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  • Old Sally and the ghost at the Basin, Pittwater, c. 1920. Image source: History Hub

  • Quarantine Station, North Head (Manly, N.S.W.). Image source: History Hub 

  • Manly Wharf, c 1900s. Image source: History Hub 

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

From headless skeletons at North Head to the infamous ghost of Wakehurst Parkway, the Northern Beaches has plenty of haunting tales that’ll get your heart racing. So, if you’re looking for a fright this Halloween, we dare you to read on!

Some of these stories are urban legends, while others are based on historical events. Either way, if you’re going to visit any of these scary spots…you might want to take a friend…just in case.

Quarantine spooks

The Quarantine Station at Manly’s North Head is known as one of Australia’s most haunted sites. From the 1830s right up until 1984, over 16,000 people passed through its doors, many gravely ill, with over 580 dying from diseases such as small pox, typhoid and the bubonic plague.

Its famous ghost tours include tales of lights turning on and off, locked doors swinging open, and the ghost of a blonde haired child attempting to hold a visitor’s hand. The infamous Grave Digger’s Cottage located between its cemeteries, has seen people flee in horror, after claiming to see an apparition of a man in a black cloak, and wide-brimmed hat, the uniform of a gravedigger.

Mysterious skeleton

In August 1978, as reported in the Manly Daily, the Australian Army held training exercises at North Head. Whilst climbing down its rugged cliffs, the officers happened upon a gruesome discovery.

In a cave under an overhanging ledge, they found a headless skeleton, surrounded by two way radio equipment, a typewriter, shotgun, 50ft of copper wire, a watch and a Japanese coin.

A local who served as a guard for North Head Fort during WWII, recalled spooking a night time prowler, who quickly vanished. On another occasion, he had seen a lamp flashing from an American liner, as it steamed out of the Heads, in breach of tight blackout conditions.

Could it have been signalling to someone on the cliffs? Could this mysterious skeleton be that of a Japanese spy? Could they have assisted the mini submarine attack on Sydney harbour in 1942? The mystery continues…

Black Death comes to the Northern Beaches

Spread by rats, the first person to fall sick with the bubonic plague in Sydney was sent to the Quarantine Station at North Head in 1900. Two men from Manly, a Mr Cuthill and a Mr Stockdale died shortly afterwards.

Mr Cuthill’s house was torn down after hordes of rats were discovered. The Council rat-catcher soon caught another 150 as local residents were offered sixpence for every rodent killed. Ten Manly residents succumbed to the plague, including a 17 year old bitten at Manly Wharf.

Ghosts on the Parkway

There have been numerous sightings of ghost like figures on Wakehurst Parkway. These include a nun, and a young female known as “Kelly”.

Different motorists unknown to each other, have reported seeing her on the side of the road at night, and when looking into their rearview mirror to check all is ok, suddenly find her inside the vehicle, her eyes vivid in the mirror. Upon turning in fright, the Kelly apparition has disappeared.

Perhaps stick to daytime travel on the Parkway.

Ghosters Retreat

In the small tight knit community of Coasters Retreat located on the western shores of Pittwater lies an age old mystery. In photographs from the late 19th and 20th century a ghost like figure dressed in hurricane gear, and an ankle length wet weather coat, appears alongside locals who seem completely unaware of its presence. The fact it’s a clear sunny day only adds to its mystery.

The figure has been named The Ghost of the Flat, and some claim it is the spirit of a seaman who drowned in the area.

The Ghost of Pirate Captain Blackjack Vaughan

Captain Blackjack Vaughan was described as one of the vilest and cruellest pirates ever known. He was captured in England in 1810, sentenced to life imprisonment and transported to Sydney as a convict. He promptly escaped and returned to a life of piracy.

In the 1970s, residents of a house in Quinton Rd, Manly, claimed they were being terrorised by a ghost in heavy boots, stomping through their home at night. Little did they know that the Captain and his crew had made their base in a cave just metres from where the property now stood. According to records the Captain was brutally murdered by his own gang and his parts strewn across the area.

The Monster of Narrabeen Lagoon

On 3 April 1968 a Mrs Mabel Walsh and her nephew John were driving along Wakehurst Parkway beside Narrabeen Lake, when they claimed to have seen a mystifying creature.

It was described as 4ft tall, standing in shallow water, with skin like an elephants. It had small front legs, walked on thick round hind legs, and ambled out of the lake into scrub. Its head resembled an ant eaters.

Interestingly in Sydney at the same time a rash of UFO sightings were reported. Later in April 1971, two fishermen claimed to have seen a creature with a trunk like an elephant sloshing through the water.

Alien lifeforms taking a dip in the lagoon, or Narrabeen’s own Nessy?

Love local history? Check out our Library’s History Hub with over 27,000 items including photographs, recordings, maps and more.