Stepping foot through the gateway of Monte Cristo Homestead, it appears as charming as it is creepy... during the daytime, at least.
Explore the beautifully restored rooms of this property in Junee, NSW, and you’ll find antique furniture, a multitude of mirrors and perhaps most frightening of all, ranks of dolls and mannequins.
Outside, the stables, barns and caretaker’s cottage instantly give photographer Katie Nolan a creepy vibe, making her feel short of breath. We later learn it’s a common occurrence that has sent people running in fear.
Shortly after we make it to our room, number three. ‘I’m taking these down,’ I tell Katie, gesturing to two unsettling old portraits of a man and a woman hanging on the wall. ‘I’m not having them stare over me all night.’
Monte Cristo was built in 1884 by Christopher and Elizabeth Crawley, both of whom died within the grounds of the house. It was the Crawleys’ portraits that I’d just taken down – this may have been a bad move, especially since both of them are said to haunt the property with up to eight other spirits in tow.
In the 1960s, Reg and Olive Ryan bought the house, unaware of the hauntings. Within three days they saw their first ghost and have since heard strange noises, seen bizarre figures and felt pressure applied to their chests as they tried to sleep.
It’s amazing they’ve stayed in the house for the past 49 years. One night is enough for me.
Standing in the corner of the former breakfast room, shivers start flashing up and down my spine – as the old saying goes, someone is walking over my grave. As I glance over to Katie’s direction I can see she’s looking over her shoulder as if she can feel someone’s presence too.
Alarm bells are ringing, especially when we’re shown a photograph of the ghost of Mrs Crawley, standing in the corner of the room where we’ve just been. Although the image is grainy, her presence is clear.
Director Tanzeal Rahim and actor Iain P.F. McDonald were shooting horror movie Muirhouse at the home and confess many scary things happened, including Tanzeal seeing Mr Crawley’s ghost on the first night of shooting.
‘I’m not staying here tonight,’ Iain tells me as I ask him what he thinks of the house. ‘They couldn’t pay me enough money to stay another night here.’
‘So, it’ll be just us here then?’ I think.
By midnight that night, the temperature outside drops to an icy -4C, and it feels no warmer inside. Heading back into the caretaker’s cottage, I pick up a candle and Katie begins to take pictures.
We don’t see it at the time, but there’s a red orb bouncing around me, moving around my body.
By 1.30am, it’s finally time to go to bed. I’ve not been this reluctant to go to sleep since I was 10.
‘Shall we sleep with the light on?’ Katie suggests and I happily agree.
Surprisingly I nod off pretty easily, but in the early hours of the morning I wake suddenly. I’m not sure what’s woken me and I’m too scared to open my eyes.
Instead, I lie terrified hoping the sun will soon come up.
Then I hear a huge bang. It sounds like the heavy oak wardrobe in the corner of the room has been lifted up and dropped on the floorboards. Could it be Mr or Mrs Crawley, angered by my removal of their pictures from the wall?
‘Katie! Did you hear that noise?’ I scream. ‘Yes,’ comes the timid reply, her face poking above the sheets.
‘It’s the walls creaking because it’s an old house,’ Katie says, but she doesn’t look as if she’s convincing herself any more than she’s convincing me.
Then 20 minutes later the cries of a baby start wailing through the room. If someone’s playing a recording, they have a long tape.
‘Can you hear that?’ I demand, terrified, hoping I’ve somehow mistaken the screams of another guest for a baby as I know there aren’t any children here.
‘Yeah, there’s a baby crying,’ Katie confirms.
I check the time – it’s 4.30am. It’s hours until morning and I’m too scared to flee in the dark.
Eventually the sun comes up and I make my escape.
On my way back home I realise I did it – I spent the whole night in the most haunted house in Australia. I’m pretty proud, but like Iain, I don’t think I’ll be back.
By Lisa Harmer
Photos: Katie Nolan