LEGEND has it that the 90-year-old building on the corner of Marius and Brisbane streets has had an extra man on the books for the last few years.
He resides upstairs on the third level of the building, a forgotten floor filled with the ghosts of a long-dead newsroom.
Among the old film negatives and dusty paper files which represent the history of The Northern Daily Leader, he makes his own contribution to the news of the day.
You see, some believe The Leader building has a ghost.
Everyone has a story or has heard of someone who has a story: from reports of people staying at the hotel across the road seeing a man standing at the third floor window, to female employees encountering a man in a brown apron on the stairs.
Whether fact or fiction, remains to be said.
Although all are familiar with the stories, encounters follow a random path.
An employee of 45 years may never have crossed paths with the ghostly resident but one with just a few years in the building may have seen him.
Tom,* a burly employee of 18 years, and seemingly far from the type to believe in manifestations, said his experience changed his mindset.
Working alone early one morning soon after he started at The Leader, he said he heard the sound of footsteps. Engrossed in his work, he ignored them for a few minutes, until they trod a path to right behind his chair and paused. With the hairs rising on the back of his neck, Tom said he turned around, and finding nothing there, bolted from the building. Leaving the computer on and the ad he was working on unfinished – he said he “got the hell out”.
The origins of The Leader ghost story share a path with many in Tamworth’s past, says historian Warren Newman. All it takes is a deserted or derelict building, a celebrated murder and those who believe in the power of a good scare.
In his 2004 book co-written with Lyall Green, Chronological History of Tamworth, Warren notes a few historical tales of a spectral nature.
“Most are urban legends. Some are marvellous bits of folklore, and that’s where the appeal of ghost stories lie,” Warren said.
“Death is always the starting point for a good ghost story.”
In the case of The Leader stories, a gory urban legend that a man was killed by being driven through the rollers of the giant industrial printing presses back in the early years of the century, although undocumented and unproven, had been enough to start the whispers.
A well-documented story that did begin with a murder was that of “The White Lady.”
After the gold rush of the 1890s, a narrow timber bridge, replaced with a culvert by Tamworth City Council in 1970, was the site of Tamworth’s most legitimate ghost sightings.
An excerpt from Mr Newman and Mr Green’s book, reads: Local residents spoke of a Chinese man who was alleged to have killed a local woman at the site, and it was said that her ghost returned from time to time to haunt the area.
“The story was handed down to the children of the day with such conviction that when some of them later returned to Tamworth as adults, they would gather in vain at the old timber bridge in the hope of seeing the ghost of ‘The White Lady’.”
Merely a kilometre up the road is the infamous King George V Ave, a beautiful stretch of oak trees by day and a spooky line of shadows at night, where teenagers, full of bravado and freshly P-plated, gather with their cars. A notorious drag strip, accidents aplenty have occurred on the stretch of perfectly-straight road. Investigating police might say the accidents were due to lack of driver skill,
but another more sinistertheory belongs to those who say the avenue is haunted.
Reports of blown fuses, cars swerving at the last minute to avoid a person on the road, whether simply urban legend, or a case of Tamworth’s most infamous ghost residing just around the corner, we’ll leave it to the reader to decide.
Website GhostInfo.com, which reports ghost sightings around Australia, claims the New England is rife with spectral occurrences, reporting a little girl following students home from Calrossy, sinister goings-on in the Armidale High School auditorium and even sightings in the underground Tamworth Shoppingworld carpark.
We all love a good ghost story, but do they belong to urban legend or are they merely the product of a suggestive mind?
“I believe some are psychological manifestations, but then again some things cannot be explained,” Warren said.
Often a good ghost story would be started by children back in the early years of the last century, long before the invention of video games and other amusements, a time when children amused themselves for hours on end by simply exploring.
“They’d just get on their bikes and ride around town, invariably finding the deserted buildings and would get in, run amok and scare themselves silly,” Warren said.
Long being the inspiration for horror films throughout the years, the empty floors and spectral mood of a derelict building could have easily started numerous ghost stories, which are then passed down from generation to generation and perpetuating the myth.
The tale of the Clermont Park ghost backs up this theory – a story that began when weird eccentricities on the part of a man in the 1900s led to suspicion that his property was haunted.
An excerpt from Mr Newman and Mr Green’s book, reads: A wealthy businessman named David Maxwell (from the flour milling partnership of Fielder & Maxwell) bought a property named Clermont Park on the northern side of the Attunga-Somerton Road.
One of his habits, it was alleged, was that he would ride around his property in the dead of night on a grey horse, carrying a lit candle and bizarrely, covering his head with a white sheet.
Stories about the strange behaviour began to circulate, and it was no wonder locals believed the property was haunted.
When the property was later sold, the new owner, William Alexander Davison ,was let known in no uncertain terms that he would be unwise to stay there, but later disproved the rumours.
Historical ghost stories are more common than modern day tales because in years gone by, people were simply more superstitious.
Proof of this lies within the fences of Tamworth Cemetery on Showground Rd, where, Warren said, if you look across the many years of graves, the height of tombstones has lowered considerably in recent years.
“People used to believe that your gravestone signified your entry into the afterlife. Therefore the bigger and more magnificent your tombstone marking was, the more the spirits would take notice.”
Another bit of popular superstition which has gone by the wayside is the belief that a pair of boots buried beneath the floorboards of a freshly-built house or building would ward off evil spirits.
Up until the early 1890s, some Tamworth builders were still abiding by this curious practice.
The recent renovations of popular old pub-come-restaurant The Square Man Inn, unearthed a pair of boots buried by builders nearly a century before, and they are now on display in the building.
“The boots would be buried under the floorboards near a fireplace or a back door. Builders used to believe that evil spirits would find the boots and walk out of the building, rather than taking up residence,” Warren said.
Warren said he’s sometimes surprised that a famous murder, like the one that occurred under the Anzac Park footbridge around the turn of the century, hasn’t generated a ghost story.
“A man was murdered and his body left under the footbridge late one night. Children found the body the next day,” he said
“It’s got all the elements needed, a celebrated murder, a spooky place at night, but people have left that one alone.”
A more modern day story is that which belongs to the address of 487 Peel St.
Now the Sportsmans Warehouse, several employees have reported sightings, feeling uncomfortable on their own after closing time, and doors moving of their own accord.
The building’s owner, Gordon Austin, who ran a motorworks business there from 1968 until 2005, said he’s intrigued by the stories. Rumours that an employee was killed on the premises during his time are false, and he was unaware of any deaths that may have occurred in the old building.
Out on the Paradise Bridge in the chill wind of early evening, Warren Newman parks his car and shows me the spot where he believes “The White Lady” waits.
The road is deserted and the culvert grown over with tall weeds, the bridge neglected and scrawled with graffiti. It’s a fitting spot for a ghost story.
After telling his tale, Warren gets in his car and turns the key, the engine revs but doesn’t turn over.
Waiting for the NRMA on a bridge with a dead engine and winds whipping, the legend of The White Lady seems very real, and it’s here that you can see why ghost stories begin in the mind.
Warren has the last word.
“I’m not a believer in ghosts, but I reserve the right to change my mind.”
* Tom is not his real name