Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published June 24th 2012
Sydney Park's Ghost Elephant
Every city has its folklore: implausible tales of conspiracies and the occult set in familiar streets and tailored to a familiar culture. British urban legends tend to be unsettling and understated, like creepy landladies or genteel vampires. American ones are a bit more brash – think maniacal chainsaw killers, or packs of ravening werewolves. Sydney's got some urban legends, too: local stories that entertain and terrify at the same time.
Sometimes involving large animals (photo by Faraz Usmani).
Sydney Park covers over forty hectares of grassy hills. It wasn't always beautiful parkland, though – back in the seventies, the area was used for quarrying brick-making. The factories shut down and the quarries became rubbish tips, and the tips themselves were filled and covered over. In the early eighties the covered tips began to be rehabilitated into a park. Legend has it that sometime between the closing of the factories and the covering of the pits, a travelling circus used the rubbish tip to dispose of an elephant's corpse. It makes sense: legally burying an elephant would take precious money and time, but dragging the body to a disused quarry only takes a few hours in the dead of night. Does the elephant's ghost haunt Sydney Park to this day? Have the bodies of homeless people been discovered in the area, bearing the unmistakable and unexplainable signs of trampling? We may never know.
The Western Suburbs Panther
The study of 'phantom cats', more amusingly called 'Alien Big Cats', falls squarely into the domain of fringe science: among cryptozoologists and the sort of people you find at outer suburban tram stops. Despite the 'alien' name, phantom cats are supposedly terrestrial felines, prowling populated areas. In particular, people claim that large black panthers are stalking the streets of Sydney's western suburbs.
In 2009, NSW Premier Nathan Rees was sent a database of six hundred big cat sightings, enough to convince him that it's "not necessarily an urban myth". How do the panthers get from their habitat across the Blue Mountains all the way to Penrith? Three national parks – Kanangra-Boyd, Blue Mountains and Wollemi – form a straight, if long, path. Despite the total lack of solid evidence, it's a powerful idea. When you're walking home late at night, every black shadow or dark hedge could be a crouching jaguar.
Monsters in the Railway Tunnels
Popularized by 2011 horror film 'The Tunnel', this urban legend is as unlikely as it is terrifying. In a network of tunnels below Sydney streets, a monster lurks. It's tall, hairless, pale and fast, and it feeds on anybody unlucky or foolish enough to venture into its hunting ground. Further details abound: it keeps eyeballs as trophies, for some reason, and can be repelled (for a while) by bright light.
Which explains why it sticks to the disused tunnels..
Parts of this story, at least, can be verified. Sydney does actually have a complex network of disused railway tunnels: out of St James station, on the Eastern Suburbs line, and at North Sydney railway station, to name just a few. It's dark in there – dark enough for a pale, light-averse monster to hide, certainly. However, we can't help but think that true believers in the Sydney Tunnel Monster might have watched Lord of the Rings too many times. As described, if you ignore the eye-storing, the monster bears a strange resemblance to Gollum.
The Chullora Secret Military Bunker
Under a block of flats in Greenacre, Chullora, on the outskirts of Sydney, is a mysterious bunker with steel doors. In the late eighties, the doors were welded together in a last-ditch attempt to keep people out (before that they were fitted with heavy locks) which begs the obvious question: what nefarious secret are they hiding? Most of the few people who have been able to sneak inside in the early eighties reported a vast, Indiana-Jones-style room, with administration offices at the front and a storage area at the back. It's speculated that there's a tunnel connecting the bunker to the No. 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters four miles away, for reasons unknown.
In World War II, Chullora held an enormous wartime manufacturing plant, which gives credence to the idea that the bunker was meant to hold – and still holds – military equipment. From vehicles like jeeps, motorbikes and even planes, to weapons and ammunition, there's enough military gear there to outfit a small army. Why would a disused, seemingly unguarded bunker be storing rows upon rows of machine guns and bombs? There can only be one answer: the secret Nazi zombie army, buried under Sydney in cryogenic tanks, will need weapons when they rise to take over the world.
Watching the movie The Tunnel makes me actually think is there something in there, and what is it? I would love to know what this monster is, the movie really freaks me out, but it makes me want to find out more, and what this creature is.
Haha yes - lived in Western Sydney so definitely know the panther story. Trivia - they named their NRL team 'Penrith Panthers' after this urban legend.
As much as I love the movie 'The Tunnel' and would love to believe that there is mystery lurking about and it still freaks me out to go to St James station - the idea was similar to that of the movie 'The descent' again another good movie but fortunately/unfortunately implausible.