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Whispering nuns, moving chairs and ghostly apparitions… Cooktown’s James Cook Museum is a treasure trove of the paranormal with ghostly investigations involving the public set to begin.
A paranormal experience is launching at Cooktown’s James Cook Museum on June 12, and behind it is another example of Indigenous business innovation.
Museum Indigenous Guide and Project Officer, Harold Ludwick of the Guugu Yimithirr Nation, knew the grand dame on Helen St – a heritage-listed former convent and school now containing artefacts dating back to the 1870s – had a history of otherworldly experiences. Together with son Keithean Bowen, the pair cooked up a plan to launch a tour of sorts so others could discover her secrets.
“Because of Covid I was thinking of other ways to get people into the museum,” Harold says.
“There’s this big movement towards the paranormal. I’ve experienced so many things in there so I thought it would be a good thing for the region.”
Harold and Keithean joined forces with Hearse Tours Cairns owner/operator Brett Scotney, and the trio were soon designing a paranormal investigation to launch at the museum.
There would be no more than 20 people, and rather than a tour, the experience is an ‘investigation’, meaning participants are hunting ghosts too.
“Some of the experiences have been unreal,” Keithean says.
“I’ve had paranormal experiences in the past but when you go and look for these things, there’s always something happening when you go there.
“The standout was where we took a photo in the Chinese room. I had my two mates with me. He didn’t know it was a Chinese room though. He said ‘there’s a figure there, looks like a Chinese bloke’. Standing in the centre of the photo was a shadow right at the door. I thought it was unreal for him to guess. He’s not really a big believer.”
That’s not all, according to Keithean and Brett, who will serve as the lead investigators.
They’ve heard teaspoons rattle, captured orbs and shadowy figures in photos, recorded the assumed voices of nuns telling them to ‘shush’ and witnessed a chair move. That’s on top of the stories they’ve heard from the locals – of figures being seen in windows, of unexplained voices at night.
“I was in the Guugu Yimithirr room and I was speaking language and introducing myself,” Keithean says. “I heard something knocking behind the artefacts, it was a chair. I walked past there and it slid and moved across the room. About 10ml.
“For me I was like oh my God!
“Around that time I had my phone and I was doing live video on Facebook for everyone to watch. As I was talking everyone was commenting on my page because an orb came flying past the camera.
“Dad said ‘speak language in that room’ I thought I would have a go. They must have felt there was a fellow Hope Vale person there and weren’t afraid to show themselves.”
Keithean, a Hope Vale Shire councillor and founder of Hunting the Homelands clothing apparel, has an interest in the paranormal that stems back to his teen years.
Camping out at a beach with his cousins, he caught a photo of a ghost girl on an old Nokia phone. That night, she relentlessly circled the house, running a finger along the walls, leaving a group of very nervous young teens inside. They deleted the photo, believing the spirit of the girl wasn’t pleased she had been caught on camera.
From that experience a goal was born in Keithean to capture the unknown.
“When I retire, I’ll buy a thermal camera and tour Australia looking for the paranormal,” he says.
He’s in good company.
Brett, a Cairns prison officer by day and Hearse Limo Tours Cairns operator by night, is a firm believer the museum could be one of the most haunted buildings in Far North Queensland.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years … been into the paranormal,” Brett says.
“If you believe it and you’re open to it, you’ll experience more. A lot of people are curious.
“There’s quite a few spirits in there (at the museum). I’d say there’s definitely five separate spirits that I’m aware of.
“In the attic there’s a little boy, that’s the one we saw. There are nuns that have shushed us. You can hear conversations between two people in the Chinese room. We’ve got it on recording. I played it back and we don’t know if was something about ‘look out for the kids’ or ‘where are the keys’ because it was an orphanage back in the day.
“We’ve been up in the attic with the equipment we use – The K2 electromagnetic metre. If spirits are around it lights up.
“I’ve been touched, I’ve had whispered things in my ear. I’ve seen stuff.”
Cooktown Museum Paranormal Investigations begin on June 12 and will run monthly. To book, visit https://nationaltrustqld.org.au/heritage-sites/James-Cook-Museum and select the Paranormal Investigations tab.