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Published January 6th 2013
Is Toodyay WA's Most Haunted Town?
Every country town seems to have a special attraction which draws tourists and day trippers in, whether it's a natural geological feature, historic architecture, or perhaps a unique sculpture or event. In many ways,Toodyay has all this, but it also has something else, something straight out of the twilight zone. Toodyay has ghosts. Lots of them. And practically every local you stop in the street will have his or her own story to tell. Switch off the lights, draw the blinds, and read on if you dare.
Toodyay, a small country town in the picturesque Avon valley, 85kms north east from Perth, was first settled in 1836. Originally called 'Newcastle' the name was later changed to Toodyay, some claiming it being from an Aboriginal word meaning 'place of plenty' others opining it comes from the call of one of the local native birds, the Restless Flycatcher. Of course that is not the only thing that is restless. Toodyay has over one hundred buildings of historical significance and what's an old building without a resident ghost or two.
Mischievous events began right at the beginning of the town's life. In 1861, Western Australia's infamous bushranger, Moondyne Joe was imprisoned in Toodyay's Newcastle Prison for stealing a horse, but soon escaped. After a series of further crimes and prison terms, he was on the run again, returning to Toodyay in 1865 to steal supplies for an attempt to exit interstate. After spending time in (and escaping from) Perth, York and Fremantle jails, he showed up later on a Perth street in a delirious state and finished his life in the Fremantle lunatic asylum, suffering from senile dementia. He was buried in Fremantle Cemetery in a pauper's grave. While the Toodyay jail, completed in 1864, was where he spent some of his time, this jail is also ground zero for the more malevolent ghosts in Toodyay. It was used as a state prison until 1909 but has now been restored as a museum.
Miss Constance Ellory worked in the old shoemaker's shop ( now the Art Therapy shop) in Toodyay's main street in the early 1900's. She would arrive at work in her horse and buggy, make a cup of tea and with cup and saucer in hand she would visit every shop on the main street wishing them all 'Good morning'. Constance never married and she was always dressed very conservatively with a long black skirt and white blouse with a lace collar. She died in the 1950's, but since then she is still regularly seen, both day and night, dressed in her regular fashion making the rounds of the shops with her cup and saucer in hand.
The shop where Miss Constance worked almost a century ago.
Across the road and down the street a little is Roz Davidson's Courtyard Antiques shop. Roz is a mine of information about Toodyay's spooky history and hopes to conduct evening ghost tours in the future. Her shop, originally built in 1897, has had a long and colourful history. Currently there are at least 2 resident ghosts here. One is nicknamed 'Paddy'. He is understood to have been of Irish Catholic descent and fought in the Crimean War before arriving in Australia, eventually ending up in Toodyay. His presence is usually marked by a very strong odour of burning tobacco, as apparently he'd been a heavy smoker. Before Paddy died he also lost one of his legs and the noise of a wooden leg scraping the floor is regularly heard as he moves about. His favourite spot is at the back of the shop in the right hand corner. Another interesting thing about Paddy is that he seems to have an intense dislike to all things orange, perhaps going back to the Catholic-Protestant Orange Order battles in early Ireland. It's not unusual to open the shop and find many of the orange items on display thrown around on the floor.
The other resident ghost was a 16 year old boy who died in an accident many years ago. He doesn't make his presence felt often but has been seen at the back of the shop on the left hand side near the old rear door. Many photos taken of this area reveal orbs of light which are said to indicate the presence of subtle entities.
Perhaps the most active building for ghosts in Toodyay is the Freemasons Hotel. This building was constructed in 1861 making it the oldest public house in Toodyay. The original staircase going up to the first floor is just on the left as you enter the front door.Toodyay residents have seen up to 17 ghosts congregating on the stair's landing, all dressed in their evening ball finery. Why there are so many crowding this place has been a matter of much speculation. One of these ghosts has the appearance of a lady holding a bunch of lavender and rosemary, the aroma of which can waft around the staircase. Upstairs, outside one of the hotel rooms a strong smell of burning feathers is sometimes detected. Apparently, in the hotel's long-gone past, a man burnt to death when he inadvertently caused a fire while smoking in bed: he was incinerated along with his feather mattress.
The Toodyay Tavern at 86 Stirling Terrace has much ghost activity also. Underneath the Tavern's dining room is an old well. The story goes that many years ago a businessman was having an affair with a local nun. He would give her so many promises that he would take her away. Unfortunately she found out that he was already married and had no intention of fulfilling his promises. When the jilted nun confronted him, he killed her and threw her body in the well. Room 8 and 10 in the Tavern are said to be hot spots for ghostly activities.
Another hot spot for ghostly apparitions is the old Connors Mill down the end of the main street.This three story building was constructed in 1870 and many families over the years lived upstairs on the upper floor. Many noises and voices have been heard coming from the building, sometimes loud enough to be heard from the main road in front of the mill.
Of course the ghosts don't stop with human-like shapes. Animal ghosts have been seen in Toodyay as well. Outside the Fruit and Vegetable shop in the main street the ghost of a cat has been seen coming and going: chasing a ghost mouse perhaps?
All in all, while friendly Toodyay offers a multitude of attractions for everyone, do keep a watchful eye out for these other 'residents'. You'll never know when you might get a fleeting glimpse of one of these disembodied apparitions jumping out to say boo.