NELSON Place, the old centre of Williamstown, is home to stylish eateries that are a popular haunt of alfresco diners on balmy evenings. On a recent Saturday night I found myself in the dead centre of town — literally — in Williamstown's old morgue. It's anything but balmy inside the bluestone building, which dates from 1860, tucked away in a deserted street off Nelson Place.
"Before the morgue was built, corpses were wrapped in hessian sacks and hung in the cellars of Williamstown's many hotels," says Jacqui Travaglia from Lantern Ghost Tours.
Travaglia, a local, leads our group of 15 to Gem Pier, where the lights of the CBD make a dazzling backdrop as she relates tales of Williamstown's European history: how Melbourne's founder John Batman dropped anchor here in 1835 and called the site Port Harwood; how settlers waded ashore carrying sheep on their shoulders and how penal hulks bobbed in the waters offshore.
We walk to Point Gellibrand, where Victoria's first cemetery was established. Hundreds of seafarers, convicts and pioneers were buried in a patch of scrub near the bluestone Timeball Tower, built by convicts in 1849 as a lighthouse. Although later reburied at Williamstown's new cemetery, the site swirls with spectres, according to Travaglia (right).
A few weeks later I rejoin Lantern Ghost Tours, up a creaky flight of stairs to the second storey of Williamstown's Bayview Hotel for a haunted dinner. Once a bordello, today it's a sedate dining room that's part of Al Porto Vecchio Restaurant. The dining room is busy with more than 20 people, including Troy Williams from Victorian Phantom Hunters, Jan Evans from Australian Paranormal Investigations, medium Ama Nazra, and curious people like me.
"Hanna's here," says Nazra as we finish dinner.
Travaglia's research has revealed that Hanna ran the house of ill repute here in the 1900s.
Nazra points to a corner of a room where people head with electromagnetic frequency detectors. Red lights flash on the detectors as they near the corner of the room. Then stop when they retreat. Travaglia grabs some divining rods and asks "Hanna" questions. The rods move around in her hands — yet she doesn't move a muscle.
Two-hour Lantern Ghost Tours of Williamstown are $25 adults, $15 children, $60 family of four, phone 8340 0428, see lanternghosttours.com.