Around 100kms south of Longreach in central Queensland lays an inconspicuous small waterhole name Wilga.
By this waterhole is said to lurk a ghost which screeches such a sound that the most hardened of bushmen scurry off in terror at the first sound of it.
A small hut was built by a swagman and his wife by the waterhole but quickly was abandoned after the shrieks of the ghost drove them away. The legend grew and more and more people were certain that the place was haunted. There was even legends that the local indigenous would not go near the area as it was said to be cursed.
An article in the Longreach Leader may shed some light as to the source of the mystery. It stated...
“A boundary rider there went mad and after killing his wife and daughter, hid them down a well, and that it is his mad cries that are heard. It is a fact, that while sheep sleep quietly, graze in the paddock, cattle or horses if put there always break the fence and get out. They simply refuse to stay there” (1942).
The newspaper continued to give an account of another pair of men who stayed at the station and heard a terrifying shriek coming from outside the hut. Needless to say they didn’t sleep much that night and in the morning when they exited the small building they found their horses were gone (later found quite some distance)
Bill Beatty, who wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1947, described the experience of two shearers camped by the notorious Wilga waterhole some time during the 1890s.
“Suddenly there came a soft, distant walling that grew rapidly nearer and louder the cries appeared to be in different keys devilish, unearthly shrieking, such as no human voices ever uttered”. “We thought our eardrums would burst, but we were too terrified to move. Then, to our fervent relief, the shrieking diminished in volume until it was merely a weird wailing. Moments later, it ceased utterly, and once more the bush was deathly silent.” After the screams had subsided, we quickly packed our camp, gathered the horses and we rode off into the night....
”When we told our story at the shearing shed it was received with derision by most, but others mentioned that the Wilga waterhole was a notorious spot, and that the Aborigines always avoided it. Some of the old shearing hands said that horses were scared of it and drovers admitted that they never could get cattle to rest there. There were instances where cattle driven from distant parts had arrived there almost exhausted but had stampeded at sundown,”.
Six years prior to Beatty’s article, another author who went by the name of ‘Beachcomber’ explored the mystery of the wailing at Wilga waterhole in the Sunday Mail.
Beachcomber recounted the story of a man employed at nearby Ruthven Station who had built a slab hut by the banks of the waterhole in which he intended to live with his wife. They did not last in that place for long.
Of the man’s wife, Beachcomber wrote:...
“She was a strong-minded woman, previously without hysterical tendencies, accustomed to loneliness, having been in the bush all her life.”
For a time, all was well for the couple living by the waterhole … until one night.
“The station hand, having been delayed, rode home to find his wife in a state of collapse. She could tell him nothing of any apparition which had frightened her. She had seen nothing, but she had heard the most appalling shrieks arising from the waterhole and going back to the waterhole to end as suddenly as they began.”
At that time, the station hand knew nothing of the evil reputation of the Wilga waterhole.
“He felt she had imagined the cries of some nocturnal bird to be ghostly shrieks and yells. Not long after this episode he was away for two nights. He arrived at the hut early on the morning of his return to find that his wife was in a semi-demented condition. Again she told between fits of hysterical sobbing of the shrieking and wailing and screaming from the waterhole. Forthwith he took her away from the hut and after that no one ever lived in it again.”
The station hand told his fellow workers the reason for their sudden departure from the hut, but those shearers who were new to the district refused to believe the story.
Stories are rampant that the wailing could be from the ghost of a boy killed by wild pigs whose body was found at the water hole many years ago. Another tale states that a shepherd was murdered in the area and his body thrown into the water hole.
And a correspondent whose family had been breeding sheep in the district for 40 years related the following tragic tale of the origins of the Wilga ghost to the Narromine News and Trangie Advocate in October 1934.
“About 70 years back a man named Wilfred was shepherding sheep for the late Jimmy Tyson and he lived in a hut on the south side of the waterhole…While Wilfred was living there a mob of wandering blacks camped alongside the yards where the sheep were kept and during the night they began molesting the animals. Wilfred went across and tried to make them shift camp. A row started, one word brought on another and Wilfred was murdered.
“Then his body was thrown into the Wilga waterhole where it was found three days later by some drovers.”
According to the correspondent, the local police later went in search of the alleged offenders and when they came across the camp, massacred the men, women and children of the tribe. Only a man and his son survived the atrocity by fleeing into the bush.
Skeptics believe that the shrieking is from the a local species of owl, the powerful owl, or is caused by a subterranean channel.
Could the raucous call of the Powerful Owl really be responsible for frightening countless people over the years, many of whom spent their whole lives living and working in the outback, and spook animals so much that they would be discovered up to five miles away cowering together in a huddle?
There have been some investigations, but the cause of the wailing at the Wilga water hole remains unexplained.