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Article from The Newcastle Herald

Darren Croese Ghost Hunter

by Chad Watson

Daz Article - Newcastle Herald

Pick a cell, any cell.
Ghost hunter Darren Croese is giving this write an after-hours tour of Maitland Gaol.

He has been intrigued with the paranormal since spying "white shadows" as a child in his family home at Waratah West. Other relatives heard footsteps and had doors open without explanation while young Darren accidentally recorded a disembodies voice 'asking for help'.
'Like most kids, I used to tape songs off the radio,' recalls the 36-year-old, now from Eleebana. 'All of a sudden this voice was on one of the tapes.....that sort of stuck with me.'

Croese is still unsure what he heard and saw, 'Looking back, I realise that memories aren't always reliable,' says Croese, a member of the Australian Ghost Hunters Society and COSPER (Castle of Spirits Paranormal & Entity Research Group).
'Then again, children could be more susceptible to these things.'
Now armed with a scientific approach and a cache of ghost busting gadgetry, Croese wants to return to his childhood home. 'But I'd be too embarrassed to knock and say "Hey, does anything weird go on around here?",'

I nervously enter my nominated confines.
Croese slams the door then leaves the cell block (a little too briskly!) as a chill runs down my spine.
The plan is for me to spend five minutes alone in the dark then report any "strange sensations".
My mind is haunted by supernatural stories, making those minutes feel like hours.

Croese has been feeding my fear with tales of the otherworldly investigations and giant Hunter Valley Cookies from the Gaolbirds Cafe.

His 'standard ghost-hunting kit' includes a stills camera, a video camera with infra-red attachment, tripods, a tape recorder, a torch, candles, spare batteries and film, a notepad and an electromagnetic field meter. Sometimes he brings along his old Cavalier King Charles spaniel as 'added detector'.
'Most people come with a sceptical mind, and that's the frame I'm in whenever I do anything serious,' Croese says, 'But it is the sceptics who often get shook up.'
Cafe proprietor Cheryl Machain overhears our conversation and reveals she and her colleagues get 'spooked' during 3am baking sessions.
Their habit of curing the iced cookies in freezers that once doubled as an inmate morgue gives new meaning to the term death by chocolate.

'There have been times when all of us turn around and look in the same direction for no reason,' she offers.
Somehow, I survive my period of volunteered incarceration.
'OK, now I'm going to choose a cell for you,' says Croese, leading me to the other side of the block. 'Interesting things have happened in this cell....Don't worry, I'll tell you afterwards.'
Worried? Not me! I was bloody petrified.
Croese - favourite film The Amityville Horror, favourite actor Vincent Price - swings his torch to prove there is nothing in the cell but me, my inner-child, a bed frame, a dripping tap and a steel toilet bowl.

I lasted two minutes.
Stumbling outside, I'm sweating, I'm shivering, I feel dirty, my hair is standing on end and my wife reckons I'm as pale as a you-know-what.
I'm not claiming a tormented soul bumped me in the night but it felt like something touched my neck and thinking about it gives me goose pimples.

Croese explains other visitors have encountered the inexplicable - breathing, scratching - but I manage to convince myself the twitch was just a release of muscle tension.

That is until I check the COSPER website, which rates the historic gaol among Australia's 10 most haunted sites - colonial "hell on earth" Port Arthur tops the list followed by Monte Cristo mansion at Junee (where Croese taped an unseen female whispering what soulds like 'shoot me').
A computer programmer by day, Croese lumps the paranormal in several baskets, including presences oblivious to the living; ghosts that interact ("So, who was the old guy following the tour around?"); poltergeists (noisy spirits that move objects); and orbs (lights, shadows).
And he doesn't care if you believe or not.

'The truth is almost anything can be faked,' he explains '...It boils down to trust.'
The website details the Maitland Gaol experiences of psychic Debbie Malone, a contestant on 'TV fright-show Scream Test. She was left with a 'red rope mark' after tangling with a phantom menace. The mark intensified when she re-entered the gaol (executions by hanging took place in the prison, which opened in 1849).

I'm just thankful that Croese didn't toss me in 'Satan's Cell', located in a wing for the most dangerous prisoners. 'That would be irresponsible.'
Legend points to Satan's Cell having housed a devil-whorshipper who incinerated his mattress while lying on it.

The guard tasked with cleaning out the cell later slit his own throat.

-Chad Watson


Additional note to article - COSPER is now Australian Ghost Hunters Society.


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