Syd­ney myths

Syd­ney is lit­tered with ur­ban leg­ends and colour­ful tales. We dig into some of the most elab­o­rate yarns to de­cide if they are true or not... By Claire Fin­neran

Time Out (Sydney) - - INSIDE -

There’s a pan­ther on the loose in the Blue Moun­tains

This one pops up on ev­ery ‘Syd­ney myth’ list on the web. All over the Blue Moun­tains and parts of West­ern Syd­ney, peo­ple have claimed sight­ing a giant black cat roam­ing around. The ‘Blue Moun­tains Pan­ther’ is ru­moured to be an es­caped veteran from a pri­vate zoo owned by the ec­cen­tric bil­lion­aire Em­manuel Mar­golin in the ’80s, though pan­ther-at­trib­uted live­stock deaths go back nearly a cen­tury. In re­cent times, bush­walk­ers and res­i­dents have claimed to have spot­ted the big cat in bush­land. A sight­ing hap­pens about once a year.

True or false?

Who re­ally knows? First­hand ac­counts have only ever been sup­ported by grainy or outof-fo­cus pho­tos. It’s one of those Big­foot sit­u­a­tions – it could be real, or could be an ex­treme zoom shot of a black cat in the dis­tance. Pan­ther-spot­ters are a pas­sion­ate bunch, though: there have been books pub­lished and data­bases that log sight­ings kick­ing around for years. One ar­ti­cle in The Aus­tralian even claimed that anal­y­sis of a fe­line stool sam­ple in Lith­gow showed wal­laby fur and bones, and we all know pan­thers would to­tally nosh on wal­la­bies.

Se­cret un­der­ground trans­port tun­nels once fer­ried pa­tients to Rozelle asy­lum

Cal­lan Park, which will be home to the Syd­ney Col­lege of the Arts cam­pus un­til next year, has a sto­ried past. Its sand­stone build­ings and ex­pan­sive grounds were orig­i­nally a men­tal health fa­cil­ity. The myth that echoed through these halls is that there was an un­der­ground tunnel sys­tem that trans­ported un­sightly pa­tients from ship ports to the Cal­lan Park fa­cil­ity. It’s ru­moured that an in­tri­cate wa­ter tunnel sys­tem stretched from as far as Syd­ney Har­bour to the Rozelle-based hos­pi­tal and was used to move the pa­tients un­der­ground to keep them out of view.

True or false?

There is an un­der­ground part of the fa­cil­ity, but no record of these ap­par­ent

The eels use a net­work of ponds, streams and drains

wa­ter-trans­port chan­nels. It’s not im­pos­si­ble, though; pa­tients weren’t treated so well back in 1878, when Cal­lan Park first opened, and com­mon prac­tice at the time in­volved chain­ing up the ‘in­sane’.

Cen­ten­nial Park’s pond eels mi­grate to New Cale­do­nia to spawn

If you’ve ever peered into the murky wa­ters of a pond in Cen­ten­nial Park, chances are you’ve seen one of their long, slimy oc­cu­pants flop­ping about. The eels ap­par­ently mi­grate as far as New Cale­do­nia and the Solomon Is­lands to lay their eggs. It seems im­pos­si­ble, but the longfin eel sup­pos­edly uses a net­work of con­nect­ing ponds, streams, stormwa­ter drains and a lit­tle bit of slith­er­ing over land to even­tu­ally hit Botany Bay and then the open ocean. Once their jour­ney is com­pleted, the eels spawn on the salty coast­lines of the South Pa­cific and die. The ex­cep­tion­ally far-fetched part is that the baby eels hatch and with­out any parental guid­ance find their way all the way back to the ponds of Cen­ten­nial Park.

True or false?

Sci­en­tists have not yet fit­ted a longfin eel with a track­ing de­vice, but mul­ti­ple stud­ies into the mi­gra­tion of the park’s eels have shown this to be true! The eels have spe­cial sen­sors on their noses that help their bod­ies trans­form and gills ex­pand for salty wa­ter, and re­turn­ing baby eels have been stud­ied glid­ing back through the chan­nels to the Cen­ten­nial Park ponds.

Wake­hurst Park­way has a car-haunt­ing ghost

Blood­thirsty ru­mours sur­round this ex­cep­tion­ally dark road on the North­ern Beaches, but the stand­out tale is of a ghost who hops into the back­seat of un­sus­pect­ing cars driv­ing down it af­ter mid­night. Sto­ries vary, but most cen­tre on a sec­tion of the road near Oxford Falls, where it’s been re­ported that a young girl or older nun opens a car’s back door and com­pels driv­ers to crash. The ap­pari­tion al­legedly has pierc­ing green eyes that tor­ment the driver via the rearview mir­ror, and there are ac­counts of the spirit in­vok­ing a need to re­turn af­ter you’ve en­coun­tered them once, forc­ing driv­ers to come back to crash again and again...

True or false?

Well, do you be­lieve in ghosts? Peo­ple claim to have seen the nun/girl spec­tre in their cars or on the side of the Park­way, but there isn’t any hard ev­i­dence. And fright­en­ingly, as re­ported by The Daily Tele­graph, many bod­ies have been dis­cov­ered in the sur­round­ing forests and gul­lies, so…

There’s a giant lake un­der Hyde Park

Did you know that St James Sta­tion has a whole other level of se­cret plat­forms? Built in the 1920s, the additional plat­forms were part of a pro­posed Bondi and North­ern Beaches line, but they were never used. Tour groups and ur­ban ex­plor­ers have doc­u­mented a lot of the tunnel net­works, and the jewel in the sub­ter­ranean crown is an al­leged mas­sive lake that spreads out be­low Hyde Park. The lake is said to be up to six me­tres deep in parts with thick, dark, stag­nant wa­ter. The roots of the park’s trees are said to drop down from above giv­ing this lake a par­tic­u­larly sin­is­ter aes­thetic.

True or false?

Partially true. There is a flooded por­tion of the un­used St James tunnel net­work that stretches for about a kilo­me­tre. It’s also po­ten­tially part of Syd­ney’s orig­i­nal Tank Stream, the fresh-wa­ter source that stretched from Bridge and Pitt Streets to Hyde Park, which used to be swamp­land. You can take a tour of the Tank Stream (now a storm-wa­ter drain), but it doesn’t go all the way to the mys­te­ri­ous un­der­ground lake, un­for­tu­nately.

Ta­ma­rama Beach is an ele­phant grave­yard

In 1906, Ta­ma­rama Beach hosted a theme park called Won­der­land City. There was a steam-pow­ered roller­coaster, a seal pond and an ele­phant named Princess Alice with a sad­dle so that kids could ride her. Princess Alice was moved from the Won­der­land City site when it closed in 1912 to a man­sion owned by the Wirth fam­ily in Coogee. She spent the rest of her years per­form­ing in the Wirth Fam­ily Cir­cus, and it’s ru­moured she was even­tu­ally eu­thanised and buried un­der Ta­ma­rama Beach.

True or false?

The most re­cent men­tion of Princess Alice arose from the sale of the old Coogee man­sion ‘Ocean View’ in 2009. Dur­ing the auc­tion, the agent boasted that the his­tor­i­cal Wirth fam­ily back­yard con­tained the re­mains of Ta­ma­rama’s favourite ele­phant. The man­sion fetched over $10 mil­lion, and per­haps if you ask nicely and bring your own shovel the own­ers of 370 Ali­son Road might let you have a dig.

A shark spat out a hu­man arm

Coogee used to have an aquar­ium that was home to a mas­sive tiger shark for a week in 1935. Caught three kilo­me­tres off shore by fish­er­men, the shark was on pub­lic dis­play in a tank when fam­i­lies wit­nessed it vomit up a hu­man arm. The shark was killed and an au­topsy showed it had in fact eaten a smaller shark who, it is be­lieved, swal­lowed the limb. A tat­too and fin­ger­prints were used to iden­tify the arm’s owner, and a huge in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to the po­lice con­vict­ing a mur­derer who later con­fessed he had tossed it into the sur f in Maroubra.

True or false?

By all ac­counts this is true, and why hasn’t there been an Un­der­belly: Shark Arm yet? The arm be­longed to for­mer boxer Jim Smith, who was in the midst of some dodgy deal­ings with con­victed forger Pa­trick Brady when he was mur­dered. Brady ad­mit­ted to dump­ing the body in Gun­na­matta Bay, but he showed the sev­ered arm to one Regi­nald Holmes, claim­ing he would meet the same fate if he didn’t fork up owed money. He then tossed the arm into Maroubra, where the shark(s) came into the story.

There are bod­ies en­tombed in the Har­bour Bridge py­lons

The ru­mour is that three men slipped into the bot­tom of the brick py­lons as they were be­ing built, and be­cause of time pres­sure and their lowly sta­tus the bod­ies were never re­trieved and re­main sealed in­side. There are at least 16 recorded deaths dur­ing the Har­bour Bridge’s con­struc­tion, but it’s be­lieved the poor py­lon vic­tims aren’t part of this fig­ure to keep the mor­bid fig­ures down.

True or false?

Be­cause it was never of­fi­ci­ated, it’s hard to say. And the prospect of en­tombed work­ers in the py­lons isn’t a great sell­ing point for the hun­dreds of tourists who clam­ber up the Bridge ev­ery day. We’re go­ing to guess it’s a myth, though you can never tell just how many bod­ies are buried un­der the en­tirety of Syd­ney’s colo­nial in­fra­struc­ture.

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