6 April 2023

Riverina Rewind: Haunted phone calls, death pacts and shooting at ghosts in trees

| Chris Roe
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man aiming rifle at ghost in tree

The prank did not go as intended. Photo: Chris Roe.

In the wake of a state election in which the Riverina was haunted by several “ghost” political candidates, we thought we’d trawl back through the archives to unearth a few other dodgy spooks from history.

Those pesky tree ghosts

In December 1890, the Australian Star newspaper reported on a prank gone wrong at a property near Wagga Wagga around Christmas time.

Under the headline Playing the Ghost, the story tells of a group of young practical jokers who were visiting Wara Station over the holidays.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: The soaring legacy of Wagga’s ‘Flying Godfather’

One young wag, a bank Johnny named Hart, decided to give some of the others a scare and “robed himself in a sheet” and climbed a tree to impersonate a ghost.

When the ghostly apparition surprised a group of visitors, Hart was spotted, the joke was understood and everyone had a good laugh. That was until another joker decided to reciprocate with a prank of his own.

The second prankster grabbed a muzzle-loading shotgun, removed the shot, and fired what he thought was a blank at the spectre in the tree, but it seems that the gun was not entirely free of projectiles.

“Unluckily he had forgotten to draw the wad, which struck the ghost on the chest, penetrating the clothes and lodging in the flesh, causing an ugly wound,” reported the Star.

“When struck, the impersonator fell from the tree, and received some nasty bruises.

“Naturally there was great consternation among the ladies, and it is hoped that nothing serious will be the result of the foolish trick.”

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: Right angles lead to tragedy on the infamous Kapooka Bridge

The ghost on the phone

Some decades later, another ghost hoax was widely reported after a “voice from the dead” was discussed during a trial in Wagga.

In 1949, 38-year-old Coolamon Cafe owner Harold McNickle impersonated a ghost to try to scare off witnesses due to testify against him.

Facing the charge of having ”demanded money by menace” from Mrs Mary Ann Pyke, McNickle began spreading rumours of a “death pact” that she had survived some years before with a doctor in Sydney.

McNickle alleged that “they were both doped for the occasion” and that the doctor had died while Mrs Pyke had “come out of it”.

According to the testimony of Sgt J S Grady, he had also been heard to remark that he “hoped the doctor came back from the dead and haunted Mrs Pyke and drove her to her death”.

At 10:15 on the night of 18 October, Sgt Grady answered the Pyke family telephone and a male voice that he recognised as McNickle’s asked, “Is that you, Lance?”, mistaking him for Mary’s husband.

“Yes,” the officer replied, prompting the drunk-sounding caller to identify himself as “the doctor, returned from death. Tell Mary!”

“You are not a bad fellow, Lance,” the slurring voice continued.

“Have you heard about the death pact? Tell Mary to be careful, and not to have any court work, as it may wreck her life – perhaps in a death pact.”

While it is not recorded in the court transcript, one can only imagine that McNickle adopted a ghostly tone as he finished by declaring, ”I’ll now fly back to heaven. I’ll see you and Mary before dawn.” (Woooooooo).

McNickle reportedly had nothing to say when he was committed for trial.

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