Who ‘Ya Gonna Call?

The cult following of American television shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures has revealed a new interest in the unexplained. Suddenly it seems like it’s not quite so crazy to believe in ghosts. But are Americans the only ones who like chasing down things that go bump in the night? I decided to investigate the newest Paranormal Investigators to hit the screen… a bit closer to home.

 

It’s already been established that I’m afraid of the dark.

Sure I can potter around the odd graveyard or two by myself in full daylight, but as soon as the sun starts setting I usually hightail it with my tail between my legs to my lovely safe car… with the lights on… and the music blaring.

Yes. I’m recounting last week’s trip to Old Picton Cemetery.

To me the idea of walking around in the pitch darkness and chasing shadows in a 150 year old gaol, or an abandoned asylum seems absolutely crazy. For some, though, it’s exactly how they love to spend a Saturday night.

And then, there are people like WSPR… who stride into the dark deliberately seeking the deepest, creepiest corners you could imagine… and then poke around a bit and see if they can stir anything up.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak to Craig Powell, the co-founder of Western Sydney Paranormal Research (WSPR). WSPR is a group of 11 Paranormal Investigators whose hobby it is to chase down the things that live under the bed and make noises in the attic.

Their purpose is to document evidence of the existence of paranormal entities and help clients gain some sort of knowledge about what – or who – they may be dealing with. Mainly, though, they seek to bring this knowledge and understanding of the paranormal to everyone.

Whether it’s a private residence having a problem with strange knockings or a general investigation of a 130 year old asylum, these guys are most definitely not afraid of the dark.

As a team they have investigated countless private homes, as well as more notorious public locations such as The Oaks Historic Homestead, Maitland Gaol and Callan Park Mental Hospital. They were even part of a live investigation at The Hero of Waterloo Hotel which was featured on 2DayFM on January 13th 2012.

Armed with an arsenal consisting of EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) detectors, digital voice recorders, SB7 Spirit Boxes and a psychic or two, they willingly march into the darkness in the hopes of understanding one of the great mysteries of life; is there life after death?

“I believe there’s life after this life,” Craig says, “… but I am probably one of the biggest skeptics. There’s no use knowing that there’s a ghost in a room unless I can document it.”

And document it they do! Aside from audio clips and photos on their website (http://www.westsydneyparanormal.org), videos of their exploits are regularly uploaded to Youtube in a serial fashion. Since 2010 they have clocked over 50 thousand views on their channel ‘WestSydneyParanormal’ and managed to catch the eye of the American producers of Bio Channel’s ‘My Ghost Story’.

Craig and his partner Nicky (also a lead investigator of WSPR) were lucky to travel to L.A. in January to film an episode concerning their experiences for ‘My Ghost Story’. The series, which airs on Bio Channel through pay TV, is a collection of personal ‘ghost stories’ told by the witnesses themselves and backed up by whatever footage or evidence they managed to capture at the time of the happening.

Craig’s own ‘ghost story’ happened in the historic Maitland Gaol, which is a favourite of the WSPR team. It concerned an incident where an inmate – believed to be the spirit of George Savvas – had left a mark indicating his method of death (which was by hanging) across Craig’s neck whilst fellow WSPR investigator Jared Weston filmed the event.

“I asked the spirit how they died.” Craig explains, “As Jared is filming me, this dirty big mark is coming up from across my throat… like a big red welt from ear to ear.”

The story, however, does not end there. Eerily enough, when the ‘My Ghost Story’ crew was shooting the ‘B-roll’ footage back in Australia during May, it seemed that the spirit also wanted his own airtime.

Upon re-entering Maitland Gaol, the director of the shoot gave them instructions to recreate the scene for the show. Craig explained to him what had happened.

“The director said ‘Okay boys, stand there and pretend to look at his neck.” Craig recalls, “And wouldn’t you know it? This dirty big red mark started to appear again… on cue.”

I will admit that when I heard this story, my hair stood on end. Luckily happenings like this, when people are touched, are rare. Any other person – myself included – would take that as a cue to leave, but not WSPR.

“When you get that feeling that you shouldn’t be there, that’s exactly where you need to be. We want something to happen. The places you don’t wanna be are the places that you have to go.”

Now, after working in the dark for almost 3 years, Craig, his partner Nicky and the WSPRS crew are featured in their own version of reality tv; ghost hunting with local film-maker and friend Attila Kaldy in his newest independent film series.

Paranormal Investigators: Phasmaphobia is being produced by Moonlark Media, a local film-making company run by Attila and his wife Andrea. They already have a few notches on their belt from series such as My Project UFO and PI: Paranormal Investigators.

It was Attila’s own childhood experiences were what first prompted his interest in the explained. He received his first book on UFOs at the age of 7, which started the ball rolling.

“I’m passionate about story-telling and art,” He says, “Film-making is… a form of art.”

Attila has been working closely with WSPR for while, sharing time on and off camera whilst editing and producing his own work in the background. Phasmaphobia, as his newest realization, is something that Attila says will be unique to the genre of Paranormal Reality TV.

“[Phasmaphobia] is where people have the opportunity to face one of their greatest fears. It looks at the psychological effects and how interpretations can vary when under stress.”

So far production for the series is going full steam ahead. The spirits are compliant, the problems have been quite minimal, and they are not letting distance play any part in holding them back.

A few weeks ago they travelled to an undisclosed country town 1.5 hours south of Sydney to film for the series in an old local pub. More recently, however, they finished an investigation at Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s West.

With apparently no shortage of potential sites to investigate, and an enthusiasm that knows very few boundaries, there seems to be nothing that can hold them back…. But is there a market for this in Australia? Attila believes there is.

“Without a doubt. However it is still a niche audience in Australia with our limited population as opposed to Europe [and] the US.”

Although American television has helped promote discussion about the unexplained – spurred on by fan-based social media coverage – it can be a double-edged blade. Many of these shows have been rife with rumors of being staged or even fabricating evidence for views.

“Sometimes media and reality a two very different beasts, especially with a large network controlling the content.” Attila says, “It’s great working with Craig, Nicky and the WSPR team. The personalities in front of the camera are genuine. They’re honest people. That is one of the many reasons why we chose to work with WSPR on this project.”

Paranormal Investigators: Phasmophobia is due to hit TVS Television Sydney in 2013. For more information on the series log on to Facebook to follow:

Paranormal Investigators: The Challenge

WSPR – West Sydney Paranormal Research 

Moonlark Media

Or Twitter @teamWSPR

Peace out Paranormal Peeps!\m/ Jaq \m/
TheGhostWriter

Pottering around Picton

More resting-place-of-the-dead shots!
Took my IR camera along this time for kicks 🙂
Also redefined true love; waiting in the car whilst your crazy fiance meanders around graveyards snapping pictures and talking to herself. Lucky that my man likes my particular flavor of crazy!

Character Profile: Craig Powell of WSPR (Western Sydney Paranormal Research)

He closes a large hand over my own slightly shaky one. Maybe ten centimeters taller than my own 160-something cm frame, he gestures me over and pulls up the door to the garage attached to his brick home in Western Sydney.

This is no ordinary garage. Behind a soft lounge chair, a pile of halogen lights on stands slightly obstruct the view out the back window to the yard. Behind me is a bookcase of gym bags full of electronic equipment – Mel-Meters, EM pumps, mini DV camcorders and ‘Spirit Box’ or two.

Craig Powell is a Paranormal Investigator, the founder of Western Sydney Paranormal Research and somewhat intimidating. Maybe it is his reputation within the field of Paranormal Investigation in Australia – the reputation of his team – that makes me slightly stammer as I explain the nature of the interview.

His youngest son – Diesel – climbs into his lap, playing with an iPad as I ask about his ‘hobby’.

“It’s my love job.” He shrugs, “We do treat WSPR as a business. We run it as such. We don’t want to be seen as people running around in the dark looking for cheap thrills.”

Death is a motif in the WSPRS HQ. There’s a graffiti-style picture on the wall above our heads: the team name is sprayed in dark red against a glowing green skull that eyeballs us as we talk.

“I was brought up with the belief that there’s more than just life. It’s in my blood; it’s in my background… On investigation I’m probably one of the least spiritual people you’ll see – one of the most skeptical people. Yes I believe there’s life after this life… but I am probably one of the biggest skeptics.”

On the fridge is a photocopy of a Prisoner ID, labeling the photo No. 166860: George Savvas. There’s a background to this photocopy; a run-in at the Maitland Gaol where the spirit – presumably George Savvas – left a mark on Craig’s neck.

Every so often he takes off his cap, smooths down his brown hair and resettles it on his head.

“You get used to it. You build up a tolerance for what happens in the dark. Nothing really puts us off anymore. The darker, the scarier the place, the better.”

His wife Nicky – a co-founder of WSPRS – breezes into the garage twice. The shift of his focus is so clearly evident. Every time she enters the garage he only has eyes for her. His default ‘serious’ expression melts into a temperate smile. The same smile as when he scolds his son for whizzing around the room like a cheeky wrecking ball.

“Sorry… yes darling! What was I saying? Oh yeah… I want stuff to scare me. I wanna be scared… because I wanna know. It’s not for bravado or to say I’m tough… it’s to put myself in the shoes of these people that we help. What are they going through every night? It helps me work better.”

He leans back in his seat,

“We’re just normal people. We just like running around in the dark looking for ghosts.”

Before I leave he asks me for a photo for the WSPRS Facebook page and I get a goodbye hug, along with an invitation to come back tomorrow to meet more of the guys.

I leave; much less scared than before I had met him… which I think is his motive, not only for clients… but for nervous student writers too.

Why I believe in ghosts

I have a confession to make; I believe in ghosts.

I remember when I was a little girl I had always been afraid of the dark. I would never walk into a room that didn’t have the light on. It was that fear of what I couldn’t see that used to liquefy my innards with terror.

There was many a time when I was a child that I would suddenly wake up from a deep sleep by someone whispering my name in my ear. To this day I’ve never really been able to figure out if it was simply my imagination or something else. It would make sense to blame it on my overactive childish imagination… but at that time, I never even really knew what a ghost – or spirit – really was.

My fear of the dark was so strong that I would always sleep with the quilt covering whatever ear it was that I wouldn’t be lying on, simply to stop the possibility of anyone – or anything – whispering in my ear when I was asleep and helpless.

I had been raised in a moderately Christian household. I remember about 7 or 8 times when we went to church… usually on Christmas Day. My father – like every little girls father – always seemed to have the answer to everything. Whenever I was particularly terrified of going to sleep late at night he’d tell me; “If you ever see a ghost, just tell them this: You’re not wanted here. Go away.” And as all little girls did, I believed him.

I lost count of the times I’d woken up late at night – after hearing my name whispered in my ear – and shakily hissed that phrase into the darkness. I usually ended up running down the length of our federation-style home – the longest 20 or so meters of my life – until I reached the haven of my parents’ room.

At that age – to me – ghosts and spirits were something that existed only to torment the living. I’d always imagined them as twisted souls that weren’t good enough to get into heaven, but not bad enough to get into hell, so they were stuck forever in limbo on the same plane as us humans.

I used to have this re-occurring dream; I’d be too scared to sleep in my own bed and run down to my parents’ room, but just as I passed the kitchen I’d hear this multitude of whispers and slow, like I was running through quicksand. Blackened invisible hands (don’t ask me how they were black AND invisible) would stretch out of the shadows of the china cabinet on the wall and catch me, dragging me down through the concrete floor of the – at the time unfinished – house and trap me under the dank earth of the house whilst my parents slept, oblivious.

When I was about 8 or 9 was the time when movies like the ‘Candyman’, and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ came out. Although I was never allowed to see these movies, the horror stories spread around my primary school like wildfire. It was the ‘in thing’ to whisper ‘Bloody Mary’ into the school toilet mirrors three times and see who lasted the longest before finally giving into fits of terrified laughter and run out of the toilets squealing.

It wasn’t until I was about 16 or 17 that I had my first real paranormal experience. I grew up on the northern edge of the Southern Highlands, in a little town called Bargo. My parents probably wouldn’t agree with me calling it ‘little’ but in hindsight, let me assure you; it was little.

During high school I’d developed an interest in theatre, specifically musical theatre, and I had the chance to do a number of performances in two known haunted locations in South-Western Sydney; the Picton Community Hall and the Campbelltown Theatre.

My first paranormal experience – and I call it this loosely… there are still a lot of variables that should be acknowledged – happened on the opening night of the Wollondilly Theatre Group’s production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.

Before all of this happened, I had never known about the hall we were rehearsing and performing in being haunted. I was fresh out of high school and rearing to do my own thing without the judging constraints of the social group I had belonged to at school.

I remember just before the scene where Jesus is overwhelmed by lepers and beggars at the temple (I was a leper) I realized I had forgotten my ‘leper-sheet’. I leapt off the stage into the women’s change-room, through the huge swinging doors at the base of three stairs and began rifling through the pile of costumes that I had heaped in my own little corner of the room.

Behind me, I heard the door swing open so hard that they hit the walls either side of them (on reflection, I realized that I didn’t hear any footsteps). Thinking that it was one of the girls I was performing with, I said “Laura! We’re supposed to be on stage!” I turned and found that the doors were still shut and no-one was there.

I had never run so fast back onto the stage in my life.

I suppose, thinking back, it would be easy to rationalize this as perhaps someone poking their head into the change room and then disappearing once they saw that I was in there. That doesn’t explain the loudness of the banging doors that I heard, nor the lack of footsteps on the old creaky floorboards that lined the old community hall or the fact that everyone in the production was on stage at that very moment besides me.

There was also the issue of the magically moving lights. Between every performance the lighting people had to duct-tape the lights into place, otherwise when we arrived the next night they’d be all over the place in the wrong positions.

My second – and perhaps the most important – paranormal experience happened when I was 18, a year after the incident in the community hall. I was on a historical ghost tour with Liz Vincent in the town of Picton. We had done an entire walkabout of the town of Picton and ended up at the grand finale: the Redbank Tunnel.

The Redbank Tunnel was opened in 1867 and was one of the first railway tunnels to be used by Rail NSW. Now condemned and heritage listed, it is apparently plagued by the ghost of Emily Bollard, (there are conflicting stories that she used to set signals or used to travel through the tunnel to see family) who tragically was struck by a train in the tunnel and was carried over 50 meters on the front of the train until it managed to come to a stop.
The tour group had moved into about a third of the way into the tunnel. We had been watching a greenish glow move up and down on the walls. Me in my ‘know-it-all’ teenage mind had put it down as (what I now know is) visual matrixing. I figured that were told to expect something and so we saw it, exactly as described.
There came an opportunity for a few of the younger members of the group – there were quite a few children, from about 11 and older – to turn back and wait with Liz’s husband at the entrance to the tunnel. I decided that I had had enough. My hair was standing on end, I was getting very cold chills and my ever-present fear of the dark was beginning to make breathing hard for me.

My brother and I moved back with the rest of the children and we walked to the entrance of the tunnel. As we crossed the threshold, I remember feeling the hairs on my neck prickle again – more intensely – and I looked back down the tunnel. I couldn’t see my parents, but my eyes flicked down to the wall of the tunnel – barely a meter away from me.
That was when I saw an orb.
Now this isn’t the same as seeing a multitude of dust reflections on a digital photo. I saw this with my own eyes. It was within touching distance… maybe fifty or sixty centimeters from my upper thigh.

Even now, seven years later, I can remember it clearly. It was a perfect circle, maybe 6 or 7 centimeters in diameter, and a colour that I’ve never seen before; almost yellow and almost white, but with the same silver that you get from when you shine a torch at the eyes of a cat.

Of course, I screamed. I was a startled teenager… what else was there to do? I grabbed my brother’s hand as I saw it zip backwards into the wall and ran to the relative safety of Mr Vincent’s car.

Liz is dead now (A huge loss to the community. She was such a wise woman), and the tours no longer operate. I can’t rationalize what I saw as a reflection. At that age time, I simply didn’t let myself think about it… maybe it was a black cat? Maybe it was a glimmer of my torch off a piece of glass? None of my reasons explained why it visibly darted backwards into the wall! Had I scared it? I’d never know. The property is privately owned and as far as I know, you need special permission to go back there.

There have been a few little instances here and there since then of paranormal activity; seeing a man sitting in the seats that the Campbelltown theatre (supposedly Fishers Ghost) and the mysteriously shifting coke can (which we watched over the period of about 5 seconds) and slamming screen door (when no-one else was there) at a house that me and my fiancé used to live in.

Now 24, I’ve managed to grow up enough to realize that not every story that you hear is true. I’ve found that for the last two years I’ve been devouring TAPS, Ghost Hunters International and Ghost Adventures episodes by the handful. I’m an English Major at university, and since the age of 19 I’ve been taught to question everything. For me, questioning everything doesn’t end at the range of comfort either.
I’m terrified of heights, so I took up indoor rock-climbing twice a week. I hear a noise on the other (darkened) side of the house at night so get up and investigate. I purposefully like to be the one to turn off all the lights at night and walk up the stairs with the darkness at my back. Why? Because it terrifies me.
I want to know why. Why am I afraid of the dark? Why are humans afraid of the unexplained? Why is it that other cultures around the globe are so comfortable with the idea of life after death, yet typical Western Culture shuns it and denies any existence? Why are people so quick to believe that the universe was created by some primordial ‘Big Bang’ but ask them to look at footage of an apparent manifestation and have them point out all of the flaws in a Paranormal theory?
Can we re-create a Paranormal occurrence with 100% accuracy? Not yet. Can we re-create a mini ‘Big Bang’ in a Hadron Collider with 100% reliability? With an 8 billion dollar machine, yes! But imagine what a team of Paranormal experts could do with 8 billion dollars!
Because this is an area that is still quite young in its development in mainstream culture there are precious few resources available to hone your knowledge base of the unexplained. There are a great deal less knowledgeable public figures to try and garner information from than the scientific field… and then there is also the question of validity.

One thing that has always interested me is how many parallels there are between the current state of the Paranormal Field and physics in the 17th century. Both are relatively constrained by popular belief and marginalised because of these radical ideas that defied what most people are comfortable with. The idea that the Earth revolved around the sun? How about the idea that there exists multiple layers of perception… that the ‘ghosts’ we see and interact with are a beings that exist within a different layer?
I’m not going to go into Paranormal Metaphysics, but theories of the existence of ghosts are almost as unbelievable as theories of planetary motions were in the 16th and 17th centuries. Now – hundreds of years later – we have the technology to be able to prove that Copernicus was right. Who’s not to say that in a hundred years time we won’t have the technology to communicate with the other side?
I like to keep an open mind about these things, so yes; I believe in ghosts. I believe in the possibility that we haven’t discovered all that there is to discover in the world, physically or metaphysically. So who knows? Maybe our grandchildren will be given the chance to complete doctorates in Spiritual Physics and have their own chance to blow 8 billion dollars communicating with the dead.
I’ll just make sure I give them clear EVPs 🙂

Newtown Graveyard: Testing the Waters

Gently warming myself up for the creepier places in life, I went for a stroll through Camperdown Cemetery a few weeks ago.  No ghosts for me… but there were a few places that I didn’t feel like lingering in, which struck me as odd. When I was a child I used to have no problems wondering around cemeteries or graveyards. The last graveyard I went to in fact, at 11pm at night in Picton no less, I felt strangely comfortable.

Now I don’t know if this simply says something about the old Picton Cemetery, or if I was just having a minor psychosomatic creep-out in Camperdown. All I know is that the day was incredibly beautiful and the cemetery makes for some stunning shots!