180 years of the Fisher's Ghost Legend
The following articles appeared in the Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser,
Wednesday 21 June 2006. (p. 2, p. 135, p.136.)
Reproduced with the permission of the author and editor.
When things go bad, blame Fred
It's the anniversary of Frederick Fisher's murder and the start of Campbelltown's most enduring legend. And yes, 180 years on, 'Fred' is still as active as ever, long time ghost writer Jeff McGill reports.
Does the ghost of Fred Fisher really walk among us today? Certainly.
And I say that not only as a proud Campbelltonian, but someone who has seen and heard too many weird things. It started during my childhood when I recall sitting on the banks of Fishers Ghost Creek as dad and mum recited colourful tales of the wily spectre.
They, like me, are true believers. And we're not alone.
True believers cross all barriers and professions in Campbelltown.
Most of our stories follow a similar theme: whenever our mysterious ectoplasm is happy everything runs smoothly. But when he's displeased - or simply in a larrikin mood - he makes sure we all know about it.
Perhaps the most famous account is the 1970s story of the 'ghost post'.
Workmen at the Fisher's Ghost Creek dug up an old railing from an early version of the bridge and the promoter of the Campbelltown Picnic Races, Deidre O'Dowd, had it restored and used as the finishing post at the 1973 event.
As Deidre told me many times, 'Fred' wasn't very impressed: "The rain was so heavy the horses swam up the track, so we had to cancel."
Rescheduled for a fortnight later, that event too, was a washout; as was the next attempt. In 1974, more attempts to stage the event were also inundated and a lot of media interest was generated.
It made front page news when race club secretary Bob McWilliam eventually dug up the old post and ceremoniously handed it back, ordering Deidre to remove it from the Appin racetrack.
And, yes - the sun shone gloriously and crowds flocked to the next event.
I only have vague memories of all the fuss because I was still in primary school at the time, but years later I asked Deidre whatever happened to the post.Not wanting to discard the post, she stored it in her garage. Six months later she receives an excess water bill for half a million gallons from leaking pipes - located underneath her garage.
Around 1991-1992, as a reporter on this paper, I helped negotiate a 'surrender' in which Deidre officially handed the post over to a nervous mayor, Gordon Fetterplace. It was stored at the new library - which immediately suffered plumbing problems. But it seems to have settled in more comfortably.
It is generally accepted by locals that Fred must be honoured by the annual parades we hold in his name as they are constantly a success.
The late, great Clive Tregear - our mayor during the late 1960s and early 1970s - always paid due homage and told me it was 'not unreasonable' for anyone to believe in the ghost.
The stories of Fred's activity certainly multiply at the southern end of Queen Street, where Fisher once had his farm, and where he was murdered. The Town Hall Theatre is arguably the most regular haunt. Many theatre group members recount tales of flickering lights, eerie footsteps and misty figures walking on stage during rehearsals.
In 1991, then-theatre group president, Barbara Handley, told the advertiser, 'It's like somebody brushed up against you - its the weirdest feeling.'
Neil Hatchman was president when the theatre group moved into the building in 1980. He recalled, in 1995: 'I was working there a lot at night by myself, taking away rubbish around the back, when the lights went off.'
After finding his way to the switch and turning the lights back on, Neil saw a man moving across the stage. Ignoring calls for him to stop, the man moved into a nearby room. Grabbing a piece of wood, Neil followed him: 'When I opened the door the room was empty. It was an odd experience to say the least'.
Most members are now convinced he is just a friendly ghost, just mischievous, and call out his name when things go wrong.
Scoff at your own risk.
Mary Phillips once recalled: "I was directing a musical, and the rehearsal was going badly, when the lights went out in the orchestra pit. No one was anywhere near the lights, and the music director just said in frustration, 'For God's sake Fred turn the lights back on'. Well they came back on."
Lights seem to be a favourite.
Former Catholic Club CEO Steve Muter once told me that club car park lights kept flicking on and off, yet time clocks showed nothing abnormal.
In 1990, I can remember a manager of Fisher's Ghost Restaurant blaming Fred's spiritual shenanigans when fire engines were called in right in the middle of the Fisher's Ghost Festival.
Melting wax from candleholders had ignited, creating a bit of smoke - and a mayhem of sirens and firefighters.
When former mayor Gordon Fetterplace took charge of the restaurant shortly afterwards, he was confounded at how wall paintings mysteriously moved at night.
His own manager had arrived one morning to find the fireplaces ablaze - even though they had been checked and extinguished the night before.
Some years ago, Beatrice Charters contacted me and told me her family moved to Campbelltown in the mid 1960s and settled in a house that stood in Queen Street near the creek.
"We were upstairs and could hear my grand-daughter, Tracy, who was only aged about three, talking to someone", she recalled. "But when she walked in, nobody else was there. We asked her who she had been talking to, and she told us it was 'Uncle Fred'." But there was no Uncle Fred in the family and they didn't even know anyone by that name.
It was soon after that she heard of the legend of Fisher's Ghost - and the rather shaken family moved to the other end of Campbelltown. When the Advertiser was located in the white building now home to Mission Employment, a number of ghostly goings-on alarmed our staff.
Former manager Colleen Pitchford once told me: 'One night two burly printers shut down the presses and refused to stay in the building after seeing faces appear at a window of the door - and when they checked there was nobody on the other side.'
She added, ‘One night I was in the building alone and locked the door, for which I had the only key. When I came back I found it wide open. I never went in there alone again.' And Colleen is not an airy fairy type.
I never had any such problem in that building - but I do remember when our paper moved into our present building in 1992. (The spot where Fisher was murdered is just down behind us.)
We were originally only downstairs with the back copies stored upstairs.
One day I wandered up to the dark and empty top floor, to search through some old issues. Hearing a clear, yet strangely undistinguishable (almost female) voice talking to me from the hall, I walked out - to find nobody.
Suddenly a flock of pigeons nesting on the back landing burst through the hall. Getting down stairs as fast as my legs would carry me, I told the editor. He recommended immediate bed rest, so I kept my mouth shut tight.
Months later, we journalists relocated upstairs and one Monday morning I was strolling through the bottom floor and overheard a meeting of newly arrived artists. They were alarmed because during the weekend they kept on hearing noises and a high pitched voice calling them from upstairs - but no one was there.
On swapping notes we found our stories worryingly similar and a council staffer who found out about it tipped off the TV show, The Extraordinary, which came out to film a piece on us. (Since then, mind you, I haven't experienced anything remotely spooky, despite the fact my desk is now metres from that initial 'encounter'.)
How many of you remember the news stories from the early 1990s when Mayor Jim Kremmer and his deputy, John Hennessey, proposed building a Fisher's Ghost statue. One of the original 'ghoul leaguers' from 1954 (when active ghost watching nights began) told us 'Fred' did not appear to like statues and warned of a reaction.
Soon after, the project collapsed, Cr Kremmer lost his mayorship and Cr Hennessey was dumped in an election. The latter - who promoted himself as 'Fred's Earthly ambassador' - stoically refused to take it personally.
But others might have taken the hint. After all, as early as 1924, the Longford-Lyell Film productions house was plunged into liquidation shortly after it began work on a silent film titled The Legend of Fisher's Ghost. Yet on the whole, Fred seems to be more cheek than terror. Just make no mistake - he is a very real local phenomenon. Scoff at your own risk.
The Spectre of Unfinished Business Drama Group Brings to life a tale of avenged murder. Campbelltown must be the only community on earth that proudly boasts it is a ghost town.
The legend of Frederick George James Fisher and his spectre dominates our early history and is celebrated every November with one of the state's largest festivals.
Re-telling the tale is always difficult because the myth and history collide repeatedly.
But the legend states that in 1826, a local farmer, John Farley, staggered trembling into a Campbelltown inn claiming he had seen the ghost of Fisher, who had mysteriously vanished three months before.
The ghost according to Farley, had been sitting on the rail of a bridge which spanned the waterway now called Fisher's Ghost Creek. These days, the site would be best described as near the roundabout in between Campbelltown Arts Centre and the southern end of Queen Street, adjoining Koshigaya Park.
Farley related that the ghost had not spoken, but had merely pointed to a paddock beyond the creek, before disappearing. The spot pointed to a paddock beyond the creek, before disappearing. The spot being pointed to would today be near where Hurley Street crosses the dry path of the creek. (Water only remains in Fishers Ghost Creek at its upper reaches in Bradbury.)
Initially Farley's tale was dismissed, but the circumstances were too dodgy to ignore and eventually police and Aboriginal trackers searched the site, they found the grisly remains of Fisher's battered body, buried in a shallow grave.
They also found bloodstains on a fenceline that today would mark the boundary between the Advertiser and Campbelltown Shopping Mall.
Suspicion immediately fell on Fisher's neighbour, George Worrall, who had earlier claimed the ex-convict had returned to England leaving him in charge of all his assets.
He was soon hanged for murder.
Fisher was buried in the cemetery at St Peters Anglican Church.
Local history buff Verlie Fowler, suggests the constant sitings of Fisher's ghost, over the years may point to the fact the spectre is still unavenged for his murder.
The former president of Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society unearthed the records of the Fisher court case and has written a book on the subject.
'Some people hold the opinion that George Worrall wasn't the only person responsible for the murder and maybe Fred is still unavenged', she suggested.