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Fortuna, Bendigo

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The Villa

Eerie voices and strange sightings... even the Army avoids it at night.

When the sun shines on the exquisite gardens and tranquil lake surrounding eye-catching Fortuna villa on Bendigo's New Chum Reef, eerie stories about ghosts seem far-fetched.

Yet, according to chilling official reports by the Army Survey Regiment, which has been stationed here for 44 years, Fortuna is indeed haunted.

Formerly the home of Australia's "Quartz King" George Lansell, the man credited with introducing deep tunnel mining, the grand ballrooms now house scientific equipment and busy army personnel. But tour the 1860s mansion and you won't find a bed. For no one sleeps here at night.

Today at Fortuna when soldiers talk of "George" they are referring to the ghost of George Lansell who, if you believe the evidence, still regularly stalks the corridors and balconies.

Then there is the female voice supposedly that of George Lansell's first wife, Bedillia, who died under uncertain" circumstances in the 1880s. The voice, which seemingly comes from no visible body, has had tough men shaking in their army boots.

"There have been too many incidents to dismiss it," said the regiment's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Don Swiney, in his office which was once George Lansell's bedroom. "In the cold, hard light of day we can sit in this office and laugh about it, but I would suggest to you that at midnight perhaps you wouldn't be laughing."It's got to the stage where the duty officers will no longer sleep in the main building.

"Don Swiney says that the voice of the woman is generally heard in or around a room off the main corridor where the duty officers used to be stationed. "There was one fellow who wouldn't sleep there unless he had his dog, a doberman, with him, and at the same time every night that dog would go berserk in a particular corner.

"There were sudden, unexplained and profound drops in temperature...and then the temperature would rise again. Doors opened when they should have been locked. I mean, a door would be physically locked and you would turn back and it would be open. Many have experienced it.

"Documenting Fortuna's haunting are the following reports, just some of those recorded by the Army:

Captain J. Bloor, February 1973 : "Whilst on picket duty, at about 0450 hours, I crossed the road in front of the new barrack block to go down the stairs leading to the path around the lake. Out of the corner of my eye, just as I mounted the gutter on the lake side of the road, I noticed an object standing by the double doors of the kitchen. I stopped and took another look, because usually there is nothing in that position. I saw an apparition which was like a shroud hovering by the door and moving slowly from side to side. The form was about 1.8 metres tall. Brickwork could be seen through it. The apparition was moving very slowly and moved through the outer door of the kitchen and stopped by the inner door. The top half of it could be seen. It stayed there for some time and then turned around and returned to its original position. Once again it rotated slowly from left to right and then suddenly stopped. I got the impression that it had suddenly sensed my presence. It then moved about six metres to the east which, due to the building corner between us, put it out of my view. I moved back to the centre of the road to a position where I could see the apparition beneath the window of the kitchen. It was still moving slowly from left to right. Once again it stopped as if again it had seen me. It then moved back to its original position and disappeared. The whole sighting lasted for a couple of minutes.

"Sergeant, 1982 : "I was performing a security check of the main building of Fortuna and as part of my duties I was to check incoming telex messages. I checked the door to the telex room and found it to be locked as would be expected. I then proceeded to the main keyboard located in the switchboard room, and, as I was removing the telex room key, I heard a woman's voice say softly: 'What are you doing here?' I was extremely frightened as I had carried out a full check of the doors and windows of the building and knew it to be secure. I then hurried to the telex room (a distance of some six metres). I approached the locked door and just as I was about to insert the key, the door slowly opened. I had not touched the door at this time and there were no strong draughts that could have caused this movement."

Corporal, 1965 : "At 0300 hours, I was adding logs to the open fireplace in the billiard room (now the Corporal and Sappers mess). Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps approaching the double doors that connected the ballroom and the billiard room. As I turned towards the doors, they both opened fully. As the building was locked and I was the only occupant, there was no logical explanation."

In light of these reports, the Army no longer requires anyone to sleep overnight in Fortuna. "No way, you'd have to be joking, not anymore," is how CO Swiney sums it up.

The Army runs Sunday afternoon tours around Fortuna, and with the proceeds hopes to restore the mansion to its original grandeur.

Tony Fawcett

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