Tasmania is steeped in folklore, ghost stories especially. So much so that Tasmania has been dubbed “Australia’s most haunted place” by one collection of ghost lore.
Perhaps it’s the cultural influence of Irish convicts and settlers, with their affinity for tale-telling and the supernatural. Maybe it’s Tasmania’s relative isolation: Television broadcasting didn’t begin in Tasmania until 1960, much later than Mainland Australia. Whatever the reason, the folk story and the ghost tale are a rich tradition in our island state.
It seems like almost every river, homestead, theatre or old building of note here has a mysterious tale attached to it. This is one I remember from way back.
Near where the local river was crossed by the main road out of town, there was a series of rocky rapids alternating with deep pools, overhung with willows and native sassafras. The picnic ground just off the road was a popular local swimming spot. The rapids made natural spa baths, and the stretch of river by the picnic ground was just deep enough, and clear enough of boulders, for swimming and diving. If you wanted more privacy, you just had to cut through the bush upstream for a few minutes to find a spot all to your own.
But downstream, just around a bend of the river, and out of sight past the bridge where the road crosses, was an wide, dark, still pool.
This was the site of the local legend.
Late in the 1800s, before the bridge was built, there was only a causeway further downstream, just above the big pool. It was the only way for carts and drays to cross the river, in those days.
One day, the legend goes, a bullock dray was carting a brand new piano across the causeway. Destined, it was said, for the grand homestead that still stands on the hill, overlooking the river. But the dray threw a wheel, keeled over, and lost its load. The piano tipped into the deep water pool, sunk out of sight, and was lost forever.
Some time after that, a girl from the homestead went down to the same deep, dark water, one moonless night. What her story was, nobody knows exactly. A daughter of the family, jilted by a lover. A serving-girl, got pregnant and unable to bear the shame. However it was, she threw herself in the river that night and drowned.
So now, local legend had it, on moonless nights, when only the stars shine on the dark water, you can sometimes hear the sound of ghostly piano music coming from under the water.
I’ve never been by that part of the river at night, myself, to test the story, but I do know one thing: no matter how hot the weather, no-one ever seemed to want to swim in that wide, deep, still pool.