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.
A tummy rolling with nausea, pounding sense of pressure in your head and shoulders, a light head and right at the edges of your peripheral vision a blurred figure, ducking from sight every time you swing your eyes around to bring them into focus.
Not a migraine, not a bout of sudden-onset food poisoning.
Welcome to the common symptoms reported by guests of Sydney’s most haunted hotspot, where a tap on the shoulder could just as soon be a prankster friend as a fingerless figure from years gone by. Chances are, you’ll never know for sure.
North Head Quarantine Station, or Q Station as it’s now known, has long been the subject of morbid fascination for Sydneysiders and as some research ahead of my own tour demonstrated, there’s a good reason for that.
“I was touched on the back of my leg in the morgue. Sounds innocent enough... but there was no one standing close to me and I was standing with my back to the far corner of the room,” one woman wrote of her experience to the site’s Facebook page.
It’s just one example of the hundreds of stories of the place that give you a shiver, but more than anything it’s the photos of inexplicable figures looming in the shadows taken by guests that truly get the heart pumping.
Human forms tucked in the background, beams of light with no source, it’s creepy stuff.
And with the history this site has, it’s no wonder.
A nasty history of disease and death
The coastal property ran as a quarantine station from 1832 when the first convict ship was quarantined to curtail the spread of disease, until 1984 when the station was finally shut down.
It was the first port of call for any incoming ship, or later plane, that was suspected of carrying the deadly, contagious diseases that ravaged the world in the past century or so.
There, on one of the world’s most beautiful city coastlines, hundreds met their end.
And in its early years, what a death it was. Confined to cold clinical settings, separated from most of the living, almost dead before you were dead from typhoid, or plague or flu.
If anywhere was going to be haunted, this place is it.
The station is home to many hastily filled graves, and was the final port of call for many a soul who never made it to their Sydney destination.
Though close to 600 deaths are officially recorded, whole graveyards are missing documents, meaning guides estimate it could be a much, much higher figure.
Even a hardened sceptic could be forgiven for getting the creeps out here, particularly after the sun goes down.
For the thrill-seekers, the site hosts ghost tours, which walk you through key historical buildings from the station’s past. A past that, as I discovered when I undertook one, sits frightening close to the present surface.
Stay out of the showers
The site’s former shower block, a looming grid of stretching hallways and narrow cubicles is rumoured to shudder with the breath of former visitors trying to keep clean in the afterlife.
Whether it’s the three hours you spend on your feet before you enter, the build-up of creepy stories or just the place itself, I found myself picking up the pace until I was running out of the building when I visited it myself.
A glance over the site’s official ghost tour Facebook page and the amount of testimonies is staggering.
“I had my ass grabbed in this shower,” one woman wrote.
“When we went into the showers at the end something walked right through me,” another shared.
One visitor, Nicholas Muscat, even shared the picture above. He took it alone the showers, or so he thought.
At the time he didn’t realise he was apparently sharing with a spooky guest you might be able to make out in the depths of the hallway’s end.
A ‘violent push’ in the cottage
It’s not just the showers that shiver either.
Way up on the hill sits the gravedigger’s cottage.
Towards the end of the tour, most groups will enter and have a poke around.
For our group, a waterlogged cupboard door decided to greet us by flying open, and then slamming shut so suddenly the woman who caught it all could hardly believe her eyes.
When we tried to budge the thing it was stuck fast, as it had been for many years a perplexed guide explained.
Now I’m no fool. I know that a bit of atmosphere and a timely application of WD-40 can a haunting make, but as the shaken woman explained what had happened I couldn’t help remembering something tour guide Lachlan had shared with me days before I embarked on the freakiest night of my life.
“There have been strange happenings in the gravedigger’s cottage, many of them related to ambience and atmosphere but some of a more physical nature,” he said.
“There have been several physical occurrences… (for example) a large gent receiving a “violent push” and another gent being pushed onto a bed then pushed a second time when he tried to get up.”
A swinging cupboard door is hardly something to write home about, but as I stood in that tense room which felt somehow heavy all around me, every instinct in my body was screaming at me to get out.
Me and my friend Becky who came along to hold my hand decided to keep going anyway, checking out a bathroom with pink walls dripping in dread.
“That place feels weird,” Becky whispered to me as we turned away, and the hairs on the back of my neck seemed to agree.
Our tour guide Caz Stokes, then asked if anyone had felt any particular way about the bathroom.
Becky and I stayed silent because we didn’t want to make fools of ourselves.
“Funny,” Caz said. “People often have a funny experience with the bathroom. A recent group told me they could see blood smeared all over the walls and in the tubs.”
So what’s the substance behind it all?
As Caz told us, it’s ‘shoddy science’. Impossible to prove, or disprove, entirely but whether fabricated by human hand or something else, the creepy feeling runs deep.
I’m not a smoke and mirrors kind of person, either. I have a highly sceptical mind and no time for baloney, but every time I look at one of the photos I snapped on that tour I get a creeping feeling in my neck, down my shoulders and deep in my shoulder blades.
I know the power of stretching a tour out over three hours and keeping the light low so your eyes are strained, and your head hurts.
But this ain’t my first ghost tour rodeo, and the Q Station tour crept right under my skin and has sat there ever since.
I would advise a prospective punter to tread carefully if they choose to walk this Sydney path.
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