We’ve all heard ghost stories about old or abandoned houses but Lawrence Ryan and his four sisters spent their childhood growing up in Australia’s “most haunted home”: The Monte Cristo Homestead in Junee.
Mr Ryan’s mother Olive still lives in the home which is now a museum, antique centre and hub for ghost hunters from around the world.
Built by Christopher William Crawley in 1884 after he amassed a small fortune, the ornate Victorian-era home on the hill was a status symbol for the large religious family and a significant upgrade from their original modest brick home.
“My mum and dad purchased Monte Cristo, literally meaning Mount of Christ, after it fell into disrepair due to abandonment and looting in the 1960’s,” Mr Ryan said. “Dad had grown up living by the railway tracks and had always dreamed of owning a double storey home. After seeing the decline of the grand homestead he felt almost spiritual about returning it to its former glory.”
Mr Ryan’s parents Reginald and Olive already had three young girls and another on the way when they bought the house from the only surviving Crawley in 1963 for £1000. It included the rundown main house, the original brick home and servants’ quarters, stables, a wooden ballroom and acres of land.
“My dad, a tailor by trade, was a hard worker and only needed a couple of hours sleep per night,” Mr Ryan said. “He worked all day to earn money then gradually put the home and outbuildings back together in the evenings and at night.”
It was not long after they moved in that the Ryans began to experience some odd occurrences.
“One evening when mum and dad were driving back to the empty house they were both concerned by the amount of light pouring out of the windows and doors considering it had no electricity at the time,” Mr Ryan said.
“Their first thought was that the vandals were back and they were being burgled. Dad told Mum and us kids to remain in the car while he went to check it out, but on arriving at the front door, all the light immediately went out and they were plunged into darkness.”
After that first spooky incident, odd things began to happen regularly. The Ryans both heard the footsteps of a woman in heels on a verandah above them, which at that time was full of holes and unusable. They witnessed items being moved around, strange noises, voices and plenty of creepy and unexplained sensations.
In the mid 1960’s and early 1970’s, ghostly happenings were not something people regularly discussed.
“I knew growing up that my house was different but it wasn’t something we talked about, people would have thought we were weird and so we just lived with it,” Mr Ryan said.
“When I had mates over, however, no one ever wanted to go to the bathroom alone at night, so picture four 12-year-old boys holding hands in the dark! Of course we never spoke about it the next day.”
One of the creepiest events that prompted the first medium to be invited to Monte Cristo in 1977 was something that happened to Mr Ryan when he was just five years old.
“My parents were hosting a party in the ball room and as I was only little, one of my sisters took me up to bed,” he said.
“Every hour one of them would pop their head in to check on me. My youngest sister who was 12 at the time entered my room to see a bearded man sitting on the end of my bed staring at me, he then turned to give her a menacing stare.
“She screamed and ran to the party to tell my parents that there was a weird man in my room, but when they got there he was gone and I was still sound asleep. They searched the house and found nothing or no one. She described him as wearing old-fashioned clothes and they thought it was possibly Mr Crawley who has been seen in the property a number of times since.
“When she finally told me that story when I was 13 years old, it all made sense. I hated that room and had always felt like I was being watched. I never slept in the main house ever again and I still won’t.”
While the menacing Mr Crawley has been seen occasionally, it is the reclusive Mrs Crawley who is seen most often and has been heard telling visitors to “get out!”.
“Mrs Crawley lived in the house for 23 years after Mr Crawley died and was rumoured to have only left once or twice during that time,” Mr Ryan said. “The house was very much her domain and she wasn’t, and still isn’t, particularly welcoming to visitors.”
Another ghost often felt in the main house is one of the Crawley children, Magdelene, who died after a violent fall on the staircase at 18 months old.
“The rumours surrounding little Magdelene’s death include that she didn’t fall and was pushed by one of the very disgruntled servants,” Mr Ryan said.
“The Crawleys, although upstanding citizens to the outside world, were not perhaps as kind to their own staff.
“Poor Magdelene could have been a victim of revenge or could have fallen on her own accord; either way many visitors to our house cannot go into the front room due to a sense of overwhelming sadness and fear. I’ve seen grown men come out sobbing.”
It is also rumoured that the upstanding and devout Mr Crawley had affairs with many of their servants. One of the maids, supposedly pregnant, met her death on the front step of the property after falling from the front verandah. It is unclear whether she was pushed, whether she fell or took her own life but she has been heard and seen quite frequently, Mr Ryan explained.
“The footsteps that mum and dad first heard on the collapsed verandah are thought to be that of the tragic maid,” he said.
Mr Ryan, now a professional stuntman, is still a regular at his mum’s place and returns to Monte Cristo most weekends with his partner Sophia, a medium, to welcome the ghost tours.
“I love showing people from all over Australia around our home and letting them decide for themselves whether or not they believe,” he said.
“While many people come away feeling unsettled, many others just have a great time.
“Either way, Monte Cristo is a beautiful historical building that my parents worked very hard to bring back to life. I am still incredibly proud and thankful to be able to call it my home, however spooky it may be.”