Ghostly respect

FANCY joining a ghost-hunting party around the graves of family members? Your family members? If you have family buried at Minmi cemetery you could have joined such a party after dark in a month’s time, perhaps telling a few porkies about your parents levitating as they died and making wind-whistling noises as you go. But that’s the type of disrespect we reserve for other people’s family, isn’t it!

The notions of respect and disrespect for the dead may be precarious in these less reverent times, and it does seem that respect for the dead is in reality respect for the living people who had an association with those who’ve passed on. And so last night the living people of the historic coalmining village of Minmi on the outskirts of Newcastle were meeting to give vent to their outrage at Hunter WEA's advertised Minmi Cemetery Ghost Tour, and planning to be there was the founder of Newcastle Ghost Tours, Renata Daniel. Mrs Daniel, who also does ghost tours of Newcastle’s East End and Civic Theatre, planned to explain that the tour was largely historical, which would go down better with the people of Minmi if her business were called Newcastle Historical Tours.

Both sides can claim the WEA blurb as evidence: ‘‘Join us in an investigation of this most haunted cemetery. Your tour guide will fill you in on the history of the site helping you to understand why this spot is such a valuable asset which should be looked after for future generations. Learn about the souls whose lives and contribution to the village have been long forgotten. Have you heard the story about the headless horseman? Let us tell you more.’’

The WEA has cancelled the Minmi cemetery tour although Mrs Daniel has permission of Newcastle City Council and, she tells me, Minmi Progress Association, which says it believed the tours were to be historical, to conduct the tours herself.

The headless horseman bit didn’t help soothe the good burghers of Minmi. It is, Mrs Daniel says, a story told her by a Minmi resident, that a headless man on a horse has been seen, albeit not for a long time, in the cemetery carpark, and Mrs Daniel likes to suggest that it may have been the ghost of a miner whose head was crushed. The old mining community won’t find the crushed head bit soothing, either.

It is, anyway, rubbish, says Elva Hawkins, who has three generations of family in the cemetery and who you may remember as the elderly New Lambton woman who took up the cudgel against the dumped and noisy Chanticleer the rooster 18 months ago. The only true ghost story about Minmi cemetery, says an angry Mrs Hawkins, is to do with her Uncle Gilf, before he was her uncle, walking through the cemetery late one night after courting her Aunty Lorna when he saw a woman in a long white gown and with long blonde hair arise from a grave. His hair turned white overnight and from that day on he had a stutter, Mrs Hawkins told me. But the ghost was his own 14-year-old sister who’d been sleepwalking.

Are the people of Minmi too sensitive? Is there anything wrong with a few ghost stories in a cemetery?

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