The Real Phantoms of Junee

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Words || Rhiannon Williams

The Monte Cristo Homestead is said to be Australia’s most haunted house, and not only are there weekly tours, but there are also overnight stays. I love ghosts, and I love haunted houses. But most of all, I love the thought of terrifying, supernatural apparitions haunting me while I sleep. So, with this excitement in mind, my partner and I ventured to the rural town of Junee, NSW to hunt some ghosts.

After traveling up a long dirt driveway, we were greeted by a small wooden building, the exterior of which was decorated with a beautifully tacky cartoon ghost. A middle-aged guy in casual clothes came out and asked us to park a little closer to the house. Apparently, if we tripped and broke our legs at  am while running in terror back to where we originally parked, ‘we wouldn’t be covered by insurance’.

Our fellow ghost hunters were an understandably eclectic bunch. One of the men in the group was excited and confident, qualities reinforced by his purple polo shirt and two EMF meters, a device is used to detect spiritual activity. Their accuracy and scientific basis is debatable, to say the least.

The middle-aged man we’d met upon arrival introduced himself as Lawrence, the son of the man who bought the homestead off the Crawley family, the original owners. He grew up in the homestead, and now runs the tours. However, he doesn’t own the homestead – his sisters do. He wasn’t shy about discussing his legal affairs as we sat down to eat our dinner before the tour began.

After dinner, we were led to the souvenir store, where Lawrence sat us down to watch an introductory video. Muirhouse is a shakily filmed ‘documentary,’ exploring someone’s experience staying at the Homestead. It’s rated 4.4/10 on IMDb and can be watched in its entirety on Youtube. Sceptics beware, this is not the kind of video that’s going to inspire you to take the situation seriously.

Lawrence ducked out as we watched, returning at the end of the docco in very dapper Victorian-era garb, including a fancy tailcoat. We were shown photos of the homestead in its glory days and when it was a vandalised wreck, just before Lawrence’s parents bought it. Nestled in between the photos of the homestead was a photo of a man on a motorbike jumping over the roof … a man named Legendary Lawrence. Tour guide for Australia’s most haunted house, and a stuntman? Lawrence had a lot of shit going on. Before I had time to even process that realisation, we were heading to be introduced to the ghosts.

Mr Christopher William Crawley, a fairly boring-sounding dude,  was born in Sydney in 1841. He and Elizabeth – a tad more interesting than her husband – married in 1862, and lived in Junee as struggling farmers until Christopher built the Railway Hotel in 1877. The Great Southern Railway line opened the following year in 1878, and Junee became an economically prosperous area, conveniently located halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. Mrs Elizabeth Crawley was reportedly ferocious character who instilled fear within many of her staff when she supposedly KILLED A MAID by throwing her off the fucking balcony we were looking at. This was because the maid fell pregnant to Mr Crawley. Not an uncommon occurrence with the Crawley boys, apparently. It was said that Mrs Crawley was an Indigenous woman, and as a result, she was only treated with respect when Mr Crawley was nearby. In the 23 years following Christopher’s death, Elizabeth only left the house twice, much to the chagrin of her money-hungry children who wanted to claim the property.

Before we were led up to the second floor, we were told of the youngest Crawley child, who was apparently thrown down the stairs (what the hell is with all the throwing?) by the other children due to some serious sibling rivalry. This was when the depth of the family politics started to be aired. Not the Crawley family, but Lawrence’s family. This baby had the exact age difference between Lawrence and his next sibling that it did between its next-oldest sibling. The Crawley children argued over the wealth pertaining to the house, just as Lawrence and his sisters had, and were continuing to do so.

Lawrence’s bedroom as a child was the bedroom Mr Crawley died in. As he was growing up, his dad led ghost tours of the house. I really believe the flocks of tourists flowing through your bedroom, and the knowledge that someone died in there, was information that would really shape you as a person.

A lot of other super wild shit went down in this house. A caretaker was shot and killed by a kid who watched Psycho three times. There was a severely disabled boy who lived on the property chained to a hut. His mother was the last caretaker of the homestead after all the Crawley children left, and after she died, the boy was taken to Kenmore Asylum, in Goulburn. A maid died during childbirth, and there were apparently numerous stillbirths and forced abortions in the vicinity. Just as the death and decay was becoming overwhelming, the night cheerfully ended with wine, a delicious homemade dessert, more wine, and some more casual chat from Lawrence. His wife apparently left him, becausew the house “didn’t like her”.

We woke up after a devastatingly uneventful night to a breakfast prepared by Olive, Lawrence’s mum. On the table in front of each seat was a souvenir mug with the same tacky ghost on it, gifted to us for being brave enough to last the night. The stories and the attitudes of the sort of people you find on tours like these are incredibly intriguing. Lawrence’s seemingly nonchalant inclusions of serious legal disputes within his family, and marital dramas due to the house seemed to be casual topics of discussion. He was an interesting storyteller, and you could tell he’d been telling these stories for a long time. It seems that his entire existence revolves around the homestead. In one way or another, he will definitely be there long after he dies, haunting every nook and cranny.

by Rhiannon Williams