It feels like a lot of movies and TV shows in the 90s revolved around urban legends. Remember that show that started: ‘This is a true story. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine…’? But urban legends didn’t die in the 90s along with frosted blonde tips and alarmingly overplucked eyebrows. Oh no.
In fact, there are a lot of Melbourne-based legends that you may have heard word of over the years. We’ve gathered the best of ‘em together in this article. Are they true, and should you be scared? Well, nothing’s ever for certain. But they’ve definitely stuck around for a while and probably have a grain of truth in them somewhere.
Plus, all of them happened to a friend of a friend of ours...
1# Crown Casino Morgue
Apparently there’s a secret corridor through a hidden door in some of the toilets at Crown to allow staff to smuggle out the bodies of suicidal gamblers who lose their will (and means) to live. It leads to a cavernous morgue in the chilly bowels of the building, which is rumoured to double as a final resting place for elderly, eccentric and ‘troublesome’ patrons who have a tendency to unexpectedly die. There are also whispers that some toilet cubicles are so popular with suicidal patrons that they are engineered to mechanically rotate for fast and efficient body disposal.
2# Queen Vic Bone Market
Little known fact: Queen Victoria Market was built atop the Old Melbourne Cemetery, which housed the bones of up to 10,000 early Victorian settlers. The bones of the wealthy and well-to-do, like John Batman, were exhumed from the site and relocated in the new crematory in Carlton North. But the rest were left right where they lay, under the main carpark - up to 9000 of them.
In 2013, the Lord Mayor was forced to rule out a redevelopment plan that involved turning the site into a park and a plaza because it would disinter too many bodies. Legend has it that if you listen carefully while struggling to load your bags of fruit and veg into your car boot, you’ll hear the dissatisfied moaning of society’s ‘undesirables’ as they try to relocate themselves to better digs.
3# Phantom Mountain Cats
According to legend, huge, wild-eyed cats stalk livestock and unlucky humans just outside Melbourne in the Grampians. They’re said to be roughly the size of cougars and covered completely in thick black fur. Not built for cuddling, they go around terrorising local farming communities, leaving only their gigantic pawprints as calling cards. Sure, in 2003 a study by Deakin University concluded that the existence of ice-age size pumas in the Grampians mountain range was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, but head east of Hastings and eyewitness accounts of ‘black catlike monsters’ who seize young calves in their massive jaws and bound away over seven-foot-tall fences are widespread. It’s also alleged that the Gippsland region has similar phantom felines that are either descended from zoo escapees or military mascots.
4# Corpses in the Yarra
Some people say that the noxious fumes of the Yarra River are not only caused by human pollution, but human decay. After all, Crown Casino needs somewhere to dump the bodies from its morgue (we’re joking), and a lot of mafia kingpins wind up wearing concrete boots. But most of the corpses clouding the water are said to be from the 19th century, when Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum was situated near the junction of Merri Creek and Yarra River. This institution was a place of detention not just for the mentally ill, but also for ‘inebriates’, ‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’ – basically everyone you meet on a Saturday night, which meant it was incredibly overcrowded.
Inmates who died on the premises were supposed to be buried on the grounds, but as this attracted a fee from families, many met with a watery grave instead. The asylum closed in 1925, but on full moon nights, it’s rumoured you can hear maniacal laughter echoing across the river bank.
5# Underground Tunnel Network
Melbourne has a lot of laneways, and a tunnel is just a kind of underground laneway - so an elaborate network of tunnels between every major site in Melbourne theoretically makes sense. What’s more, speculation persists that the US armed forces built a huge bunker system under inner Melbourne in the 1940s. A man called Mark Rawson and a team of amateur historians spent most weekends for more than a decade excavating a tunnel near Merri Creek which they thought contained US Army weapons, chemicals and explosives. Darebin Council put an end to it in 2011 after the excavators’ efforts bore no fruit, and plugged up the tunnel with 140 cubic metres of concrete and slurry.
That said, there are still several other tunnel-based urban legends around town: firstly, that a set of tunnels connect Parliament House and houses of ill repute so that MPs can visit prostitutes without press scrutiny. Secondly, that notorious 1920s gangster Squizzy Taylor constructed escape tunnels across Richmond Hill to evade police raids on his Goodwood St gambling den – this one was partially proven with the discovery of a claustrophobic passageway beneath a disused factory in 2013. And lastly, that there’s an underground cheese cellar hidden down a spiral staircase in a secret tunnel beneath Collins Street. Wait, what?!
6# Secret Tullamarine Train Station
Okay, this one’s a little far-fetched: apparently, there’s a secret railway station right underneath Melbourne Airport Terminal that’s fully built and operational. Airport workers and domestic pilots have roundly ridiculed the rumour, but consider this: if everyone knew about the station, then it wouldn’t be a secret, now would it? There are actually two unused platforms underneath Southern Cross that were built for an eventual airport line. So could it secretly exist? Well, maybe. But if it’s a secret train station, then it presumably only goes to secret places - which means that unless you decide to make friends with the secret Myki ticket inspectors, you might get kinda lonely travelling on its services.
7# Haunted Princess Theatre
The legend goes like this: in 1888, a handsome opera singer known as Frederick Federici was performing at the Princess Theatre. He sang the last note of the closing song, descended through a trap door in the stage, had a heart attack, and died. No one in the audience knew, and the rest of the cast swore that he was onstage taking his bows with them. Since then, scores of theatre patrons have claimed they’ve seen a ghoul in evening dress hanging around the dress circle. Furthermore, a dramatised documentary made by Kennedy Miller in the early 1970s captured a partly transparent figure on film.
But don’t fret, because Fred’s a friendly ghost – for many years, theatre staff reserved a third-row seat in his honour, and it’s considered a good omen if he’s spotted on opening night.
8# Jack the Ripper was a Windsor man
A couple of years ago, a Melbourne academic unveiled his theory that London’s most notorious serial killer may have moved to Melbourne after getting a bit of a reputation for himself. And where better to set up shop like a 19th century Patrick Bateman than Windsor? Dr Crawford claims that Jack the Ripper was in fact Frederick Bailey Deeming, a fraudster and multiple murderer from England who killed his victims with similarly horrific amounts of throat slashing. Their physical descriptions matched, but here’s the hitch – when Dr Crawford went to conduct a DNA test on the skull of Deeming to prove his theory to authorities, it mysteriously disappeared. Spooky.
9# Members-only Magic Room
The State Library of Victoria has hundreds of resources on magic held in its WG Alma Conjuring Collection, most of which were donated by Melbourne magician Will Alma in 1978. However, one of the provisos that Alma stipulated when he bequeathed the library with his collection of magicana was that access should be limited to licensed magicians or bona fide researchers.
Now, how you become a "licensed" magician is as uncertain as the trickery behind ‘The Buzzsaw Illusion’ and ‘The Elastic Lady’, but apparently, behind the public façade of the main room, there is a huge hidden vault of arcane materials including detailed tricks of the trade. Even though the legend says that you have to be a magician to access it, we hear that it's definitely not true. After all, books are there to be read!
10# Fish in the Yarra
Ha ha, we’re joking. They’d never survive.
Image credit: Scream 2
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