21 Australian urban legends: from creepy to plain weird
Are wild monsters and big cats running wild in the Australian bush? Are there bodies buried under Crown Casino in Melbourne and within the Sydney Harbour Bridge? And is the Tasmanian Tiger truly extinct? Here are some Australian urban legends that’ll definitely stop you sleeping tonight.
A country the size of Australia has got to have some pretty weird stuff going on.
And it certainly does, with plenty of myths and legends going around, from town to town, generation by generation. Not to mention thoroughly dissected on the internet.
Some of these legends are based in Aboriginal folklore, passed down for thousands of years.
Others are ghost stories, modern conspiracy theories, or claims of UFO sightings.
All make for highly interesting reading.
Here are some of the more popular Australian urban legends, ideal for re-telling around a campfire.
Australian urban legends: 20 strange myths
1. The morgue under Crown Casino in Melbourne
Crown Casino is located in Melbourne and is the largest casino in Australia.
For those unfamiliar with Melbourne’s geography – it sits in prime position, right on the Yarra River and is frequented by locals and visitors.
Gambling is both a popular past time and major issue in Australia (writes the girl who bought a lottery ticket this very week) and can affect individuals and families in many, terrible ways.
Legend goes that there’s a secret corridor in some toilets at Crown which allows staff to smuggle out the bodies of suicidal gamblers and elderly patrons who may unexpectedly die.
Apparently these hidden doors and corridors lead to a morgue within the bowels of the building. Some even say there’s a secret tunnel from Crown that leads straight to the hospital morgue.
This is an enduring urban myth within Melbourne, to the exasperation of Crown management and staff.
Read more about unique things to do in Melbourne.
2. A wild black panther lives in Lithgow
For decades now, there have been reported sightings of big, black cats spotted around the Blue Mountains area, west of Sydney.
In fact, hundreds of people have reported seeing these creatures in the last twenty years.
This story may not appear as far-fetched as it seems, if you consider the sightings to be of a creature that is not endemic to Australia.
People of the 19th century had much more exotic pets than we do now, including lions, tigers and panthers.
It’s entirely plausible that a couple of “household pets” ran free and have thrived within the dense, Australian bush.
Similarly, they could have escaped from zoos, or the circus. Wild animals were also used as mascots by US servicemen.
It happened with rabbits, cane toads, foxes, pigs and domestic cats – so who’s to say there aren’t bigger cats roaming around out there?
There have been so many recorded sights, that The Department of Primary Industries commissioned four inquiries during the years 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2013.
Yep, that’s right. Even the NSW State Government has investigated this, which is not something they regularly do for Australian urban legends.
They claim they found no proof, so for now the mystery remains unsolved.
3. Big cats roam eastern Victoria
New South Wales isn’t the only state playing host to big cats, with sightings also reported in Victoria.
This Australian urban myth goes back to the 1930s, where giant fawn coloured cat-like beasts were allegedly spotted roaming around Gippsland.
As above, it could have been another pet, zoo or circus animal gone rogue.
Reports of sightings across the state continue to this day.
4. Picnic at Hanging Rock is based on a true story
Part of the enduring popularity of Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock is the belief that the book (later made into a movie) is based on a true story.
Joan Lindsay’s story follows as such (massive spoiler alert!).
It’s Valentine’s Day, 1900 and a small group of female students from a women’s college in Woodend disappear during a… well, picnic at Hanging Rock.
One student, Edith Horton, later reappears in a mess and laughing hysterically. However three others – Miranda, Irma Leopold, Marion Quade and their teacher Miss Greta McCraw have completed disappeared.
Irma eventually turns up, unconscious and unscathed, but the others are never heard from again.
The last chapter of PAHR did explain what happened to the girls, but was cut from Lindsay’s draft at the suggestion of her editor.
The final product is ten times more powerful as a consequence.
Lindsay was always vague about whether her 1967 work was a piece of fiction or based in fact. There have been rumours that the text was inspired by murders in the area, which occurred around the 1880s.
Fact or fiction, it’s a marvellous read and a true Australian classic of literature.
5. Killer Bunyips inhabit billabongs and lagoons
Bunyips are creatures deeply rooted in Australian folklore, based in Aboriginal mythology.
They’re mostly described as nocturnal lake monsters, lurking in billabongs or swamps.
What do they look like? Accounts vary, from beasts with tusks or horns, to bird-like creatures covered in scales.
A bunyip will emerge from its watery home at night to feast on animals and has a particular fancy for women and children, which probably accounts for its prevalence in bedtime stories (don’t judge – the true stories of The Brothers Grimm ain’t no stroll through the park, either).
You can tell whether a billabong or lagoon is inhabited by this frightening creature, by its bellowing cry.
No true evidence of the bunyip has ever been found, with some believing the legendary creature to be based on the extinct Diprotodon, megafauna that once roamed Australia.
Nonetheless, it’s one of the more enduring Australian urban legends.
If you’re out late at night near an open water source and you hear a loud, unidentifiable cry, I suggest you head for the hills, tout suite.
6. A river monster lurks in the Hawkesbury
Stand aside Nessie – Loch Ness isn’t the only great body of water that’s said to be home to a mystical sea creature.
Hawkesbury is a region just outside of Sydney, on NSW’s Central Coast.
Along with being a stunningly beautiful spot, the eponymous river is said to be home to a monster, that uses the coast as a breeding ground.
Hawkie (okay, so I’ve named it off my own bat, but if Nessie gets to have a nickname, then it’s only fair) is said to be likened to a prehistoric plesiosaur, which have only been extinct for around 70 million years. A drop in the ocean!
She’s about seven metres tall and 24 metres in length, so she’d stand out in a crowd.
Australian writer Rex Gilroy has spent his career exploring unexplained phenomena across Australia and swears to the existence of the Hawkesbury River Monster.
As with the bunyip, she is allegedly represented in Aboriginal folklore.
There’s no denying that our waterways largely remain to us, a mystery. So who knows – perhaps one of Nessie’s long lost relatives is hanging around the Hawkesbury, after all.
7. An ape-man creature walks our forests
The Australian Yowie is much like America’s Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and the Yeti of the Himalayans – a giant, ape-like creature that roams wild across the land.
While there is no hard evidence that Yowies do exist, there have been hundreds of reported sightings.
The creatures have roots in Aboriginal oral history and the first ‘official’ report was made in Sydney in 1790. Believed to roam the Outback, they’ve been recently sighted in Queensland, the NSW Blue Mountains and in Western Australia.
Whether or not they exist, like the Bunyip, they are firmly rooted in Australian mythology.
The Yowie is one of the more popular Australian urban legends, so much so that an entire confectionery range was created in the 90’s, based on the creature.
Made of milk chocolate, you crack them open to find your own miniature yowie, or collectable Aussie animal inside. Yum.
8. A ghost haunts the Princess Theatre in Melbourne
Fredrick Baker was born in London in 1850.
Desperate to act, he drew from his Italian heritage, styling himself as ‘Fredrick Fredrici’, and found success in musicals and operas.
Fredrici joined J.C. Williamson’s touring company in 1887, which brought him to the town of Melbourne.
The company performed an array of shows – ‘The Mikado’, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘Faust’, with Fredrici taking up the part of Méphistophélès… The Devil.
Opening night was March 3, 1888 and the Princess Theatre, where the show was to be performed, was packed full.
Fredrici, as always, was dynamic on stage. During the conclusion of the play, he was lowered through a trapdoor in the floor, accompanied by the applause of the audience.
Upon reaching the floor, Fredrici suffered a sudden heart attack and collapsed. He died almost instantly, at the age of 37.
In the confusion of the play’s conclusion, none of the cast had any idea of what had gone on. They went back onstage to take their bows, later swearing that Fredrici had been present alongside them for the curtain call.
Fredrici was later buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery – his grave can be viewed there, today.
Since then, workers and actors have experienced strange things within the theatre – unexplained goosebumps, lights flashing on and off and some have even reported sightings of a good looking man in 1880s dress, sometimes sitting in a chair in the dress circle, watching performances. There is always a chance however, that this could merely be a local Fitzroy hipster.
The theatre’s bistro is named after the enigmatic ghost, and a seat reserved for him on opening night of each new performance. It’s considered to be good luck if he shows up.
Discover more haunted places in Melbourne.
9. An alien abduction in the Dandenongs Victoria
Do aliens truly exist? Just ask ‘Kelly Cahill’.
In August 1993, Cahill (an alias) was driving home from a friend’s house with her husband Andrew, not far from Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, when she saw what looked like a blimp with headlights, hovering ahead.
Next thing she knew, she was waking up in her car, feeling strangely relaxed.
Returning home, the couple realised they’d lost an hour of time. Kelly too, had a mysterious triangular shaped hole below her navel, that had previously not been present.
She later recalled seeing a number of tall, skinny black figures with bulging red eyes appear in front of the blimp and approach her car.
The 27 year old housewife was interviewed on ‘Current Affairs’ show Today Tonight and later wrote a book about her encounter, funnily enough entitled Encounter: The True Story.
I’d love to get my hands on a copy, but it was a limited run, now out of print.
10. And aliens spotted in Westall, Victoria
Around thirty years earlier in 1966, it was late morning in Clayton South, in south east Melbourne.
Students from Westall High School and Westall State School were heading to the local oval for sport.
Hundreds would later claim to have seen one or several unexplained objects flying overhead, before disappearing into a nearby grassy paddock, known as The Grange.
These objects appeared to be a silver-grey disk or saucer. It is said that one rose to the surface from The Grange, and disappeared, heading north west. It wasn’t seen again.
Inspection of the site was said to reveal a circle of grass, that had been flattened to the ground.
The incident was viewed by so many, that it made the local newspapers. Some believed that it was UFOs that had been sighted, others spoke of a government cover-up.
Researcher Shane Ryan has been examining the phenomena for decades and appeared in a 2010 documentary, entitled Westall ’66. Despite his investment of time, no clear answer has surfaced.
As time passes, the true answer looks less likely to be revealed.
One thing is for certain though – unexplained alien-ish occurrences have a habit of taking place in south east Melbourne and have become one of the great Australian urban legends.
11. The doomsday device detonated in the Australian desert
The Outback is big. Unfathomably big, to the point where a “lost tribe” of Aboriginal Australians known as the “Pintupi Nine” appeared out of the desert in 1984, almost two hundred years after European invasion. One of them, Piyiti, found he couldn’t cope with “civilisation”, went back to the desert and hasn’t been sighted since.
The Outback certainly holds many secrets.
One persistent rumour involves Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, led by the notably unbalanced Shoko Asahara.
The group are best known for releasing sarin nerve gas into a crowded Tokyo subway system on 20 March 1995. The chemical attack killed 12 commuters, injured 54 and left thousands sick.
Two years earlier, the cult had purchased Banjawarn Station, a half a million acre sheep property in Western Australia, 800km north east of Perth.
It was here that they developed the nerve agents that would released in Tokyo. However, many believe they were testing a doomsday bomb that could cause destruction and death on a much larger scale.
On the 28 May 1993, witnesses saw a ‘huge red coloured flare’ shoot vertically into the night sky.
It was immediately followed by a violent shaking of the ground and a loud, explosive blast that was heard up to 250km away.
It seemed more like an earthquake, than a nuclear explosion.
After the attack of 1995, both the Australian and US governments became very interested in the event – however, further investigation failed to bring any evidence into light.
That being said, it’s all a little bit suspect and many still believe that whatever Aum Shinrikyo were working on could have had dire consequences, world over.
And, perhaps a great example of why Australia should not be open to foreign ownership. Are you reading, Australian government?
In any case, WA is full of odd and marvellous surprises – take the now sadly defunct Principality of Hutt River, for example.
12. The underground lake of St James in Sydney
There’s extensive underground secrets hidden beneath many cities around the world.
In Sydney, it’s a network of train platforms, tunnels and tracks, built in the 1920s and designed to head out to Bondi and the Northern Beaches.
The plans were halted due to the Great Depression and World War 2, and work on these tunnels never recommenced.
The tunnels were instead converted into bomb shelters during the war. Marks of soldiers can be found, along with graffiti from those who have trespassed into the tunnels, over the following years.
One particular notable work consists of two pentagrams and a black figure, holding an eye pyramid in one hand and flaming heart in the other.
It’s said this site has been used for seances and other occult activity. Creepy.
Sydney’s St James Station was originally meant as a terminus, with four underground platforms built for the train. Only two were used today, with the two others boarded up and forgotten to history… apart from select, ghostly tales that rose over the decades to follow.
There’s also the “St James Lake”, made from water seeping in and flooding a section of the tunnels. It’s said an albino eel has made this patch of water its home… I’m not readily sure that that’s the case, but it is one of the more harmless Australian urban legends.
On a personal note, St James is easily my favourite station in Sydney – I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and not only due to the fact that it was the ground for an epic battle scene between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix.
13. The satanists of Kings Park in Perth
Kings Park is a beautiful patch of land in the Western Australian capital, covering four kilometres and overlooking the Perth CBD.
It’s full of greenery and gardens. People like to come here for walks, or picnics. Oh and apparently, also a spot of devil-worshipping.
A persistent urban myth in Perth states that on certain nights, a coven overtakes the park, to perform rites, such as drawing occult symbols and burning figures.
This often ties in with the disappearance of homeless men in the park.
There’s not really any fact to support this rumour, but perhaps it is best not to wander around Kings Park late at night. Just in case.
Here are some other weird facts about Perth and WA, if you fancy further reading.
14. The haunted arcade in Adelaide
The historic Adelaide Arcade is the oldest shopping arcade in Australia, so it makes sense that it’d be home to a few ghost stories and Australian urban legends.
The best known is probably that of beadle (caretaker) Francis Cluney, who died in the arcade’s engine room on 21 June 1887.
His death was particularly gruesome – he was mangled by the arcade’s generator, the site of which is now a dry cleaning shop.
Since then, strange sounds and footsteps have been heard within the arcade – all believed to be Cluney. Video footage emerged in 2008, reputedly a sighting of the ghost.
Other deaths have occurred within the arcade, notably Florence Horton, shot in the back by her husband in 1904 and three year old Sydney Kennedy Byron, who is believed to have been smothered to death by his mother in 1902.
A paranormal investigation was conducted by Haunting: Australia. You can watch it here.
You can take a tour of the arcade as part of your 3 days in Adelaide itinerary, if you so choose!
15. The underground network linking Perth’s buildings
Perth is another city that is home to a network of underground tunnels, although these weren’t for a planned underground train line.
Some were part of a planned procedure to keep Perth and Fremantle safe from the enemy during WWII.
One Perth urban legend states that a tunnel was constructed that ran from the Old Treasury buildings on St Georges Terrace to the Supreme Court.
It is believed it was built to bring prisoners from a lockup at the Treasury to court, but apparently no evidence of them exists.
Fremantle too has several tunnels running underneath it, notably from the prison. You can tour them, if you wish!
Want more? Read about Perth’s weird public sculptures.
16. The Poinciana Woman haunting Darwin
This is an enduring urban legend of the Northern Territory.
The Poinciana Woman is said to have been a beautiful brown-skinned Asian, or according to others, Aboriginal woman.
She was gang-raped, lost her mind and took her life near a poinciana tree on East Point. She may or may not have been pregnant at the time, as a result of her rape.
Hooked on vengeance, she uses her long nail to eviscerate her victims and feed on their guts. Men everywhere, beware.
This is a myth that is spread throughout the world, appearing in many forms, particularly in Asia.
Learn more about this spooky Australian legend.
17. The bodies in Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney’s famous and iconic bridge was built in the early 1930s, when OH&S laws were… well, basically non-existent.
Construction of the bridge was highly dangerous, with 16 deaths being recorded and many more reportedly hushed up.
As legend goes, three men fell into the pylons and perished. Their disappearances weren’t noticed for some weeks.
The bodies were allegedly too difficult to retrieve, so they were entombed within the bridge, where they remain to this day.
I will say, I have driven over that bridge in the dead of night many times and haven’t seen a single ghost. So maybe their spirits rest easy, despite this apparent sad fact!
18. Jack the Ripper moved to Melbourne
The legend of Jack the Ripper is enduringly popular, across the world.
An unidentified killer strikes fear into the hearts of Londoners, viciously murdering female prostitutes in the suburb of Whitechapel, before mysteriously disappearing.
Had he sated his lust for blood? Or did he leave London forever, to move to Melbourne?
Some believe Jack the Ripper was Frederick Bailey Deeming an English-born Australian gaslifter, convicted and hanged for gruesomely killing a woman (his second wife, Emily Lydia Mather) in the Melbourne suburb of Windsor.
He is too responsible for the killing of his first wife and four children at Rainhill, England. Real top-notch bloke.
Were these Deeming’s only victims? While we’ll never know for sure, many enthusiastically believe that he was indeed the no-name slasher who terrified London.
Deeming’s death mask can be viewed at Old Melbourne Gaol.
Read some actual facts about Melbourne.
19. The dropbears of the Australian bush
This is more than anything, one of the Australian urban legends that locals delight in sharing with visitors the country.
Dropbears are said to be a large, predatory marsupials, that bear a resemblance to the Koala. They get their name from “dropping” on their prey, often pulling them back up into the canopy to feast.
There are reports of bush walkers being ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in bites. There are no reports of incidents being fatal.
You can repel these terrifying creatures by sticking forks in your hair, or spreading Vegemite or toothpaste behind your ears. The yeast-based spread has the double benefit of repelling unwanted human contact, as that stuff starts to stink after being left out in the open for awhile.
For more information on what to do if a drop bear drops on you, consult this
short film informational documentary.
20. The Lemon Tree Passage ghost in New South Wales
There are some pretty creepy ghost stories to be found all over Oz and this is one that has become a popular Australian urban legend.
Lemon Tree Passage Road is a long stretch of road, north of Newcastle in NSW. It’s been the site of some tragic accidents, namely involving motorcyclists.
Drivers along this stretch of road began reporting that if you drove along at night, you would be followed by a single light, that would tail cars for about half a kilometre down a stretch of road, before disappearing by a telegraph pole.
The light is believed to stem back to a motorcycle accident in 1987, involving two young people. The passenger died on impact and the rider supposedly lost his leg, passing away some time after.
Legend has it that the light will tail drivers under the age of 25, particularly P-Platers, who happen to be speeding at the time.
Unfortunately, this Australian urban myth has led young people to speed up and down the roads, hoping to see the Lemon Tree Passage Ghost, causing a media frenzy in 2010.
Definitely don’t do this. It’s dangerous and stupid.
The story was even immortalised on the silver screen in 2014. It looks spectacularly bad and I want to watch it, because nothing beings me more joy than really shitty Australian horror films.
Coincidentally, this part of the state is a really nice place to holiday.
Read more about the Ghost of Lemon Tree Passage.
21. Tasmanian Tigers exist in the wild
Here’s one of the Australian urban legends that I know I’d really like to be true.
The invasion of mainland Oz and Tasmania by Europeans had (and still continues to have) a devastating effect upon the country’s native flora and fauna.
While many species have been rendered extinct, the best known is the Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine.
These carnivorous marsupials look like a mix between a wolf and a dog and are named such, for the stripes on their lower back.
The last known thylacine died in captivity at Hobart Zoo in 1936.
However – this has not stopped rumours that there are thylacine out there, living in the wild. There’s even a group, known as the Booth Richardson Tiger Team (BRTT), who have been trying to track a tiger for over twenty years.
They’re convinced the marsupial is not extinct and never has been, and claim they have video evidence of sightings.
This is an Australian urban legend that could be based in truth. The eastern barred bandicoot was believed to be extinct in the wild for three decades, before a colony was found in a junkyard in Hamilton.
We’ll never know all of Australia’s secrets. And this is what makes it such an enduringly interesting country to visit and live in.
What do you think of these Australian urban legends? Are there any that you strongly believe in? Do you have some of your own to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Great article! Now I know who all those red hooded people are I kept seeing while driving through Kings Park. They seemed nice.
Don’t talk to strangers!
Wow, some really crazy stories here, quite a few I haven’t heard of before. And yep, agree, it’d be amazing if the Tassie Tiger has somehow survived…
It would be SO good if it were true! Stranger things have happened.
It would be pretty cool to still see Tasmanian Tigers roaming around…
It so would. I wish as a country we were doing more to stop our other fabulous and unique flora and fauna from going extinct…
As a person who has lived in Australia there whole life I have heard about the Bunyips, The Yowie and Drop Bears. My Dad also used to tell me and my brother stories about Scary-Mary. Who lived in a remote town in NSW and tried to curse the town.
Yikes. Catchy name, to boot!