|Land of the Dead: Kangaroo Island, South Australia|
© Ghost & Girl
"Ngurunderi’s final act on earth was to leave instructions for his people, that after death, they should follow his steps to the western end of Kangaroo Island. There he leapt from a pile of rocks into the sea, where he drowned, but his cleansed spirit rose to the sky, to await the arrival of his descendants."
~ Ngurunderi's Final Action, Ngarrindjeri Dreaming
South Australia's Kangaroo Island lies 112km south-west of the city of Adelaide, and is Australia's third largest island. Today it is inhabited by around 4000 people, most of whom live on the east coast of the island, closest to the mainland. Over half the island is national parks and protected wilderness areas, and the largest of these are found on the island's western end.
The island has been inhabited by Europeans since the early 19th Century. It was sealers, escaped convicts, and awol sailors who first took up casual residency on the island. These were rough, uncouth men, infamous for kidnapping Aboriginal women from Tasmania and the South Australian mainland, to keep as slaves. A number of these women died in their attempts to cross the unforgiving waters surrounding the island to return to their people. Only one woman is known to have survived the journey.
When the island was first occupied by Europeans, they found it uninhabited by Aborigines. However, the presence of Indigenous Australians on the island is undisputed: There is archaeological evidence that suggests Aboriginal people occupied the island as recently as 2000 years ago, but their history on the island stretches back at least 16,000 years. Why the indigenous population chose to leave the island remains a mystery; however, the Aboriginal groups on the mainland refer to Kangaroo Island as "Karta", which means "Land of the Dead", the stories of which is reflected in their Dreaming.
For example, the Ngarrindjeri people regard the island as the place to which the spirit travels after death, where it meets with the ancestral spirits for the final journey into heaven. The Ramindjeri also refer to the island as being the "gateway to star heaven in the Milky Way". It is also said that the ghost of a Ramindjeri woman makes her presence known by appearing to people on the island in the form of a small, native bird.
|Weir's Cove, Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island|
© Ghost & Girl
The island was settled by the British as part of the Colony of South Australia, with the first ship of free settlers arriving at Reeves Point on 27 July 1836. However, a shortage of fresh water and suitable materials for building saw the settlement moved to the mainland less than four years later.
The waters surrounding Kangaroo Island are notoriously treacherous. The island has four lighthouses, all still in operation: Cape Willoughby (1852), Cape Borda (1858), Cape du Couedic (1906), and Cape St Albans (1908). Destructive cliffs make up most of the island's coastline, and the lighthouses have been integral to the safe passage of ships in and around the island for more than 160 years.
Kangaroo Island is infamous for its shipwrecks, with the west coast of the island being particularly unforgiving. One tragedy is that of the Loch Vennachar, which sailed into cliffs off remote West Bay in 1905. All 27 crew on board perished, and only the remains of one sailor was eventually washed ashore, later buried in the silver-grey sand-dunes of the bay.
The island presented a difficult, and sometimes tragic way of life for its inhabitants, too. The island's lighthouse keepers and their families were completely isolated, not just from the mainland, but for a long time there were no roads connecting the lighthouses to the rest of the island. At Cape Borda and Cape du Couedic, supplies were brought in by ship and hauled up the cliff-edge at Harvey's Return and Weir's Cove respectively. Sailors, light-keeper's and their family members make up the island's early dead, the magnitude of which can been seen in cemeteries like that found at Harvey's Return near Cape Borda.
|Cottages at Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island|
© Ghost & Girl
If you believe the reports, it seems that some of these dead continue to wander their island home. The old light-keeper's cottages at Cape Borda are now rented out to visitors as self-contained accommodation, and many who stay report ghostly happenings, which includes the apparition of a small girl in and around the cottages themselves.
The visitor books at Cape du Couedic report similar ghostly activity in and around the old cottages. An "old man" is frequently reported, as are countless tales of strange, unexplained sounds and lights coming from within the cottages, including those that should be empty, and the unshakable, eerie sensation that one is never quite alone, no matter where on the Cape one finds themselves.
It was far too easy for me to relate to this unfathomable sensation of being watched during my own stay at Cape du Couedic. The three charming light-keeper's cottages are set in behind a rise that provides suitable protection from the winds that roar in over the cape, with the lighthouse a short stroll to the top. Renting one of the assistant keeper's cottages in the off-season meant that we were the only two people for miles, surrounded by windblown scrubland on one side, and the brutal mass of the Southern Ocean on the other.
We arrived at the Cape just on sunset. The blinds on the cottage windows were all drawn, and the place appeared to be completely uninhabited - by the living, at least. But from the moment we stepped out of our car and made our way to the cottage entrance, it became undeniable that our first impression of the cape as uninhabited wasn't entirely accurate.
I was completely restless the entire first evening of our stay. Inside the cottage, it felt as though we were constantly watched. I know it sounds terribly cliché, but this sensation was so intense that it made the hairs on the back of my neck remain permanently raised, as if something was hovering just behind me, deliberately staying out of sight. Whenever I looked up, or turned around, or walked out of one room and into another, I could not escape the feeling that at any moment I would find a stranger staring at me from within the shadows.
Then on the first night, not long after I had dozed off, I was woken suddenly by what I thought was someone whispering in my ear: "My name is John..."
I live in an old, stone house, and am therefore familiar with the sounds that old, stone houses make in the night: The pop and crack of the roof and floorboards as the house cools; the knocking of the stones and the rattle of sash windows and doors as it shifts and settles; the howl of the wind as it makes it way down the chimneys. And for the first two nights at Cape du Couedic, the wind howled and the sea crashed in a way that only the Southern Ocean is capable of, and all the noises we heard during those two nights we could confidently say were nothing more than the normal sounds that an old stone cottage makes during nights of wild weather.
On the third night, though, we were blessed with perfect calm. The eerie sensation of being watched and followed had abated, and we found ourselves quite comfortable within the walls of the old assistant keeper's cottage. It made for an undisturbed sleep.
However, in the early hours of that last morning, before the sun had even peaked above the horizon, I woke from my slumber, unmoving, but fully awake and alert. Outside it was perfectly still, not even the sound of a bird could be heard. And then, just as it had been reported countless times in the visitor books, there came the sound of movement from the other end of the corridor outside the bedroom: A shuffling, thumping and tapping, the distinct sounds of someone pulling on boots, followed by footsteps proceeding down the hallway to the front door, first becoming louder at their approach, before gently fading away.
The tales of the ghosts of Cape du Couedic do not reveal, nor even hazard a guess at the identity of the spirit whose footsteps are so regularly heard making their way down the hallway in the cottage. I like to think that it is one of the old assistant light-keepers making his early-morning check of the lighthouse.
Whilst it's easy to make assumptions, it's more difficult to confirm if any of the assistant light-keeper's stationed at Cape du Couedic, and resident of the same cottage, were actually named John. It'd be a neat coincidence if there was, though.
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