In 1968 my family were dismayed
to find that we had to sell up and move house. Until then we
had lived in a back street in the western suburbs of
Melbourne, in the town of Spotswood. Although we were dirt poor, our house was
one of the best in the neighbourhood, due to the fact that my
father was a bricklayer and had built the house himself in his
spare time in the evenings and weekends over a number of years.
During those years the six of us had lived in a dilapidated
three-room shack at the back of a large plot at
Street. We had all
helped out, carrying bricks, mixing mortar, cleaning trowels and
shovels down the years. Also the house had only been finished
in mid 1966, so none of us were happy to hear in 1968 that the
state government was acquiring land in our area to build the
However, you can't fight city
hall (or so I'm told), so instead of arguing, we packed up and
moved to Hannan
Street, North Williamstown. In mid
1968 Hannan Street
was in one of the better parts
of Williamstown, so I was shocked to return there a few years ago
and discover it is now a slum area.
Things could have been all
right for us in Williamstown. However, rather than settle for
the small weatherboard house he had purchased, my father decided
to repeat the experience of building a brick house over many
years. The state government auctioned off our
house (not the land, just the
house), which my father bought back for a few hundred dollars.
It was then a matter of some weeks to tear down the house as
carefully as possible, attempting not to damage any of the bricks
or roof tiles. Then my father used these near-new materials to
build our new house in Hannan Street.
It would have been bad enough
if he had just torn down the old house and built a new one on the
spot. However, for reasons best known to himself, he had the
bizarre idea of building the new house around the old one. This
was a time consuming process, but it meant that we had plenty of
space to live in while the outer walls were being built. Then
came the moment of truth when it was time to tear down the inner
house, leaving only the outer shell.
This would leave us with no
covered living or sleeping area. To get around this we spent
more than a year building a brick-walled bungalow about a metre
from the back of the house running the entire length of the
house. This bungalow was very large. It had a master
bedroom-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room, its own toilet, a tiny
bathroom, an equally tiny washhouse, and another room whose use I
cannot now recall.
This was fine for my parents,
and my sisters Cheryl and Denise solved their sleeping
accommodation by moving up to Queensland where they worked for a couple of years.
However, my brother John and I still had nowhere to sleep. I
was only thirteen at the time, John 15, so we were both still at
school and living with our parents. To house us therefore, my
father, John, and I built a one-room concrete structure, which we
dubbed "The Bomb-Shelter". This had one-metre-thick concrete
walls, a roof of corrugated iron covered in concrete, a concrete
floor (which was like ice to walk on in winter) and a
fifteen-centimetre thick cast-iron door, which seemed to weigh a
tonne the day John and I held it up for hours while the concrete
around the hinges set.
It was in this bomb-shelter
that we encountered the "Hannan Street Horror".
Looking in the through the
doorway, my bed was on the left, John's bed was on the right,
with a gap of perhaps forty centimetres between the beds.
Behind the beds were our wardrobe and a lot more room than we had
between the beds. John and I lived in this concrete
bomb-shelter for a number of years and for the first couple of
years nothing unusual happened. But then my sister Cheryl
returned from Queensland and we were suddenly one bedroom short. To
solve the problem, John gallantly agreed to sleep on a mattress
on the floor behind the beds, allowing Cheryl to have his bed.
However, after a week or so, Cheryl complained that she couldn't
sleep on the lumpy mattress and asked me if I would swap beds
with her. Less gallant than John, at first I refused. But
after a fair amount of nagging and pleading, from both Cheryl and
our mother, I finally reluctantly gave in.
The first night sleeping in the
right-hand bed, I awakened late at night (I don't know the time
since the clock was on the floor behind the beds, near where John
was sleeping) to see a ghastly figure standing near the cast-iron
door at the foot of my bed. The figure looked like a tall man
surrounded by a sea of swirling yellow flames. His right arm
was held out, pointing accusingly down at the bed where I lay.
He was fairly solid looking, however, the cast-iron door was
clearly visible through him. (After this experience I have
never been able to enjoy M.R. James-style ghost stories, in which
ghosts are depicted as 100% solid, looking exactly like living
people. My own experience tells me that whatever ghosts really
are -- disembodied human souls, demons, earth-recordings, etc.
--, they could NEVER be mistaken for a living human
In a work of fiction I would
probably have done something heroic, or something stupid like
charging at the "ghost" probably to crash headfirst into the
cast-iron door behind it to kill myself or knock myself
unconscious. In real life, I did nothing but sit quivering in
the bed, staring wide-eyed in terror at the figure for ten
minutes or so, before pulling the blankets up over my head to
hide under the covers. I stayed cowering under the bedclothes
for maybe a half hour or so, until eventually I fell asleep and
slept through the rest of the night.
In a work of fiction I would
have told everyone what I had seen and after they had finished
laughing at me, I would have indignantly set out to prove the
horror existed by staying up to watch for it the next night.
Perhaps even insisting they sat up with me. In real life I did
and said nothing about what I had seen to anyone.
The next night I woke up late
and saw the glowing, fire-shrouded figure standing at the foot of
my bed again, still pointing accusingly at me with its right
hand. Over the next few months I woke up late almost every
night and saw the ghastly glowing figure every time.
On every occasion my reaction
was the same: I sat staring at the horror for a few minutes, then
pulled the blankets up over my head and finally fell asleep, and
slept the rest of the night through.
Then, to my great relief my
sister, Cheryl, returned to Queensland where she shared a flat with my eldest sister,
Denise, who had stayed up there. This meant that I could return
to my own bed and John returned to the "haunted bed". I call it
the haunted bed, because whatever the ghostly figure was, it
could not be seen from my bed, only the one that John normally
Relieved to be back in my own
bed, and pleased to never see the horror again, I hardly thought
of it again over the next couple of years.
Then at age fifteen, in year
ten, I was in a social studies class, when our teacher started
talking about the sights of Williamstown. Perhaps I should
mention for the benefit of anyone who hasn't lived there, that
the people of Williamstown are among the most self-centred,
egotists on earth. Although Williamstown is nothing but a
working class suburb, the residents behave as though it is the
most wonderful place on earth. Williamstown-ites spend half
their time fantasising about the wonders of Williamstown. Thus
it was that instead of teaching us Social Studies as she was paid
to do, that day our teacher was talking about "wonderful Willy".
She then progressed to local legends. As a foreigner, having
only lived there for four or five years, I was close to falling
asleep from boredom at this stage.
Until one of the students,
whose last name was McLaughlin, suddenly said, "The old house
where Roberts lives is supposed to be haunted."
I came wide-awake immediately,
hoping the student would give a description of the ghost supposed
to haunt our house. Or at least that the teacher might ask for
my confirmation that the house was haunted. After all I lived
there, so if it was haunted, I might be expected to know
something about it. However, she didn't even look in my
direction. And to my disappointment McLaughlin said nothing
more, so the teacher moved on to the next student and the next
legend, and I went back to sleep.
After the class I sought
McLaughlin out in the hope that he knew more about the ghost that
haunted our house. However, he swore that all he knew was that
the house was supposed to be haunted. Although we were not
friends and so he had no reason to want to help me, he had no
reason to lie about it either, so I must believe that he was
telling the truth.
With all the imagined wonders
of Williamstown, one true wonder about the town in those days was
the marvellous library; on par with the one we have in Footscray
thirty years later. I used to bicycle down to the library a
couple of times a week either to research assignments for school
or to get books to read. So it might seem natural that I would
have tried to research the legend of the
Horror in the library. And in
a work of fiction that is exactly what I would have done.
However, as strange as it seems to me now, what I really did at
the time was nothing.
My interest in the "horror" had
been piqued for a moment by McLaughlin's comment in class. But
when he knew nothing more about the ghost I did nothing about it
and almost forgot about it completely.
In 1976 my parents separated,
so my father stayed in Williamstown and my mother, my sister
Denise (now back from Queensland) and myself moved into a rented house in
Yarraville. In 1978 we moved to Footscray, and in July 2000 I
moved to the house I currently live in, in
Over the next few years I had
all but forgotten the horror.
In July 1987 my brother John
was killed in a road accident. Understandably this was a great
shock to all of us. The next year, 1988, we were all still
depressed at John's death, my mother was in a state of heavy
shock, so Cheryl, who was working part-time at nights in those
days, had taken to coming over to visit two or three days a
One day Cheryl, Denise, mum,
and I were all sitting down at the kitchen table drinking tea or
coffee, when out of the blue Cheryl said to me, "Do you remember
when you lived out back in the 'bomb shelter' with
I assured her I did, and she
explained that the real reason that she had wanted to swap beds
with me wasn't because John's mattress was lumpy as she had
claimed at the time, but because she had seen something ghostly
every night over the week she had slept there. Naturally I
expected her to say that she had seen the ghostly man surrounded
by fire, pointing down toward the bed. Instead she told us that
what she had seen was a number of ghostly white faces hovering
above the bed.
In a work of fiction I would
then have told Cheryl what I had seen and we would have compared
stories, teamed up, done some research and finally cracked the
mystery of the Hannan Street Horror. In real life I kept quiet, and up
until publishing this document have never yet told anyone what I
saw back in the early 1970s in Williamstown.
I guess on reflection that the
strangest thing of all about what Cheryl and I both did or didn't
do after seeing the Hannan Street Horror, was that neither of us
had bothered to ask John at the time if he had ever seen anything
strange. After all the phenomenon could only be seen from his
bed, and he slept there for a number of years while Cheryl only
slept there one week and myself a few months. So logically you
would expect John to have seen the "ghost" much more often than
anyone else. Yet he never mentioned seeing or sensing anything
strange and never complained about sleeping in that particular
bed. However by the time Cheryl told me what she had seen John
was dead, making it impossible for us to question him.
After this I hardly thought of
Street Horror again,
and Cheryl and I never spoke of it again for some
Then in September 1992 my
father died and we were notified that Cheryl, Denise, mum, and I
had jointly inherited the Hannan Street house along with the Masonic Lodge (my father
had been a long-time Lodge member), so we would each receive a
one-fifth share upon sale of the house.
To all extent and purpose that
seemed to be the last that any of us would ever hear of
Street Horror. But
not so. In May 1995 we had gathered to celebrate Mother's Day.
At the gathering was mum, Denise, myself, Cheryl, Cheryl's son
Andrew Cott, and Andrew's then fiancé Theresa - they've since
After dinner we were sitting
round at the kitchen table talking and Theresa mentioned that she
knew the woman who had purchased our old house in
Street. This was
news to us. Although Andrew had known Theresa when the house
had been sold in 1993 she hadn't mentioned knowing the buyer at
"She told me they're going to
pull down the old concrete building out behind the house,"
Theresa told us. "They reckon they can sense a menacing
presence out there."
Well, that is all I can tell
you about the Hannan
Street Horror at
this juncture. We still haven't bothered to try to do any
research to find out what (if anything) it really is. All I
know is that it appeared to me as a man in a sea of fire pointing
accusingly, it appeared to Cheryl as a number of floating white
faces, and to Theresa's friends as a menacing presence, a feeling
of something evil lurking there.
Possibly with the destruction
of the "bomb shelter" the presence will cease to exist. But
maybe not. "Ghosts" are supposed to be able to tenant a new
building built on the site of a place they have long haunted.
And there had been a rickety old wooden bungalow on the site that
we had torn down before building the "bomb shelter" so possibly
the "horror", whatever it was, had originally haunted the old
building and moved to the new concrete structure when it was
built there? Who can say?
In 2003, when my mother, now
elderly and infirm, was living with me, we drove down to
Williamstown to see what remained of the old house.
The owners had not only pulled
down the 'bomb shelter'. But had had the whole brick house and
all out buildings torn down and replaced with a colonial style
The above may or may not be a
true "supernatural" incident, however, everything stated happened
exactly as I have related it; this is not a work of
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