with the hearse men, by David Wilson - 18th February
With impeccably neat, concentric streets and an aura
of calm, Canberra seems like a byword for boredom.
But the city is as murky and mysterious as the depths
of Lake Burley Griffin at its heart.
it appears mysterious when seen through the eyes of
Elvira, a 1967 Cadillac hearse commandeered for eternity
by the Sydney-based firm Destiny Tours. (Destiny also
runs tours in its home city with Elvira's sister,
Morticia, a 1962 Cadillac.) The hearse transports
people on a 90-minute tour of the city's dark side,
taking in 20 sinister sites.
a bit of everything: some ghosts, some history, some
unique oddball-type stuff," says the "crypto-naturalist"
guide, Tim the Yowie Man, whose name will be forever
linked to his quest for a yeti-like creature said
to inhabit Australia.
contrast, the driver, Allan Levinson, is a soft-spoken
character who calls himself the Hearse Whisperer.
But Levinson enjoys the glamour: the sight of Elvira
turns heads, he says. In fact, he adds, "they
twist right off"'.
they should, because the six-metre-long vehicle could
be haunted. Some clients sense more than the statutory
eight people inside. The extra passenger, who sits
behind the driver, is apparently an old man called
Tom, who might have been a chauffeur during Elvira's
haunted hearse stops at the original seat of power,
Old Parliament House. Some security guards refuse
to work there, troubled by the sound of MPs debating
long after hours and uncanny events from wandering
trolleys to flying walkie-talkies.
the mid-1990s, Tim and a ghost-busting team investigated
the building and their electro-magnetic field detector
supposedly rose about half a metre above the table
it lay on. Tim says the culprit may have been the
clerk of the house, who had a heart attack and died
in the building not long after it opened in 1927.
official remembered on the tour is Ben Chifley. The
working-class hero, prime minister of Australia from
1945 to 1949, lived in the nearby Hotel Kurrajong,
then a bed and breakfast. Since his death at the Kurrajong
in 1951, Chifley has been seen gazing from his room
towards Old Parliament House; perhaps he hankers after
Chifley chosen to live in the landscaped grandeur
of the Prime Minister's Lodge, he could apparently
have slipped into the House easily via a secret tunnel
network. Today the Federal Government denies the network
story, but Tim insists that, until "very recently",
before the space became occupied by offices, it existed.
"Wide enough to drive a golf cart through,"
he claims. The complex apparently constituted a national
Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, alias Saudi Bill, knew the truth.
The Emirates diplomat prowled Canberra in the 1990s,
allegedly accosting local women with money for sex.
In 1998, Saudi Bill, 54, was found at home with his
throat slashed and more than 30 stab wounds. Two years
later, the suspects - two men and a woman - were acquitted
on a murder charge.
glides by the scene of the killing, Oakford Apartments
in the suburb of Kingston. Tim doubts whether the
flat's present tenants are aware of its history.
story behind Duntroon Military College is hard for
its occupants to ignore, thanks to Sophia Campbell's
ghost. She was the daughter of a 19th-century shipping
merchant who lived in the original homestead on the
site. Campbell, 29, died in 1885 when she fell or
was pushed from an upstairs window.
lingering spirit apparently messes up the bed in her
old room and may manifest itself in other ways. On
a recent visit to the room, Tim's nose suddenly began
bleeding profusely, which unnerved everybody on the
highlights on Elvira's journey include a poltergeist
at the Australian War Memorial, a $10,000 piece of
art buried beneath Commonwealth Park, a hidden cave
in the business district, an embassy bedevilled by
screams and a funeral parlour once used as a cover
tours, costing $49 a person, are held on the last
Friday and Saturday of every month, except December.
Departures are at 7pm, 9pm and 11pm. See www.destinytours.com.au/canberra.htm
or phone 9943 0167 or 0414 232 244.
the Yowie Man