This is Ghosting, the content series where we delve into all things creepy, spooky and unexplained. Stories from all corners of the world, audio visual evidence, and interviews with people convinced they've been touched from the other side.
Lawrence Ryan talks about bumping into ghosts like your dad probably talks about bumping into his old mate Bill from the footy club.
But then, he would - he was born and raised in what has been described as the country’s most haunted house, the Monte Cristo homestead.
Though the dedicated tour guide was bursting with stories of guests who’ve had cold hands brush their toes in the night, or seen dolls fly off shelves, I was more interested in hearing about a childhood spent under the watchful eyes of the homestead’s less visible residents when I spoke to Lawrence.
“As a kid growing up there we didn’t think of ghosts and spirits and things it was just our house,” Lawrence told me.
He then paused, and after a moment added, “Looking back I realise it was a little bit different and a little bit more spooky than other kids’ houses.”
‘A little bit different’ begins to feel like a quite blatant understatement as I learn more.
The house his father saw in a dream
The house was purchased by Lawrence’s parents Reginald and Olive Ryan after Reginald became convinced he had seen it in a dream as a child.
The stately home that now marks the NSW town of Junee, at the time the homestead was barely more than a roof teetering on four walls.
Every window blown out, no electricity and whole walls missing, in 1963 they purchased the dilapidated property off the youngest of the former owner’s nine children, Alphonse Crawley, for one thousand pounds.
An auspicious beginning for any house in the market for a ghost or two, this house needed no prompting.
It seemed to crawl with whispers of lives lived and lost within its four walls from the moment the Ryans moved in.
In the first few months, Reginald and Olive were returning from town when they saw the home, which was disconnected from electricity, blazing with light from every broken window.
When they pulled up the house the lights snapped off like the non-existent electricity main had been flicked off.
Perhaps the most chilling tale is one Lawrence barely remembers himself, but which sent a shiver up my spine as he relayed it.
‘There’s a man in the house’
Once the run-down property was restored by his parents, Lawrence and his four siblings, all older sisters had more room to spread out.
For Lawrence this meant sleeping in the ‘boy’s room’ alone at night, and he remembers being scared of the dark and sleeping alone in the room, as would be any child, but as he revealed, he had a slightly better reason than most to avoid dark corners and things that go bump in the night.
One evening Olive and Reg threw a party in the sprawling ballroom, a glittering affair that stretched well into the evening.
Lawrence, just six or seven years old at the time, was marched up to the house and put to bed, with his sisters taking turns to check on him through the night.
“One by one my sisters come to check on their little brother as the night starts progressing,” he said.
“At one point my youngest sister is told to go check on me. She’s not happy about it but she walks up to the room.”
His sister only around 12 years old herself resented the long walk up to Lawrence’s room.
“She walks from the ballroom into the main house. Into the house up the staircase and is stopped dead in her tracks in the doorway to the bedroom.”
“She sees me with an old man on the edge of the bed looking down on me while I slept.”
The horrifying find prompted the sister to let out a piercing scream, but this story doesn’t end in violence or bloodshed.
“The old man looked upturned towards her and vanished into thin air.”
The screams had the adults scouring the property for the mystery man, but nobody was there.
Lawrence said the figures were spotted more and more frequently as time went on.
It took a while before the dusty old photographs of the previous owners began to float to mind whenever a shadowy person was spotted.
On closer inspection, it emerged that the man on the bed, the woman in the window and the movements and noises in the dead of night appeared to be the remanents of the house’s former owners, Mr and Mrs Crawley.
A twisted history
If ever an argument could be made for a couple to kick it ghost-style in the afterlife, the Crawleys are it.
Stories from the house’s time under the family make a ghostly apparition at the end of a little boy’s bed pale in comparison - pun intended.
10 people passed away on the property in the Crawley’s time, many of whom Lawrence claims didn’t go willingly.
The Crawley’s daughter Magdelena was dropped down the stairs as a baby, Lawrence says, and was one of at least four or five children who died on the property.
Whispers were, the woman holding the bub felt an invisible hand push her from her grasp moments before she fell.
Another tale tells of one employee, Harold, a worker with a mental disability who was mistreated and abused for decades.
Authorities found him chained like an animal in the caretaker’s cottage after 40 years of service in conditions that saw him die shortly after leaving the property.
Some reports even suggest his dead mother was also found in the room with him.
A stable boy was reportedly burnt to death in his sleep in a horrifying punishment gone wrong and a maid plunged to her death from the balcony, pushed - or so the rumours go.
A passion for the house in all its shades
Where any person confronted with the reality of growing up in a home dripping in this kind of grim history, and supernatural present, might think the only option would be to escape, Lawrence has remarkably chosen to lean in the house and all its quirks.
His father before him restored the home and started the ghost tours, and now Lawrence runs the site, keeping the ghost tours running to the delight of ghost hunters who flock from near and far for all the terrifying delights the house has to offer.
He terrifies guests with his tales of otherworldly encounters, and seems at home with the ghosts, as of course, he would be.
As for me, after walking away with a ghost of my own on my last foray into haunted ground, I might sit this one out, thanks.
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