Ghosts Draw Tourists to Australian Ruins

ByABC News
September 11, 2000, 3:31 PM

P O R T   A R T H U R, Australia, Sept. 12 -- In the pitch black of a winters night, tourists huddle together in the sprawling ruins of Australias most notorious penal colony, Port Arthur.

You can hear a pin drop as tour guide Dianne Briggs narrates past horrors of the 19th century site, which locals on Tasmania, an island state off southeast Australia, believe is haunted.

The twice-nightly historic ghost tours are the highlight for visitors to Port Arthur but were almost scrapped after gunman Martin Bryant went on a rampage there in April 1996, killing 35.

After the worst mass shooting in Australias recent history, Port Arthur abandoned the ghost tours for six weeks, halting the most lucrative aspect of the historic site, and it was touch-and-go about restarting them.

After the massacre there was a big uprising of people saying the ghost tours were not fitting because people would think it was a ghost tour to bring back ghosts of people just recently killed, tour supervisor Paul Cooper told Reuters. So we actually changed the name from ghost tours to historic ghost tours to define that, and then we basically restarted, changing the scripts, changing the routes.

Now the tourists have begun to come back. Four years after the shooting, ghost tour attendance is inching back up near 50,000 a year, just under 1996 levels, with adults happy to pay $8.40 and children $5.20 for a late-night adrenaline rush.

Guides Quick to Revive Fainthearted

The 90-minute tours avoid the ruined cafe where most of the shooting took place, tracing a path through a church built by convicts, the parsons house, doctors office and morgue hidden in hills about 60 miles from the Tasmanian capital Hobart.

Here, five or six century-old ghosts are said to reappear to tourists and locals alike and some blurred specters captured on film are displayed for the skeptical. Add a few spine-chilling stories on a moonlit evening and it is hardly surprising tour guides have become adept at reviving tourists who faint.