by Tracie Griffith
The idea for the Port Fairy Ghost Stories project started with a conversation about the work Secrets 1 (above), between the artist Berit Hampel and myself. Berit is a member of the Whale Bone Gallery collective and I would often drop into the gallery to admire her work and progress as a developing artist. Her subject matter is very dramatic and often tied to myths and other forms of storytelling; which is something a writer can really appreciate.
I was haunted by Secrets 1 after viewing it for the first time and returned to the gallery a few days later to take another look. Berit was in the gallery on that occasion and we had a discussion about the techniques she uses to evoke reactions in the viewer. In the case of Secrets 1, Berit pointed to faces lurking in the shadows and ghostly footprints that lead nowhere. She said visitors to the gallery would often walk past an image that employed these techniques, then retrace their steps for a second look – wondering as I did what had caught their eye. During our conversation, Berit mentioned that she was planning a future exhibition of works based on local ghost stories and I immediately put up my hand, offering my skills as a writer if needed.
At the same time, as luck would have it, I had a couple of chance conversations with locals about Port Fairy ghosts. Mick Byron had mentioned a particular ghost story a few days before I first saw Secrets 1 and not missing the coincidence, I followed it up with him a few days after the discussion with Berit – this time in Julie Hoey’s presence. To my astonishment, Julie was a walking encyclopedia on the subject and reeled off a long list of stories that ultimately became our starting point. She also advised that Rod Muir’s former wife had once run ghost tours in the town and Maria Cameron was also very knowledgeable about the subject.
Berit, Julie, Rod, Maria and I met several times and arrived at a ‘master list’ of possible ghost stories for what we believed would ultimately be an art exhibition, with some supporting written content. It became my job to collect information where possible about our known ghost stories and hopefully discover some new ones along the way. Using our master list as the basis for further research, I began scouring the local newspapers and other published sources for traces of Port Fairy ghosts. I also began interviewing anyone who was happy to discuss a ghostly encounter with me – anonymously if necessary.
The amount of information I was able to collect in a reasonably short period of time was astonishing and it quickly became apparent to all of us that the project had the potential to be a published book, with an exhibition of the artworks to promote its release. Obviously this is a far more ambitious undertaking than we first thought and our progress continues to be shaped by the need to accommodate new information as it arises.
So Berit’s instinct that Port Fairy ghosts were a wonderful subject for a major art project has proven wildly accurate. Given the dark beauty of her images, we’re sure you’ll be eager to see more of her work when the town’s ghost stories are published late in 2017.
You can view Berit’s work at:
Whale Bone Art Gallery, 39a Bank Street, Port Fairy, Victoria 3284 (03) 5568 2855
Have you noticed the number of coincidences in the chain of events that led to the development of this project? We have, and yes, it has been spooky!