A team of ghost hunters has joined forces on the South Coast to delve into the paranormal. They invited DOMINIC GEIGER along to one of their investigations.
Set on a hill overlooking the northern residential area of Ulladulla, Springfield House creaks and groans with so much history it could pass for an antique store.
A white tombstone sits underneath a gnarled old tree in the front yard, and a troop of clucking chickens wanders around the rear of the house.
It's a stormy night when Mercury photographer Christopher Chan and I arrive to interview members of the Ghost Hunters of the South Coast and Territories (GHOST) group, and the rain seems to be blowing in sideways.
Group member Dan McMath meets us at the front gate, smiling happily.
He briefly mentions the tombstone, saying he doesn't think there's any one actually buried underneath.
'A LOT OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCE GHOSTLY GOINGS ON, MOVING FURNITURE, HEARING VOICES AT NIGHT ... WE WANT TO FIND OUT EXACTLY WHAT THAT IS.'
"We've checked out the dates and we think it's a memorial," he says.
"Or the family has placed the ashes under there."
Entering the house, we are greeted by an old child's doll, propped up against an ancient chair, leering towards the front door.
A hotchpotch of old photographs and bits of furniture line the walls leading to the kitchen below.
But for all its creepiness, Springfield House also feels every part a domestic home.
In addition to being the setting for the night's ghost investigation, the property is also home for McMath's fellow investigator Steve Lynch and his family.
As we sit down at an old wooden table, Lynch's wife Corinne busies about, preparing a roast for tea.
His two young girls also run around, obviously excited about the prospect of an investigation about to get under way.
McMath and Lynch sit at opposite ends of the ghost-hunting spectrum.
While McMath is enthusiastic, and prefers spirit-finding high-tech gadgets, Lynch is more "old school", and prefers using ouija and pendulum boards to contact the departed.
"Whereas I like all the modern equipment, Steve's very nuts and bolts," McMath points out.
"The first time we did a séance here the ouija board came out, and that was interesting."
There is a third member of the group - Ian Melville, who the others describe as a sceptic who keeps them "grounded", but he isn't present for this particular investigation.
All three met through work at the Milton Ulladulla Ex Servos Club - a shared interest in the paranormal brought them together.
For McMath, it was an incident from his childhood that first pricked his passion.
He recounts a story of how, as a young boy living in the western NSW town of Narromine, he, his mother and his sister watched in disbelief over three successive nights as three ceramic figurines were mysteriously thrown from the mantel piece across the room.
For McMath, it was the start of a lifelong hobby.
"The reason we look for evidence of ghosts and hauntings is really the burning question - what happens after death?" he says.
"A lot of people experience ghostly goings on, moving furniture, hearing voices at night ... we want to find out exactly what that is.
"The big thing we want to find out really at the end of the day is can we find proof that ghosts exist because ... there is no hard data that ghosts actually exist."
In his quest to find proof, McMath has acquired a host of buzzing, whirring, beeping gadgets, which scan for various signals emitted by spirits.
There's the standard equipment anyone can buy - a digital camera, a sound recorder - but also objects which are a little more complex, such as the EMF disturbance sensor and vibration unit.
The reason for so much equipment, McMath explains, is that often potential evidence of a spirit will only come during hours of laborious analysis of photographic and audio evidence.
"You can wait for hours and hours ... after you've had your 6-8 hours sleep when you get home in the morning and you might start that night reviewing evidence," he says.
"A lot of it is post-investigation.
"You do get phenomena happening during investigation, obviously that's what gets us excited."
Lynch and McMath are able to rattle off half a dozen sites where they've held investigations, many which have turned out to be fruitful.
Though none have offered concrete proof, places like St John's orphanage at Goulburn, the Milton Theatre and even Springfield House itself have provided small occurrences.
McMath says once they contacted the former owner of the property, a builder, who heard loud thumping noises between the first and second floors.
Unfortunately, little happens during our visit to the house.
There is no banging, no cold hands upon our necks, no disembodied voices emanating around the room.
Strangely, however, McMath is forced to twice replace batteries in a digital camera.
He says this tends to happen in areas where there is a strong spirit presence.
After McMath is finished setting up his equipment, we head to the dining room to perform a séance using a pendulum board. The lights are turned off and a torch is positioned in the middle of a table, creating an eerie glow.
As the board comes out, McMath closes his eyes, and in a deep baritone voice calls out: "Is there anyone with us tonight? Is there anyone who wishes to make contact?"
The pendulum begins to swing, slightly at first, but then more definite, moving towards the "yes" on the board.
McMath then tries to learn the initials of the spirit, moving the pendulum towards a half circle filled with letters.
The pendulum swings, first towards the letter "m", then towards the letter "c".
McMath goes to ask it another question, but suddenly the spirit is gone, and the pendulum swings no more.
Although a sceptic myself, I suddenly realise I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, eagerly willing the pendulum to start swinging again, to make contact with the departed.
The mood of the séance is serious, but not without humour.
While Lynch is in possession of the pendulum, McMath reprimands him for forgetting to say "please" to the spirit.
About 9pm, we decide to call it a night.
As we're packing up, McMath tells me GHOST are always on the hunt for new places to conduct investigations.
He says there are no hard and fast rules about what sort of venue might harbour spirits, and says sometimes spirits even attach themselves to people.
"One of the bigger occurrences is bringing something home with you," he says.
"I had something in my house three weeks ago, turning off the bathroom light.
"As far as other places go, you can have all the ghosts you want - just not in my house.
"In that instance I treated it as an unwanted guest - I opened up the front door and told it not so politely to get out."
Later on, during the drive back to Wollongong, I receive a phone message from McMath.
It seems our investigation wasn't such a bust after all.
"Just listening to the digital recorder," he says, referencing one of the many bits of technology he had operating during the investigation.
"We may have caught the words 'my house, my house'."
If you have a haunted property you'd like the members of GHOST to investigate, head along to their Facebook site by searching Ghost Hunters of South Coast and Territories.
Source and special thanks: Illawarra Mercury