Legends of the West

The Legends of the West project is a joint initiative of the Folklore Unit at Curtin University, the West Australian newspaper and ABC Radio. Here you will find a selection of traditional WA stories from various oral, print and West Australian Folklore Archive sources.

These tales of ghosts, bushrangers, strange animals, characters, lost treasures, bush yarns and contemporary legends are just a small selection from the holdings of the WA Folklore Archive, which contains many other collections of WA folklore and folklife.


Work Stories

Lost Treasures


Strange Tales

Bush Yarns

Contemporary Legend

You can search this page using your browser. Search by place - town, city, suburb or region - to find the most useful, initial results. Most folk legends, although traditional, are located in particular places by their tellers.

Teachers: Feel free to use this material for projects and classwork. You may like to encourage your students to collect such stories from their friends, family, neighbours, etc. If so, the Curtin Folklore Unit would be happy to provide guidance.

CAUTION: In editing this section for public viewing there has been consideration of community standards and possible educational uses of this material. As this material is mostly a record of how people actually tell these tales there may be an occasional word that some consider inappropriate. If you feel that you - or others - may be offended by some aspects of Australian vernacular speech, please do not read on

Work Stories

The Slowest Trains in the West

Two West Australian versions of yarns told about many rural trains.

1. The Mullewa-Wiluna train was noted for its slowness. Once it was beaten to the end of the line by a camel train. Another time it was clattering slowly along, stopping and starting. A frustrated woman passenger asked the conductor when the train would reach Wiluna. "I must get there as quickly as possible", said the woman, "because I'm pregnant".

The shocked conductor said: "Considering your condition, it's a wonder you boarded the train".

"When I boarded the train I wasn't in this condition", replied the woman passenger.

SOURCE: Traditional. See also Adam-Smith, P., Folklore of the Australian Railwaymen, Adelaide, 1969.

2. The 'Spinifex Express' used to run from Port Hedland to Marble Bar. It was always a pretty slow old trip and on one of these a passenger looked out the windows and saw the engine driver throwing seeds out on to the side of the track. All day the passenger watched as they crawled along. All the time the engine driver kept spreading what looked to the passenger to be tomato seeds. Eventually the passenger's curiosity got the better of him and he walked up to the engine and asked the driver, 'Why are you throwing tomato seeds onto the side of the line?'

The driver turned slowly round, fixed the passenger with a doleful eye and drawled: 'The guard's picking tomatoes.'

Source: Traditional. See also Adam-Smith, P., Folklore of the Australian Railwaymen, Adelaide, 1969.




Steam train, 192? JCPML00830/175/136
Steam train, 192?
Records of Alex McCallum.
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. JCPML00830/175/136.

Meekatharra Ice Blocks

A favourite West Australian railway story involves the Meekatharra gold escort. Two security men were always locked into the van with the valuable cargo and it was always very hot. One day they had a bottle of whisky with them and asked the guard for some ice to cool down the drink.

The guard was friendly and soon produced a lump of ice. Of course it melted away pretty quickly, so they asked for more ice. He brought it to them again. After a while their ice melted and they asked the guard for more. Once more he obligingly produced a nice fresh lump of ice from somewhere or other. This went on until the bottle was almost empty and they needed ice for one last drink each. Again they asked the guard for ice. But this time he said 'Sorry boys, I don't think I'd better get you any more. The body's beginning to show.'

Source: Traditional. See also Adam-Smith, P., Folklore of the Australian Railwaymen, Adelaide, 1969.

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Lost Treasures

The Silver Reef

This fabulously rich lode is said to be somewhere in the Wyndham and King Sound region of Western Australia's remote north. As the story goes, it was discovered by a Malay merchant called Hadji Ibrahim sometime before European colonisation. After selling a load of silver ore from the trove in Macassar, Ibrahim returned for more, only to be shipwrecked and drowned. But - wait for it - Ibrahim kept a journal of his voyages and recorded all the details of his find. But he did not mention the location, so the treasure was 'lost'.

But, the story continues. A colourfully-named local - 'Mad Jack' - was found dead in his cutter in 1909 near Yampi Sound. His body was pierced by several spear wounds and his head spilit open with a tomahawk, the discoverers of the body found a few ounces of gold in the cabin. They also found a kerosene tin full of silver ore. Some years later, an employee of Ibrahim's great grandson became obsessed with the legend of the silver reef and made many visits to the area to find it. According to Beatty's version of the tale, "he ended his days there and was last seen in 1939 travelling with a treacherous tribe of wild natives in the Kimberley country.".

Source: Beatty, Bill., A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales and Traditions, Sydney, 1960.

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Individuals who stand out from the crowd for some reason are often the subject of folk tales.

Tom Doyle

Publican and mayor of the eastern goldfields town of Kanowna in Western Australia, Tom was an Irishman whose unusual interpretations of words and phrases unfamiliar to him provide the humour of the many yarns told about him in Western Australia. In one of these, the newly-married Tom takes his bride to the city of Melbourne to honeymoon in a grand hotel. The manager of the hotel asks the wealthy but unsophisticated Tom if he would like the bridal chamber. Tom replies that while his wife may require it , he will be happy to urinate out the window.

Other Tom Doyle stories concentrate on his embarrassing public outbursts, such as the time he attended a function for a visiting dignitary. For the first time in his life, Tom was confronted with olives. He gingerly picked one up and was concerned to discover that it was moist. Just as the dignitary rose to speak, Tom jumped up and cried out that someone had pissed on the gooseberries.

Source: Edwards, R., The Australian Yarn, Rigby, Adelaide, 1978 (1977), Wannan, W., Come in Spinner: A Treasury of Popular Australian Humour, 1976 (1964).

Moondyne Joe

Many stories were, and still are, told about Moondyne Joe, the bushranger. As well as featuring as the hero of folksong and verse, Joe still leads a lively folkloric existence as the central character of a group of folk tales. Many of these stories concern Joe's legendary escaping abilities.

Arrested for unlawfully killing a horse that had supposedly eaten the oats that Joe lovingly provided for his favourite pony, Joe was imprisoned in Toodyay (then Newcastle) lockup. Because he did not consider that he had done anything wrong, folklore has it that Joe promptly escaped, taking the warder's pistol with him for good measure.

Another of Joe's escapes is said to have occurred at the Mahogany Inn on the Great eastern Highway. This was supposed to be one of Joe's many hideouts. The police found out about it and, just as they arrived, Joe escaped through an upstairs window, jumping down onto a police horse, which he galloped away to freedom.

There are also stories about Joe escaping from gaols in Perth, York and Fremantle. According to the story, the escape from Fremantle Prison in March, 1867, involved Joe crossing the new Fremantle Bridge before it could be officially opened by Governor Hampton, so thumbing his nose at officialdom once again.

Apart from escape stories, one of the most commonly-heard Moondyne Joe yarns has the bushranger being caught in the cellars of Ferguson's winery - dead drunk. Although this has been authoritatively refuted on a number of occasions, it makes for a good story.

Source: Traditional. Also see Elliot, I., Moondyne Joe: The Man and the Myth, University of Western Australia Press, Perth, 1978.

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The only known photograph of
Joseph Bolitho Johns (1830-1900)
a.k.a. Moondyne Joe.
Courtesy of Hesperian Press.

Strange Tales

Stories of ghosts, hauntings and other unexplainable happenings are common in folk traditions all over the world. Western Australia is no exception, as the following examples testify:

The Ghost on Pinjarrah Bridge

This account of a well-developed ghost tradition in Pinjarrah is from the journal of Thomas Scott, 1870-74. It is unusual to have such a detailed documentation of historical ghost traditions, so the account has been quoted here in full. Scott also spins a good yarn out of it, even if the style may be a little long-winded for the modern reader. In keeping with our faster pace of life, modern ghost stories are usually told much more briefly than this one.

"I had occasion during my stay in Pinjarah to see Mr. C. on some small business transactions. Mr. C. was a near relation of the nocturnal visitant of which we are about to speak. On the third evening of our stay at Mr. Greenacre's Mr. C. paid me a visit. He was a man of firm resolution and would laugh trifles in the face. And a thorough unbeliever in such things as disembodied spirits. On my remarking how unwell he looked he only shook his hand and said, 'No wonder, Sir, for we have seen her again. And this makes the sixth time of her reappearance, and more distinct she appeared than she has on the former occasions.'

Bridge over the Murray River at Pinjarra. Courtesy of the State Library of WA
The Bridge over the Murray River at
Pinjarra. Courtesy of the
State Library of W.A., image 009857PD.

" 'Seen who? may I ask,' said I.

" 'Seen who?' reiterated Mr. C. 'Why surely, Mr. Margrave, you have not been in Pinjarrah these three days and heard nothing of the Ghost of the old Bridge?'

" 'Indeed then I have,' I replied. 'But you really don't mean to tell me that you believe in the story? Why, it was only last night, rather late that I came across the old Bridge and met none save one solitary individual, an elderly lady to all appearance who was attired in a light loose dress.'

"My poor Aunt, Mrs. C.,' exclaimed my friend, 'who has been dead for the last seven years, and this is the anniversary of her mysterious death. Why, Mr. Margrave this is the veritable ghost of the old Bridge of which I was just speaking to you about, and which makes its nocturnal appearance on the old Bridge every year about this time. Whether it is the disembodied spirit of my aunt, which carries her feature and is recognised by us all, or whether it is but a phantom of the mind. God only knows, for it is very mysterious.'

" 'Strange, no doubt, as you say,' I ejaculated, 'but I rather think you are labouring under some illusion.'

" 'No illusion whatever,' said Mr. C., 'it is too true. She walks that old bridge towards midnight nine days in each year just before and after the anniversary of her death. She has been recognised by her two sisters, her brother John, and Mr. Koil (?), my uncle.'

" 'You say she has been dead for the last seven years. May I ask in what manner she met her death?'

" 'Certainly, Sir,' answered Mr. C. 'She was found dead seven years ago on the old Bridge. She was supposed to have died from an apoplectic fit, but whatever the cause of death was she was interred next day as the weather was too oppressive to keep her any longer than that short time. On the 1st July, one year from the date of her demise, she, or rather her apparition for I cannot be convinced to the contrary, was first seen by my uncle at midnight walking the old Bridge like a silent sentinel from the place of departed spirits. My uncle came home - I remember the night well - just as he had finished telling us what he had seen, three distinct, loud knocks were heard at our back door. It was a beautiful moonlit starry night - not a cloud was seen in the vast blue firmament; and bewildering stillness seemed to reign supreme. There was no time for anybody to have made off nor was there any place of concealment near at hand, as instantaneously we all ran to the door - but there was nothing to be seen and there was not a breath of air stirring. With palpitating hearts and big drops of perspiration on our foreheads we returned to the house. The door was hardly closed when three more knocks louder than the first was heard again, and at the same time we heard as distinctly as possible my uncle's christian name repeated two or three times outside the door. The sound or voice was that of my an aunt, which was recognised by all present. We all stood looking at each other in mute fear and astonishment - terror seemed to sway every heart now beating thrice three times as fast. My uncle was the first to break the spell. He rushed to the door, closely followed by myself, as if ashamed of his momentary fear, to behold a tall stately figure of a female clad in a light loose dress similar to that she had on at the time she was found dead on the old Bridge. 'Yes,' said my uncle, in a tremulous hoarse voice, 'Yes, that is my sister Kate or her apparition which I saw on the old Bridge.' She was walking or rather slowly gliding as it were in the direction of the old Bridge, which is about a quarter of a mile from our farm. My uncle instinctively shouted out 'Kate,' his sister's name. But, as if by magic, on her name being called she immediately disappeared from our view. We all proceeded to the old Bride with the expectation of seeing the apparition there, for we were all fully convinced now that the figure was nothing else, but we were disappointed. None of us slept that night but kept a vigil till morning. On the third night after this the apparition was seen again but could not be approached by my uncle. Finally it disappeared altogether until the following year about the same time it made its reappearance again. Each succeeding year to the present one has brought us the ghostly visits of my deceased aunt, and for what purpose is to us as yet a mystery.'

" 'You say,' said I, 'that the apparition is to be seen on the old Bridge but will not be approached; must I understand by that it disappears on your approach to it?'

" 'Precisely so,' answered Mr. C. "And,' he went on, 'if you, Mr. Margrave, have no objection you are welcome to join our little private party who are going to watch for it to-night."

" 'I shall be too glad to accept your offer,' I replied; 'and I only hope I shall have a glimpse of your nocturnal visitant. May I bring a friend?' "Certainly, with pleasure - half a dozen if you like - the more the merrier.'

"The hour appointed by the C. party for apprising the apparition was fixed at midnight, that being the accustomed time of its first appearance. On my informing Mr. M. of our midnight adventure and the object it had in view, he most readily assented to accompany me, saying at the same time, 'And, by my soul, if it were a ghost we'd better be after letting the poor creature rest. faith, or may be it will be giving us a turn as well as its own people, sure. But no matter, go we will and if it should turn out to be some spalpeen night-walking, that wants waking, faith an' we'll give him a good ducking in the river that runs under the old Bridge.'

"According to previous arrangements half-past eleven that night found our small midnight party, comprising five in all, at our respective positions. The night was beautifully starlit with a full moon coursing in the heavens above. To the right of the Bridge was a burying ground and on either side but this lay nothing but the dark, dense forest, that looked in this lonesome hour the very place for a ghost scene. Twelve o'clock came and - no apparition appeared - a quarter-past twelve - half-past - and now five-and-twenty minutes to one and yet no appearance. We were literally counting the minutes after twelve but to no effect.

" 'Bad luck to it,' exclaimed Mr. M.: "I believe after all it will turn out nothing more than a hoax, sure.'

'Well,' said, I, 'never mind, Mr. M., we will keep it up till one o'clock, then we'll give it up as a ----------' 'Hist. Look!' interrupted Mr. M. 'By my soul, but there's somebody coming over the Bridge.'

"On looking at my watch I found it was just twenty minutes to one. Scarcely had the last word died on Mr. M's lips when from four different quarters we advanced as previously arranged, with stealthy step (like 'stealing a march') toward the Bridge. A slight thrill ran through me as I clearly recognised the same figure I had seen the night previous. The old Bridge was a wooden construction about 50 yards long, with railing on each side as a protection to the dark waters beneath. We were not twenty yards from the apparition when on the death stillness of the surrounding dark looking forest broke the prolonged and mournful howl of a dingo or native dog, causing us to fairly start. But it was only momentarily. Mr. M. and myself arrived at one end of the bridge whilst at the other end appeared at the same time the C. party.

"The apparition was in the centre of the Bridge and seemed to be on the move. It was quite recognisable by all parties and the same that has already been described. We instinctively stopped to watch it for a few minutes. The signal was given by the other party to apprise it, and simultaneously we all rushed to the spot where the apparition stood, visible as plain as day, and - aghast, we stood gaping at each other scarcely believing our own eyes. The figure whether earthly or spiritual had vanished. Five men, whom I am in a position to prove were in there sane senses witnessed the mysterious - what shall we call it? - a delusion? - a phenomenon? - or what? The world in the nineteenth century laughs at as gross superstition, viz., a ghost or spirit of the departed."

Source: Diary of Thomas Scott, 1870-74

Kanga - the Leederville Hotel Ghost

There are ghost traditions attached to many of Perth's older hotels, including the 152 year-old Guildford Rose and Crown Hotel, the historic Fitzgerald Hotel in Northbridge and the Leederville Hotel. Here, the ghost of a man known as Kanga is said to haunt the hotel which was built just before the end of the nineteenth century. This is one version of the story:

According to local tradition Kanga was the name of the man who managed the local betting shop for many years, thirty or forty years in fact. He lived in the imposing tower bedroom of the hotel and seems to have died on the premises. No story of violence or terror is attached to Kanga's death which does not have a definite date, but seems to be sometime in the relatively recent past.

Staff and residents of the hotel are said to frequently come in contact with Kanga, particularly in the area of the kitchen and along the corridors of the hotel. The presence of the ghost is generally reported as a feeling and a lot of people claim to see a shadow or outline of some kind. Kanga apparently likes to walk around the hotel and people report cool breezes, footsteps and noises in the night as the most common kinds of experience. On one occasion he is said to have caused the massive jarrah bar in the hotel to shake and rattle along its whole length, presumably because he did not like the show that was on at the time. Kanga's presence is said to be particularly strong in the stairs leading up to the tower and in the tower room itself. There have even been relatively recent reports of even more macabre manifestations related to Kanga in this part of the hotel.

One of the stories told about Kanga's activities involves the alarm system in the hotel. Over a period of about eight months in 1986 the alarm would go off frequently throughout the night, causing the manager to get up and search through the hotel for intruders. No one could be found. Electricians were called in to find the fault, but there was none. Finally it was decided that this was the ghost of Kanga doing his night-time walking, setting off the infra-red alarm system. So the hotel staff at the time decided to write Kanga a note saying 'We know you like to walk around the hotel. We know you like to look and make sure everything is safe and secure, but please try not to set off the alarms.' The note was left in the tower room and left there along with a pen. The next morning the pen was in exactly the same place but the pad had disappeared. Ever since then the alarms have not gone off mysteriously in the night.

Source: Coll. G. Seal, WAFA.

The Pearler's Ghost

Abraham Davis was a prominent entrepreneur in the Broome pearling industry around the turn of the century. Davis, an eminent man in the Jewish community of Broome, owned a home in Broome. Davis was drowned, along with all other passengers and crew in the wreck of the Koombana, off Port Headland in 1912. His fine house later became the palace of the first Anglican Bishop of the North-West, Bishop Gerard Trower (1860-1928). One night Trower awoke to see a ghostly figure standing in a pool of light. The figure was dressed in the garments of a Rabbi. When the Bishop called to the figure it promptly vanished. The same figure was seen by others on numerous later occasions, usually late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

A link between this particular haunting and another item of pearling folklore has been suggested by the writer Ion Idriess. In his book Forty Fathoms Deep, Idriess puts forward the possibility that Davis was carrying with him the allegedly priceless 'Roseate Pearl'. As with many other precious stones and minerals, as well as priceless treasures of antiquity, lost gold mines, and so on, it is believed that this pearl has a curse upon it that brings ill-luck to its possessor.

As with many other traditions of the supernatural, the number of ghosts involved at any haunted sight seems to increase over the years, along with the details of the legend. This is very much in accordance with the growth of folk traditions generally, and even a casual reader of ghost tales and hauntings will have noticed the numerous similarities between them. In the case of the Davis house at Broome, there is also a tradition that it is haunted by the ghost of a Portugese sea-Captain. It must be a busy place at night.

Source: Beatty, Bill., A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales and Traditions, Sydney, 1960.

The Pearler's Light

On the foreshore at Broome is a beacon that dims unaccountably from time to time. No cause of this mysterious dimming has ever been found, despite the light having been overhauled on many occasions. No natural phenomenon, such as mist, appears to be the cause of the light's dimming and it is said that the ghosts of drowned pearlers creeping around the beacon on certain nights of the year cause the light to fade.

Source: Beatty, Bill., A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales and Traditions, Sydney, 1960.

The Kalamunda Hotel Ghost

According to legend the original owner and builder of the Kalamunda Hotel, Paddy Connolly, was something of a ladies' man. It is said in legend that he succeeded in seducing a teenage girl who subsequently became pregnant. She is supposed to have jumped from the hotel balcony, being killed in the fall, and from that time has haunted the hotel.

In some versions of the story the unfortunate girl is said to be an Aboriginal who actually bore the child before she committed suicide. This version of the story generally claims that the body of the girl was never recovered.

Yet another version of the tale has the girl suiciding in Room 24, where guests never stay for very long. Glowing lights have been seen in this room when it is unoccupied and the corridor outside is said to be always chilly, even on the hottest days.

The ghost has been seen on various occasions, a woman with long blonde hair and dressed in a nightgown, either walking through walls or appearing as a grey figure in the air. Unexplained noises, the movement of small items, such as keys, from place to place and the sound of phantom footsteps above the stairs and the unexplained tripping of fire alarms are said to be common manifestations of the ghost. Sometimes the footsteps follow guests and workers along the hotel verandah.

A further version of the story has it that there are two ghosts in the hotel - that of Paddy Connolly and of his daughter who is said to have died in the hotel's attic. According to legend the ghosts walk on air between the original two hotel buildings.

According to a student informant at Curtin University, 31/8/95, there is also a ghost in the Kalamunda Council Chambers, built c. 1970s. Apparently the ghost is a woman.

Source: WA Folklore Archive



Kalamunda Hotel, 1925-1930?, Courtesy of the State Library of WA
Kalamunda Hotel, 1925-1930?
Courtesy of the State Library of W.A.,
image 013404PD.

The Mundaring Weir Hotel Ghosts

A ghost known as 'Paddy' haunts the Mundaring Weir Hotel, built in 1898 partly to service the twelve hundred workers on the Mundaring Weir and Kalgoorlie pipeline construction project and to accommodate the crowds of people who came to watch C. Y. O'Connor's historic construction take shape. 'Paddy 'was supposedly killed on the job and ever since has been haunting the hotel. A number of staff members report having seen the ghost from time to time, who has been known to announce his presence by smashing beer glasses, disappearing tools, turning on electric appliances and even by locking and unlocking doors and windows. Paddy usually only appears when the pub is quiet and takes the form of an outline usually seen through the glass doors to the bar.

Lately, yet another ghost has been reported at the Hotel. This one is a lady who appears in the newly-built accommodation units behind the main hotel building. Guests have had glasses spun around the table and seen the figure of a woman simply staring out of the window. There seems to be no historical explanation for this presence, but it is likely that details will gradually be found, building this presence into a properly folkloric ghost.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Haunting of Rottnest Lodge

Perth's favourite holiday spot has a number of supernatural traditions associated with it. At the Rottnest Lodge they have at least two ghosts. One is a woman named 'Ethel', who appears from time to time in one of the guest rooms. The other ghost is from the 'spurned lover' tradition that has generated similar ghost stories throughout the world. In the Rottnest Lodge version the tragic young woman was said to be a housemaid who worked there almost half a century ago. She discovers she is pregnant and returns to the mainland to tell her boyfriend. He refuses to acknowledge responsibility and, in despair, the woman returns secretly to the Rottnest Lodge where she suicides. Her body is discovered some days later. People have since heard the crying of a baby and sometimes reported a frightening and unhappy presence in that part of the hotel where the body was found.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Blue Nun of New Norcia

There are a number of ghostly traditions associated with the town of New Norcia. As with many folktales of the supernatural, a good few of these are located in the local public house. But there is also an old story related to the religious origins and character of the town. It is said that the figure of a nun dressed in blue can sometimes be seen flitting around the clocktower of the monastery, just as the bell tolls midnight.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Nannup Tiger

Western Australia has its own version of the mysterious wild animals cycle of tales that exist in many of the world's folklores. Reports of the Nannup Tiger seem to date back almost to the earliest European settlement of the southern corner of Western Australia. Sightings have continued to the present, being especially frequent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is thought that this increase was due to climatic conditions which forced the 'tiger' into the wooded areas around Nannup and district. The Nannup Tiger - perhaps a survivor of an almost extinct species of carnivorous marsupial known as Thylacinus Cynocephalus (striped wolf with a dog's head) - has been seen as far north as Geraldton and as far south as Esperance. Various attempts have been made to capture the Tiger, though so far with no success. The animal remains part of Western Australian folklore, rather than Western Australian zoology.

Source: Traditional

New Norcia church, 1937?. Courtesy of the State Library of WA
New Norcia Church, 1937?
Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia, image 023200PD.

Ghost Tales of Albany

In keeping with its historic seaport character, Albany (pronounced AL-bany, of course) has a number of ghosts with nautical connections. One of these is that of John Reddin, a former Albany Lighthouse-keeper who died in 1940. There are many stories of the ghostly lighthouse-keeper appearing to help sailors in difficulty. He smokes a pipe and wears a dufflecoat, appearing and disappearing very quickly.

There is said to be a ghost in Albany's Old Jail, now a tourist attraction. It is not clear who this ghost may be, though there is a belief that it is the ghost of a young woman falsely imprisoned for theft. Another tradition has it that the cell once held a woman who had been sexually abused and died in childbirth. Those who have heard noises in the cell say that they are the cries of a soul in great torment.

A military ghost haunts Patrick Taylor Cottage, believed to be the presence of a Boer War army doctor named Major Frederick Ingoldby. The Major, who rented the cottage, died there in September, 1942, and his ghost is said to reappear each September. The ghost materialises firstly in military uniform , complete with wounded right arm cradled in a sling, then vanishes, only to reappear lying in the bed in which he died.

The most coherent and folklorically satisfying ghost in Albany is that of the Irish woman, Catherine Spense. Catherine's husband, Cathal, was transported to Western Australia for ten years. Illiterate, Cathal was unable to write to his relations in Ireland to let them know of his whereabouts. In the meantime Catherine went to work for a wealthy lawyer who later died, leaving her an enormous sum of money in his will. The now wealthy and still lovelorn Catherine arrived in Albany in 1877 and was told by a local priest that the man who might be her husband was living at Oyster Harbour. The priest visited the man, who said he was indeed Cathal, and gave the clergyman a message for his wife: he would cross the Harbour at twilight in a small boat in two days time and Catherine should meet him on the shore. The message was delivered and at the appointed time Catherine went down to the shore and saw sailing towards here the small boat piloted by Cathal. The Irishman, on seeing his wife, became excited, stood up and waved to her, overbalancing the boat. It capsized and he was drowned more or less in front of her. She then collapsed and died of a broken heart. It is said that Catherine's ghost still haunts the harbourside around Seamen's Walk. Cathal, so far, has not turned up in any accounts of this particularly romantic supernatural tradition.

Source: Traditional

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Bush Yarns

Usually humorous anecdotes of bush life and legend are a staple element of Australian folklore, in WA as much as anywhere else.

What a Hide!

This story is attributed to a famous north-western yarn-spinner known as 'Lippy the Liar'. Like most tellers of such tales, Lippy was a shearer's cook. He'd grown up, so he said, living with his mother on a cockatoo farm. "We was so poor we lived on boiled wheat and goannas. The only thing we owned was an old mare."

One bitter cold night Mum and me was sittin' in front of the fire tryin' to keep from turnin' into ice blocks, when we hear a tappin' on the door. The old mare was standin' there, shiverin' and shakin'. Mum said "it's cruel to make her suffer like this; you'd better put her out of her misery."

Well, I didn't want to kill the old mare, but I could see it was no good leavin' her like that. So I took her down to the shed. We was too poor to have a gun, so I hit her over the head with a sledgehammer. Then I skinned her and pegged out the hide to dry.

About an hour later, we're back in front of the fire when there's another knock on the door. I open it and there's the old mare standin' there without her hide. Me mother was superstitious and reckoned that the mare wasn't meant to die and that I'd better do somethin' for her. So I took her back down the shed and wrapped her up in some sheep skins to keep her warm.

And do you know, that old mare lived another six years. We got five fleeces off her and she won first prize in the crossbred ewes section of the local agricultural show five years runnin'.

Source: Traditional

The Great Australian Yarn

Often hailed as the quintessential Australian anecdote, this story of the swaggie's reply is known and told around the country. One West Australian version has the incident occurring somewhere between Derby and Fitzroy crossing.

A swaggie is battling along the dry and dusty track in blazing heat. A solitary car comes along the track and stops by the swaggie. The driver, usually said to be a farmer, landowner or 'squatter', leans out of the car window and asks the Swaggie "Where ya goin', mate?" The Swaggy says "Wyndham" and the driver says "Climb in, I'll give you a lift". The swaggie replies: "No thanks; you can open and shut your own bloody gates".

Source: Traditional

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Contemporary Legends

These are West Australian versions of what folklorists usually term 'contemporary legends', popularly known as urban myths. These stories are usually told as true tales that actually happened to 'a friend of a friend'. While told all over the world, these tales are always firmly localised and often have a moral or warning.

The Corpse on the Roof Rack

A young man and his wife were driving his aged great-aunt across the Nullarbor Plain to attend a family reunion in Perth in mid-winter. About halfway across the emptiness auntie died. The young wife grew hysterical at the prospect of driving on with a corpse in the car. Her husband, in a fix, removed the luggage from the roof-rack, rolled auntie in the tarpaulin, strapped her to the rack, loaded the luggage into the car and drove on through the hours of darkness until they arrived in Albany at three o'clock in the morning. The weather was freezing, he was physically and emotionally exhausted. He decided to report the death to the police first thing in the morning, so pulled in to a motel, where he and wife sank into sleep gratefully, leaving auntie outside in the frost on top of the car.

When they awoke next morning they were horrified to discover that the car had been stolen while they slept, along with auntie. No trace of the car or the body has ever been found.

Source: Scott, Bill, The Long and the Short and the Tall: A Collection of Australian Yarns, Sydney, 1985.

The Vanishing Passenger

This is a local version of another well-known contemporary legend, though very early variations of this one have been discovered in medieval Japanese literature and have been around in one form or another throughout the intervening centuries. In the most common versions of this story, the passenger (often a hitchhiker) is later found to have been killed many years before at exactly the spot that he or she was picked up.

A bus-driver was travelling down Kalamunda Road towards Great Eastern Highway, when he stopped to pick up a passenger, an elderly lady, at the bus stop outside the cemetery. She got on and sat in the front row of seats, and she and the bus driver conversed pleasantly for a couple of minutes. The bus-driver kept driving, but the next time he looked behind him, she had disappeared, and although he searched the bus throughout, he could find no trace of her. Because of this, bus-drivers no longer stop at the bus-stop outside the cemetery at night.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Old Lady with Hairy Arms

A woman was out shopping at Morley and she went back to her car and there was this strange old lady sitting in the car which had been left unlocked. So, of course, she asked her what she was doing and this woman apologised and explained that she was walking home when she felt ill and had sat down to rest in the car. Anyway, the owner offered to drive her home, as she said she didn't live too far away. But then she realised that this woman had hairy arms and was concealing an axe in her handbag - she was really a man dressed up as a woman!

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Cat in the Package

This woman had to go shopping in Perth but her cat had died, so she put it in her handbag hoping to dispose of the body while she was out. Anyway, while she was going down the Hay Street Mall her handbag was stolen by this really fat lady. She chased her a bit but lost her in the crowd. But later she came across a crowd outside London Court surrounding the same fat lady. She had collapsed - must have opened the bag, seen the cat and collapsed from shock.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

The Head

This couple went parking in the bush around Beechboro one night, and when they went to go they couldn't get the car started. So the guy left and went to go and get some help and the girl waited in the car for him. But he didn't come back, and she waited and waited and waited. Then she hears this strange 'thump, thump, thump' on the roof of the car, and she's terrified. So she sits there all night hearing this weird 'thump, thump, thump'. Then suddenly all these bright flashing lights surround the car - it's the police! And they tell her to get out of the car when they count to three, and to run towards them as fast as she can, but not on any account to look back at the car. So they count: one, two, three! and she gets out and runs over, but she looks back to see what was making the thumping noise. And there's this maniac sitting on the roof of the car banging the boyfriend's severed head: 'Thump, thump, thump'.

Source: WA Folklore Archive

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London Court, Perth, 1955-1956. Courtesy of the State Library of WA
London Court, Perth, 1955-1956. Courtesy of the State Library of W.A., image 092043PD.

This page has been compiled by Professor Graham Seal, Curtin University, 2001-2010. It is maintained by the Curtin University Library as part of the Western Australian Folklore Archive.

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