Despite her bravado just a couple of hours before arriving, Miss 8 dug in her heels and refused to enter the cottage to hear of the haunting tales being told within.
“No mummy, no mummy, no mummy,” she said as she clung to my hand, before turning and running along the veranda, back to relative safety outside the property fence, where she could once again be brave.
We were at Port Arthur on one of the new summer attractions – the family friendly ghost tour. Now, don’t let the name fool you. Despite being held in early evening, when the sun continues to light the grounds, you will still hear tales of convict era murder and death – and their related hauntings.
However, for older children, it is a perfect combination of history and horror that will intrigue. In fact, Mr 11 was in his element and almost overwhelmed with excitement and bravery. And for many younger children on our tour, what they were hearing went over their head.
Port Arthur, Australia’s best preserved convict era penal settlement, is about a one and a half hour drive from Hobart. The ghost tour is icing on the cake for this must-visit tourist attraction.
With her soft, dare I say haunting lilt, our guide, Bridie, was the perfect person to lead our tour. She started by asking for volunteer lantern bearers to take up positions in the start, middle and end of the group.
With Mr 11 unable to do this role (over 18 years only), Hubby bravely volunteered and ended up in the middle position – ably assisted by Mr 11. First stop was the iconic church. I won’t give away the tales told, but you WILL start expecting to hear or see something.
Next was the parsonage (the third most haunted building in Australia), where the front female lantern bearer refused to enter the house by herself to check that all was okay for us to follow. So, hubby & Mr 11 volunteered to do the honours and went in ahead.
“When I opened the door, I had a sense of dread and nervousness. I did not want to go in there by myself, ” Hubby said.
“It was hair-raising – I couldn’t look at the house because of the stories they’d said about seeing ghosts in the window,” Mr 11 added.
Staying outside with Miss 8 and her cousin, who got caught up in Miss 8’s fears, I am once again blown away by the beauty and majesty of a site that has seen so much violence and heart-ache.
On this tour, we learn about the hard lives that not only convicts lived, but those who serviced them (and their families) – and how those hardships may have led to the many hauntings experienced on site.
Next at the junior medical officer’s house, we learn about the playful child ghosts and the sad woman who searches for her stillborn child, who she was not buried with because the baby had not been. Such brutal times they were.
We then walk down to the basement, where we hear a haunting tale that also turns out to be one of the funniest stories of the night.
Our last stop is the model, or separate, prison. This place is the most oppressive of the tour. Here convicts were imprisoned in total silence and never referred to by name. Many went crazy.
It is a fitting place to end the tour, as we make our way back past the imposing penitentiary ruin to the visitor’s centre where more people wait to take part in the later ghost tours, that will take place in darkness.
The family friendly ghost tour runs at 7.30pm until 26 January. And in true convict-era family friendly fashion (thank-you Port Arthur Management), a family ticket ($65) consists of 2 adults and up to 6 children aged under 17 years (Times and prices right in January 2014. Please check the Port Arthur website for the most up-to-date information)
P.S Miss 8 was not scarred by her experiences on the ghost tour. However, she did sleep with me that night. Not that she needs much of an excuse to want to do that anyway!
Learn more about the family friendly ghost tour and other summer activities and make a booking.