By Ivor Jones
This is a story that has been related by Joan Hayes formerly of Parramatta and more recently of Denman which appeared in an issue of “I Remember When..” produced by the Senior Citizens of Denman in the Hunter Valley.
“In the early 1800s when Governor Macquarie lived in what is now Old Government House at Parramatta, there was a residence that had been the home of farriers and dairymen who were employed at what was then the Governor’s Domain (now Parramatta Park). Next to the residence was the remains of the white-washed dairy building of convictmade bricks and hand-hewn timbers which gleamed pallidly in the pale moonlight
The residence itself was a large barracks-like house set in the centre of seven hundred acres of open parkland. A murky river, on the banks of which tall trees loomed darkly snaked along outside the high wooden paling fence running along the back boundary of the yard, broken only by a sagging gate.
The house was over one hundred and fifty years old when we went to live there. It was a “grace and favour” residence that went with my husband’s job as Chief Ranger of Parramatta Park. He was obliged to attend meetings at night, so I was often alone in the old house, but I was never afraid.
I chose to sit in the kitchen at the back of the house to read during his absence. It was more cheerful there than in the front room which was a huge sitting room. High around its walls was a frieze of depressing design, dulled grey by the dust of the years that had passed since some self-styled Michelangelo painted it in water colours in a futile attempt to beautify the cavernous room.
I could sometimes catch a breeze from the river through the open kitchen doorway at my back, but on this night everything was still. The foliage of the age-old English oak tree in the backyard shadowed the silent grass.
Out of the stillness, little noises began to emphasise themselves. The ticking of the clock on the shelf seemed loud, the faulty faucet kept up a monotonous “paloop-paloop” in the sink, the floorboards creaked mysteriously. A small wind sprang up and moaned through the leaves of the tree, rustling them softly. A mopoke high in the branches set up a mournful repetitive cry “mopoke-mopoke”. The horses locked in their staples, whinnied. Far off, the howl of a dog rose in the night air.
A shiver shuddered my spine. “The spirits of the old convicts must be disturbed tonight.” I thought it was at that moment I heard the back gate scrape open!
Next came shuffling footsteps on the flagstone path leading to the kitchen.
The bedraggled figure of a man appeared in the stream of light from the doorway. He paused in a confused manner, with his hand on the knob of the unlocked screen door. Momentarily, I stared in horror! I then found my voice coming out on a high note.
“What do you want?” I squeaked.
“I want to go to bed,” he muttered. “I’ve come home.”
“Isn’t this the home? I slipped in the river and I’m all wet,” he mumbled as opening the screen door, he squelched into the kitchen, oozing water. One foot was bare, the other had a sodden sock falling off it and, flapping in front, it made designs like pumpkin vines on my polished floor. The pants and shirt that he wore were grey and dripping as was the wet hair straggling drearily down his forehead, strands of slimy river weed trailed behind him.
By the grace of God, my husband came in the front door at that moment.
“What’s going on?” he cried
“He says he wants to go to bed. He thinks this is the Home. What does he mean?”
“The Mental Home across the Park, of course,” he said. “The patients wear those dark grey clothes. Poor devil’s lost. I’ll take him over.” Gently taking the man by the arm he said “Come on, mate. I’ll help you” and guided him through the door, along the pathway and out of the gate to the roadway which led to the Psychiatric Centre.
Nearing the high iron fence at the Centre, they were met by two uniformed warders, searching around by torchlight.
“Oh, you’ve brought old Bill back,” one remarked casually. “He often wanders off at night, but we always round him up at lights out.”
”Now if you have had an interesting experience or a story to tell, then why not drop me a line at the address below and share those memories with our readers.