Grim Yarns

There is a sickly odour of the sepulchre permeating the atmosphere, and the chief employment of the idle is to stand around and swap ghoulish stories – yarns that are dank, dismal and dirty, and reminiscent of dry bones, festering corpses, foul whiffs from the charnel house, blue mouldy of ghostly visions, and grisly spooks and other horrors…

And so it is that wherever Death casts a shadow, people will have some kind of story to tell. In late November 1894, the Coolgardie Miner had heard of several such grim yarns. Unable to resist “dabbling in mortuary matters“, they diligently reproduced them in an article.

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Controversial Slacks

Driving with her mother and sister from Sydney to Canberra in 1933, 23 year old Dorothy Henderson-Smart of Johannesburg thought little of the black slacks she wore throughout the journey. Comfort was her main priority on a drive that would take many hours.

They arrived in Canberra and on 21 November 1933 they took a tour of Parliament House. Still wearing slacks, Dorothy noticed a few men looking at her but she had no idea why. It wasn’t until later that day that she was informed that the wearing of slacks by women in Parliament House was inappropriate.

Old Parliament House circa 1927. Courtesy of the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate archive.
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Goodbye Chaps, I’m Off

Having already escaped from Coolgardie Gaol in January, police kept a close watch on George Thompson when they loaded him onto a train on 17 March 1897. He was to serve three sentences at Fremantle Prison; 12 months for stealing, four months for breaking out of gaol and three months for giving a false name to the police. Thompson was one of 14 prisoners being transported from Coolgardie to Fremantle on the midday train.

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The Great Jansen

The Great Jansen (Harry August Jansen) was touring Australia for the first time and was scheduled to perform at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth for two weeks. Opening on Saturday, 27 July 1912 he was described as a magician and illusionist and it was stated that his magic “eclipses anything hitherto attempted.

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Frog in a Hole

Harry Ainsworth had done it all. He’d struck gold at Lake Austin, made his fortune, moved into a grand house in Geraldton and in 1895 became Mayor. By the 1900s he’d lost everything. Hoping to recover some of his fortune, he returned to Lake Austin and once more began searching for gold. What he didn’t expect to find was a frog.

Lake Austin with The Mainland in the middle. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 9022.M95H2).
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The Drummer’s Death

The regular jazz drummer who played in the orchestra at the Empire Dance Hall couldn’t make it to the flannel dance held on 9 December 1932. A call was made to Edward Cassey asking if he could fill in. Despite having never played at the hall and not knowing its location, he said yes.

Edward Cassey
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Bubonic Plague in Geraldton

The sudden deaths of two people who were said to have been perfectly healthy sent rumours swirling. Bubonic plague was reported in Perth and Fremantle in January and February 1906. Had “the much-feared disease” made its way to the port town? The Geraldton Express was the first to ask the question.

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The Captain’s Boots

For about fifteen years Phillip Duffield worked as the ‘landing waiter’ for customs in Geraldton. His job was to monitor all the people who arrived at the port and ensure that they were not bringing contraband to the town.

Phillip took his job seriously. Such was his “surprising sagacity in diagnosing contraband and his incorruptible fervor in pursuing offenders” he soon became known to everyone as ‘Phil the Ferocious’.

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A Lonely Death

While searching for timber about two miles north of the Darlot Road and opposite the 19-mile well, Edward ‘Old Ned’ Ashbury and his mate, Mr Scott, stumbled across the skeletal remains of a man. They returned to Lawlers and, on 5 May 1901, Edward reported what they had found to Sergeant George Pilkington.

Map
The East Murchison Goldfields – where the remains were found. Lawlers is highlighted in red. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

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The Oriental Bank Robbery

Caution

The discovery of a robbery at the Oriental Bank in Melbourne spurred the Acting Manager, George Hamilton Traill, into action. A public notice was immediately placed with three Melbourne newspapers and went to print on 30 January 1867. They cautioned the public against transacting with any of the bills, which were specially endorsed to the Oriental Bank.

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