What follows is a collection of campus’ spookiest tales told by those who were there (or not)….
In the height of depression-era Australia, a mystery arose. The body of a young woman — forehead battered, a bullet wound in her neck, and legs charred to a black ash — was found in a roadside pipe in Albury. Her defining feature: she was dressed in a pair of delicate, yellow silk pyjamas. She was christened ‘the pyjama girl.’ Placed in an ice bath at Albury morgue, crowds gathered in an attempt to identify this woman, but to no avail. The body was shipped off to the University of Sydney — a ghoulish spectacle for the masses to gawk at in the Anderson Stuart building. The deceased body sat in a bath-tub coffin filled with formaldehyde for nearly a decade, but still, no one recognised the elusive pyjama girl.
The Anderson Stuart building has since become a site of haunting and horror. Rumour has it that her ghost lurks its halls, turning off the Wi-Fi, spooking PhD students studying late into the night — one student has even spoken of the echoing sound of a woman sobbing leaking from the walls of the building between the hours of 11pm and 2am. At irregular intervals, three times a year, the light pitter-patter of a woman’s feet can be heard. Wrapped up in sleep, the woman traipses around the building, the smell of burning flesh and silk following in her path.
Pyjama party at Anderson Stuart, anyone?
When One Door Closes
I can no longer walk down Science Road without memories of that evening locked alone in the Holme Building. Setting up camp in the SURG studio, with only a bag of chips and a bean bag keeping me company, I found it hard to fall asleep. In the hours past midnight, I suddenly heard banging noises from the floor above me, like all the doors were opening and slamming shut simultaneously. Those were soon followed by heavy footsteps and heels clicking against marble. When silence fell, I went to investigate; there was nothing but locked doors atop dusty carpet.
Perched where Cadigal Green meets PNR is the Old Darlington Public School. Now largely unused, the building once saw children filing in daily in two straight lines. In the late 19th century, however, just a few decades after the school’s initial construction, students and staff began to vanish. First it was the Kindergarten teacher who never showed up to work on Monday morning. Then it was a gaggle of young girls that had ventured past the school gates during recess, who ran towards City Road and never returned. Finally, on the last day of term, when the summer heat set in and crowds of parents turned up to pick up their kids, they arrived to an empty classroom. The typical chorus of young voices were never heard again, yet their school bags still sat patiently under their wooden desks.
Today, visitors report violent gusts of wind blowing open the ornate windows, and the sounds of children’s shrieks wafting through the old classrooms, following them at every turn. Students sneak around the building in the middle of the night, looking for adventure or shelter from an unexpected storm, but while many enter, few stay long.
Outside the Chemistry Building off Eastern Avenue lies a mysterious, towering gas tank, emblazoned with red lettering and surrounded by tall, metal bars. The tank is used to supply nitrogen gas for chemical experiments inside the building, but very few students would dare forget the warning in first-year chemistry: do not transport liquid nitrogen in enclosed spaces. Whispers say that years ago, a lab assistant discovered a professor’s lifeless body in a lift, having suffocated on the gas.
I have seen many inexplicable things in the late hours at the Honi office, but one peculiar night outdoes them all. We were about to finish a long day’s work, and I went to check on a fellow editor who had disappeared behind the Gosper Room’s Stygian doors. When I stepped into the room, a putrid stench permeated my nose — it was rotten and intensely sour, like spoiled parmesan cheese. “My god, what is that smell?” I asked, looking around for any traces of bile or undigested food. “I don’t smell anything,” the other editor said without looking up. I called in the others, who couldn’t smell anything either. Intense disbelief sent chills down my spine. What on earth was that rancid scent? To this day, only one other person says they smelled puke in the Gosper Room that night. When they made an incident report, no one believed them.
Lost in the Lab
I had always been enticed by the Molecular Bioscience building, but I couldn’t have known I would come to haunt it as much as it did me. In the beginning, its dark windows were inscrutable; its brutalist character oddly inviting. Curiosity eventually drew me inside and I wandered through each level, bright and bustling labs filling each floor. Finding a fire stairwell in a far corner of Level 8, I descended to what I hoped to be the main lobby.
Instead, darkness flooded my surroundings — a shadowed lab with dozens of identical benches standing in silent rows. In the corner stood an old vending machine, still stocked with a lone green chip packet. The expiry date read ‘June 2006.’ Perturbed, I turned to leave and found myself in surroundings that were mirrored, dozens more benches offering no clue as to where the exit lay. No matter, I thought, clearly I had descended one floor too many. I returned to the stairwell and climbed to what must surely be the main lobby, but I found myself in an identical abandoned lab once more.
I remember running, bursting through door after door, only to emerge into yet more deadends of this laboratory labyrinth. As time went on and no escape appeared, I resigned to my fate. The benches weren’t so bad to sleep on if I tucked my legs in right. For the first few months, I would scream and wave at students on Cadigal Green far below, desperate for someone to see and release me. But empty pleas fell on unhearing ears. Now I just stand, and watch.
Hidden from the campus onlooker through ancient panes of frosted glass, the Tropical Greenhouse on Parramatta Road is obscured by a large green shrub. The greenhouse was once a thriving biosphere filled with many things green and vining, until a brilliant scientist who studied consciousness in plants mysteriously vanished in 1928. On the date of his disappearance, passersby reported hearing groans of rusty hinges and a strong slithering sound from within, echoing in the empty afternoon air. The next day, the greenhouse was cordoned off and staff and students were warned to stay away.
Rumour has it the scientist was working on an experimental fertiliser that would imbue plants with sentience, unbeknownst to the University. Shredded remnants of a white lab coat are believed to have been found in a corner of the greenhouse, spattered with red stains and human teeth. The Greenhouse has since been abandoned, though in the dying flickers of light you can spot silhouettes of overgrown plants, monstrously betoothed.
Haswell the Friendly Ghost
If you’re ever in the Heydon Laurence Building on Science Road, you might be visited by the ghost of William Haswell. After arriving in Australia in 1878 under doctors’ orders, Haswell worked in a marine laboratory and surveyed the Great Barrier Reef, eventually becoming the first Challis Professor of Zoology at the University. Haswell died in 1925, survived by his wife and daughter, but his friendly ghost still checks up on the building from time to time, especially on his beloved crustaceans. If you happen to encounter Haswell’s ghost, don’t be alarmed at his ghostly glow behind kind eyes slowly fading.
Gargoyles of the Quad
In the middle of the Quadrangle, there is a portal. It is only visible at certain hours of the night when the wind stills enough for the stone gargoyles to come alive. They break free from their perches and soar through the skies on wings of liquid fire, leaving whispers of smoke in their wake. The heavens respond in kind, echoing violent shrills of delight at their covey.
Our story began on such a night. I sat by the roots of the flame tree and glanced at the portal. A veil of shimmering light emanated from it, slightly obscuring the other side. Inside, I saw what appeared to be a setting sun, contrasted starkly with the inky night above me. I was careful not to look at it directly or for too long, because I could only guess at what would become of me. The gargoyles shrieked in chorus, a warning in their eldritch babble.
The grass gained inches under my gaze, growing until each blade was long enough to wrap around my thigh. My legs were now stretched out in front of me, and I suddenly wish I was afforded the company of another. A gargoyle jetted towards me and settled on the archway behind me, squawking until I turned around.
I raise an eyebrow, but it beats me to conversation. “Are you flying us this time, or shall I?”
I was nipping bugs out of my pristine feathers while patrolling my target area around Fisher Library on Saturday after dark when I saw some pesky humans beneath where I keep my beloved newborn chicks. I hopped down a branch to get a closer look at these high-vis-wearing vermin and saw that they were armed with chainsaws!
As my paternal instincts kicked in and I prepared to launch a counter-attack, my pea-sized brain jogged a memory of an article in Honi Soit that I’d recently read about the University wanting to chop down the Port Jackson figs. Remembering my pro-worker beliefs and membership in the Union of Campus Beasts, I re-assessed the situation and redirected my flight path towards the source of the peril to my precious eggs: F23.
Gathering together fifty of my feathered friends in the Union, we caucused a decision to swoop the Vice-Chancellor. Our army made a bee-line through Eastern Avenue and past the F23 security bastards into the foyer, straight to the top floors. We zoomed straight for the eyeballs of the pesky humans cowering and crying in their steam-ironed suits, defenceless against us without any PR team for cover. By the time we were done, the Boardroom was raining down with feathers and bespeckled with the blood of University management. We perched, proudly, on the balcony as the new leaders of the University.
A Night at (Chau Chak) Museum
I was doing my rounds of Chau Chak one evening, keeping watch over the University’s treasures and trinkets. But that night I had noticed that birds, butterflies and beasts had vanished from their cabinets and displays. It must have been removed for restoration, I thought. I continued my rounds. Down a floor, the anonymous statue that sat amongst the Roman spectres exhibit had disappeared as well — chunks of marble dusted the plinth. Could have been loaned to another museum. Disturbed but not deterred, I continued my rounds again. But the next exhibit I couldn’t excuse. Egyptian Galleries, shreds of rotted cotton and preserved flesh littered the polished floor. Missing from his glass cage was the boy Horus. As the hairs rose on my neck, something in me told me to run. With a cautious step and a stumble backwards, I turned and ran. Through the unusually barren halls of Chau Chak, I fled, my feet pounding against the polished concrete as I ducked and wove between empty display cases. My eyes stung with sweat as I pushed my body to sliding doors I would never reach. With a stern hand of fissured marble, the carved Roman artefact stopped me in my tracks.
“Welcome to the exhibit.”
The Phantom Pianist
One misty night in March, I was walking back down Eastern Avenue at an ungodly hour after studying at PNR. As I passed Carslaw, I heard a heart-wrenching melody drift down the windswept boulevard. As I approached Fisher Coffee Cart, I saw a striking blonde woman tickling the ivories of the rotten, water-damaged USU novelty piano. I was shocked to hear such a majestic sonata emanating from the decayed and sorrowful instrument.
Something about the pianist didn’t seem quite right. Her appearance was otherworldly. Her blemish-free skin, almost wax-like, shone luminously in the dim moonlight. I ambled toward her and stared at her red lips, a perfectly plump cupid’s bow. I could have stayed there twenty seconds, or twenty years. “Excuse me,” I said. But the pianist remained mute, a blank space where our pleasantries should be.
Summoning all my courage, I walked round to the front of the piano, determined to introduce myself. She had a million-mile stare — a deep sorrow sat within. She seemed like the maddest woman this town had ever seen. A single tear dripped from her crystal blue eyes. Concerned and curious, I reached out to comfort the figure.
As my hand touched her shoulder, the figure melted, instantly, into a pool of wax. The piano slammed shut and two deep notes rang out over the empty campus. I screamed, and sprinted all the way home to my gothic Glebe terrace.
The next morning the piano was gone, and I received a bill for $250,000 from the USU in the mail.
*Some stories may have been edited for extra SPOOOOOK!