunt you with his eyes. You don’t want to linger here…
At Observatory Park there is a spectacular view of Sydney by night, but here is not a place exempt from the tales of murder and mayhem. I feel sorrow and anger at the story of the ruthless Sydney Push gang, who brutally murdered a young boy on his way home. The boy is said to wait (for who, or what I’m not sure) in the grounds of the Sydney Observatory and Mark tells us that spiritually-sensitive guests on the tour have felt sensations of being choked, while one guest specifically identified the child as he held out his hand for her at the front gate.
But our final destination had the most profound effect. Under archaeological study, the site is off limits to the public, and our group is privileged to have been afforded the experience (so says Mark!). I have always been of the opinion that ghosts are friendly, and this has quelled my fear somewhat. But standing in the remains of a 19th century kitchen located below street level, I experienced something completely opposite and Mark’s story of the unfortunate circumstance helped me understand why. This is definitely the fright of the night.
Location: The western shores of Sydney Cove
Cost: $42 per adult, students aged 13-17 years can attend at specified times for $33 each. A drink at the end of the tour is included.
If you would like more information, visit The Rocks Ghost Tours website www.ghosttours.com.au or telephone +61 2 9241 1283.