John Lewis investigates the tall tales and folklore surrounding one of Shepparton’s past iconic landmarks.By John Lewis
The brick mansion known as The Pines stood on the corner of Ford and Verney Rds for 150 years before succumbing to age, vandals and the developer’s bulldozers in 1999.
A Facebook posting last month about the old mansion on the page ‘Shepparton, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies’ sparked a fl urry of replies.
Many were childhood memories of the place being haunted, such as this from Ian Anderson:
‘‘We were real young and knew the ghost stories about the house. It was uninhabited for a long time. We used to dare each other to go inside. Our hearts would be beating so fast.
Any noise that we heard must have been the ghost. We would all run out screaming.’’
Or this from Karen Smith: ‘‘The ghost house it was! Red brick boarded up! The stories that were told! I seem to remember the story about a scary caretaker that growled at kids trespassing.’’
Some had fond memories of the place, such as Tammie Jones:
‘‘I would always stare at it and wonder at it as we drove past. Wondering what it looked like inside, how it used to look. And feeling sad that it had been left to decay.
"I am told it had a huge marble fireplace. Hardwood flooring, architraves etc. I was told it had been all but stripped of anything valuable inside by the time the housing development caught up to that part of the paddocks.’’
But then Kialla hairdresser Tina Barca posted this:
‘‘We built in Hawkins estate 10 years ago and thought our house was being built in the area of ‘the old haunted house’.
‘‘Well, I can tell you we defi nitely had spooks in that house. I’m glad we’re out of that area now — what a living nightmare all right!’’
When I spoke to Tina she said she and her young family spent seven years in their new home.
She told me more about her ‘‘living nightmare’’ on the site of The Pines.
‘‘The kids were always uneasy. They wouldn’t sleep on their own — and I remember one night they pointed at the corner of the room and said, ‘Mummy, what’s that?’.
‘‘I couldn’t see anything, but they felt there was something there,’’ Tina said.
She then described a terrifying experience as she was carrying washing down a corridor.
‘‘You know that feeling you get that there’s someone behind you? Well, I felt that, and I turned around and saw a black shape behind me. It was really quick, but I definitely saw it — no head or legs or anything — just a dark shape.’’
Tina said she would sometimes hear footsteps down the corridor.
She said during the seven years she lived on the site of The Pines homestead, she experienced something strange at least once a week.
Tina said she went to see a spiritual medium about the occurrences.
‘‘She thought there was probably some sort of spirit attachment to the place,’’ she said.
She and her family moved to Kialla two years ago.
‘‘We didn’t move because of the yucky stuff. But it was a relief to move. We haven’t experienced anything else since then.
‘‘I believe there are things out there. I don’t know what — but I could always feel there was an uneasiness there.’’
Ron and Betsy Taig, the last owners of The Pines.
The believer's view
Restless spirits can be associated with land, buildings or places according to the Melbourne-based Australian Paranormal Society.
APS president Bill Tabone said it was ‘‘very common’’ to hear of paranormal activity associated with sites that had been cleared and subsequently built upon.
Mr Tabone recounted a case in Melbourne’s outer southern suburbs which he and other society members investigated.
He said the case involved a single mother of three who lived in a housing commission house in an estate built on the grounds of an old homestead.
‘‘The lady’s house was built on the site of the blacksmith shop for the property and also some sheds.
‘‘These old buildings were the scene of some cruelty, violence and terrible acts by the owner of the homestead,’’ Mr Tabone said.
He said the homestead dated from the 1860s.
‘‘There were many strange occurrences at the house but the worst was the physical and sometimes sexual assaults on the lady by the spirits present.
‘‘These were intelligent entities and they knew what they were doing.’’
The sceptic's view
‘‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,’’ was the response from Australian Skeptics when told about the ghostly reputation of The Pines.
‘‘To have any validity, the claim should be supported by a number of eye-witnesses independent of the woman herself — the footsteps should be recorded, etc,’’ Australian Skeptics’ Victorian branch secretary Ken Greatorex said.
‘‘It’s always much harder to prove a negative — to provide convincing proof that something or other does not exist,’’ Mr Greatorex said.
‘‘Despite all the hype, hauntings of the type you allude to have never been scientifically established, though many have tried.’’
Fellow Victorian Skeptics member Peter Hogan said many people were too ready to accept a paranormal explanation for strange things without considering other possible explanations.
‘‘I would be asking: what other possible explanations have you considered and how did you investigate them?
‘‘If the person has made no effort to look for other explanations, it would seem they are jumping to conclusions,’’ Mr Hogan said.
History of The Pines
- Built in 1875 by Thomas Swallow, a pioneer of Shepparton, The Pines once stood on large acreage taking in the entire block between Hawkins and Ford Rds, and Verney Rd and Goulburn Valley Hwy.
- The Pines was designed by J.A.K. Clarke, who also designed the former Shepparton Post Office and some of the region’s most stately homes. Examples of Clarke’s work can be seen in what was his own residence at Nettlecoe, and also at Ivanhoe, Fairley Downs and Ambermere.
- The Pines was sold by the Swallow family in 1887 to siblings Asline and Arthur Mason who increased the land holding to 1232 ha.
- The land was split between the brothers in 1890 with Arthur retaining The Pines.
- The Pines was sold in 1898 to William Stawell.
- After Stawell’s death in 1900, The Pines was bought by Charles Henry Hawkins who established his renowned stud of Shropshire and Lincoln sheep.
- During Hawkins’ tenure The Pines had a large aviary and English gardens. Hawkins ran the property for 35 years until he and his wife died within 10 days of each other in 1935.
- Charles’ son Harold ran the farm with his sisters Sylvia and Lorna, who lived there until it was sold in 1962 to the Taig family.
- Ron Taig used the property to run cattle and sheep and later developed a horse stud at The Pines.
- Since the 1960s the building remained unoccupied and fell into disrepair. Over the years it was targeted by vandals and thieves.
- The Pines was finally demolished in 1999 with its slate roofs, bricks, wooden floors, architraves and door trims sold for salvage to grace other homes in the
- John Taig of Taig Bros said he often heard talk of ghosts in the old building. ‘‘I’ve heard it mentioned quite a bit,’’ Mr Taig said.
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