It is 3.00am on a crisp July night and guests of one of Maitland’s historic hotels lay sleeping in their beds, when the unmistakable sound of piano keys ring through the empty halls. The interruption to sleep is shrugged off by most almost as quickly as it came, all but for one curious guest.
He rises out of bed, steps into the dark hallway, as if pulled forward by a sense of something. The piano sounds again, stopping him dead as he glimpses from his eye’s corner what appears to be the image of a small girl. A blink and it’s gone, leaving only the familiar feeling of confusion and knowing behind.
No stranger to these intuitions, Morpeth based paranormal investigator Murray Byfield spoke to me about this and other myths that have surrounded the historic hotel that will remain nameless as well as many other Maitland buildings. But like any rumour or folklore, evidence is only suggestive.
Murray runs Hunter Valley Ghost Tours and while his tours mostly focus on the numerous ‘active’ paranormal sites in and around the township of Morpeth, he says there is much more that lurks beneath the day to day activity of the Hunter Region than meets the eye. Tales of murder, suicide, convict floggings, public executions, bushrangers, and cruel landowners abound.
If you like a bit of ghost hunting yourself, then one of his tours might be for you as they take in some of the city’s most haunted locations including the Maitland historic buildings of Grossman House and Maitland Gaol, plus some of the most haunted cemeteries, riverfronts and gullies. He combines spine tingling ghost stories, local folklore and paranormal theory, all with a thread of local history weaving through.
‘History is very important to understand the people of a place, how they lived in the past and why some of these people may have become ghosts’, he said.
‘Two areas in Morpeth that are most well known for paranormal activity are Campbell’s Store and Cantwell Cottage, I have had experiences there.
‘Stockade Hill in East Maitland is a pretty creepy spot too and there’s also a creek there, that I get strong feelings at. The early inhabitants use to hang convicts next to the creek and history describes it as the rivers running red with blood’.
Maitland Gaol is another hot spot for ghouls, with the facility running both Ghost Hunting 101 and Advanced Ghost Hunting tours, which will definitely get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. One of the tales you will hear from tour guide Renata Daniel is of convicted murderer Mervyn Garvie, who was known as ‘Skulls’ because of a tattoo on his forehead.
The story goes that Garvie who was sentenced to life behind bars, died suspiciously while in the gaol in 1955. He now haunts the cell blocks, often seen as a dark mass, and has been known to push people against walls, been heard crying and has also slammed cell doors to grab attention. I don’t know about you, but I get goose bumps just thinking about ‘Skulls’ Garvie.
Of course Murray’s and Maitland Gaol’s tours are not for the feint hearted, but it is incredibly interesting nonetheless, even if you need to sleep with the light on. A forewarning though, I am told that apparently ghosts will not appear at will, but given the experiences these ghost hunters have had, you may just get to see one for yourself on one of their tours.
Story by Tess Campbell.