Monte Cristo Homestead, Junee, NSW: A night at Australia's most haunted house

"The spirits tend to stay away from the nervous Nellies," says Lawrence Ryan. "It's the sceptics who get the most activity."

This is reassuring. As someone with an embarrassingly low threshold for frights, I'm hoping this means I might make it through the night unscathed. But then he adds that the house's dominant spirit, Mrs Crawley, has a special aversion to unmarried men. Gulp.

Monte Cristo Homestead claims to be Australia's most haunted house. Perched on a hill overlooking Junee in the Riverina region of NSW, it certainly looks the part. Built by the Crawley family in the 1880s, it's an imposing two-storey Victorian mansion with high ceilings and ornate cast iron balconies. Ryan's parents bought the property in 1963 and have been running ghost tours for more than 30 years.

The house is open for self-guided daytime tours from Friday to Monday but every Saturday they offer a package that includes dinner, an immersive 2.5-hour ghost tour and the option for up to 16 people to stay overnight. As a favour, they're allowing me to do it on a Friday, which means that tonight, a friend and I will be the only ones here. Gulp.

After a delicious homecooked dinner prepared by Ryan's 89-year-old mum Olive, we follow him, his partner Silvia, and her two daughters, Sofia and Veronika, into the main house. All four are immaculately dressed in authentic Victorian attire.

As we move between each lavishly-decorated candlelit room, shadows dance around the walls as Ryan recounts the many harrowing events that have occurred here. The maid that was pushed over the balcony and killed by Mrs Crawley after she discovered the girl was pregnant by her husband. The deranged boy who was kept chained up outside. The miscarriages suffered by teenage maids after being abused by Mr Crawley and his sons.

We also learn about the experiences of visitors. People having to run outside to be sick. Others feeling a hand on the small of their back. Reports of strange voices and mysterious shadowy figures.

As if this wasn't unsettling enough, we finish by visiting the property's Doll Museum, which houses Silvia's collection of around 8000 dolls. Exhibits range from shelves of unblinking porcelain figurines to a nightmare-inducing room of horror dolls. Some, we're told, have had to be glued down to stop them from moving around overnight.

After dessert back in the guest quarters, it's time to retire. Noticing the look of dread on my face, Silvia tries to reassure me. "If you don't want to be bothered by the spirits, just tell them," she says. "They're very respectful."

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I spend all night following this advice, repeatedly thanking them for letting me stay and politely requesting that they don't make their presence known. Miraculously, it works. I only get two hours' sleep, but I don't hear, feel or see anything untoward.

Over breakfast, Ryan tells us about the many guests who haven't been so lucky. The girl who woke up pinned down and unable to move. The people who've seen figures at the foot of their bed. The numerous reports of footsteps in the corridors and door handles turning during the night.

As we're preparing to leave, I remember to ask Ryan about the large dog I saw run out of the house late last night. "Dog?" he replies, quizzically. "We don't have a dog." Gulp.

See also: Going 'overseas'? Why Australia's island paradise is the best destination

See also: NSW's best weekend getaways for 2020

THE DETAILS

VISIT

Monte Cristo Homestead, 1 Homestead Lane, Junee, NSW. Open Friday to Monday, 10am to 4pm for self-guided tours. Ghost tour and dinner on Saturday night costs $125 or $195 including overnight stay and breakfast. Phone 0409 945 204 or see montecristo.com.au

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traveller.com.au/new-south-wales

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Rob McFarland was a guest of Destination NSW

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