Monday, June 22, 2015

Australia: Lady Elliot Island

This small island is located 90 miles east of Gladstone on Queensland’s coast. It is one of many islands along the Great Barrier Reef.

Captain Thomas Stuart who named it after his ship the Lady Elliot discovered it in 1816.

There have been so many shipwrecks around the island that at one time it was dubbed, “Shipwreck Island.” These wrecks continued to occur even after a lighthouse was built on the island in 1873.

Early entrepreneurs discovered the Lady Elliot was covered in phosphate rich guano from seabird droppings. Miners removed this layer--along with the island’s vegetation leaving a barren landscape.

Early sailors who visited the island before the guano mining were afraid to come ashore. This was because at night wailing and moaning sounds were heard.

An early belief was these sounds came from the ghosts of long-dead sailors whose ships had wandered too close to the island’s surrounding reef.

Later when Chinese “coolie” laborers were forced to live on the island to mine the guano, the true source for these sounds was discovered.  Seabirds--the mutton-bird-- that use the island at night as a rookery actually make these sounds.

Lighthouse 1902
But the island is haunted. In 1896, Phoebe Phillips, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper, caught pneumonia and died at the age of 30. Some claim to have seen her ghost.

Her remains share the island’s small cemetery with Susannah McKee who was the wife of a lighthouse keeper ten years later.

Susannah who was from Ireland married Thomas McKee and the couple had four sons. When the McKee family moved to Lady Elliot Susannah found the living conditions unbearable.

The hot climate and desolate landscape that had been stripped by the guano mining did not help.

Supplies that had to be delivered to the island by ship were often late, and meat and other perishables would not keep.

Susannah found the islands living quarters small and cramped and medical attention was not available.

After her youngest son went off to boarding school--Susannah found the isolation overwhelming.

Bored and alone Susannah put on her best clothes one day in April of 1907 and walked out onto the old guano-loading jetty below the lighthouse. She then jumped into the sea. She was 59 years old.

Rumors swirled later that her husband was responsible for her death but there was no proof he murdered her.

When her body washed up on the shore Thomas buried her next to Phoebe Phillips.

Sadly, it appears Susannah spirit is trapped in this place she disliked so much in life.

Her ghost was first seen in the 1930s. The keeper on the island at that time, Arthur Brumpton looked down from the lighthouse balcony one evening to see a female figure dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing.

He watched as this ghost walked between the lighthouse and the 3 cottages behind it.

His young daughter, Margaret also felt the presence of a stranger. She often heard ghostly footsteps in the lighthouse.

When Arthur and his daughter left the island in 1940 the captain on the ship they were on showed them old photos of people who had once lived on Lady Elliot Island. They both identified Susannah McKee in one photograph as the woman they had seen.

In 1985 the lighthouse was automated. The new resort staff that arrived on the island was charged with its upkeep.

The resort manager, Tili Birkman immediately reported strange activity on the island that centered mostly around and in the 3 old cottages.

Jeff Raynor was hired as a grounds keeper and Chris Lister was hired as a chef. The first day as these two men moved into one of the cottages they experienced this haunting.

As they sat outside taking a break an empty plastic ice-cream container came flying out of one of the other cottages’ front door and landed at their feet.

Later as the two described what they saw, Jeff expressed the fact he did not believe in ghosts.

That night as he slept in the cottage he was awoken abruptly when he was hurled out of his bed--he landed on the floor with a hard bump. After this he slept on the cottage verandah instead.

A few nights later he awoke again. To his horror he saw a transparent figure of a woman standing in the cottage doorway.

Susannah’s ghost has been seen peering out of the cottage windows as well. She is sometimes spotted walking across the island’s small airstrip.

A team of painters contracted to paint the old cottages found every time they climbed on their scaffolding it began to shake violently, but as soon as they got down it stopped.

Today Lady Elliot Island is a world-renowned scuba diving destination and a Heritage site. The rustic resort only allows a small number of guests on the island at a time.

Its reefs at high tide are spectacular. The island is a part of the Marine National Park Zone. Since fishing is not allowed the variety of sea life seen is incredible. Glass bottomed boat tours are offered in the area.

Two guests have also experienced strange activity. One woman camping in a tent awakened to the sound of zippers opening and shutting. When she got up and looked around no one was there.

When she climbed back in her tent she realized the zippers were inside the tent.

Another guest expressed an opinion he does not believe in ghosts. As he took the last swallow of his drink and put the glass down gently it shattered.

A tour that includes the island’s cemetery is popular and most visitors are careful to pay their respects.

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