Mount Coolon Pub


Some years ago, we drove to Mount Coolon.

Always on the lookout for intriguing painting subject matter, I had heard from a friend about the potential of the old mining area. With its shacks, old pub and derelict gold mining machinery it was perfect for my love of old, rusty buildings to paint. The location was isolated, and therefore, the subjects still would be untouched and unique.

It took much effort to convince my husband to come along. I was reluctant to go by myself because of the isolation, not knowing what to expect. Despite having explored many areas on my own before, this trip sounded like a two-person job.

Mount Coolon is situated about 90 kilometres inland off the Gregory Highway which connects Charters Towers to Emerald. If you were to continue on past Mount Coolon, it would be another 125 kilometres to reach Collinsville and then onto Bowen and the Bruce Highway.

We were not well informed about this small settlement when we set off. Our overnight stay and meals at the pub had been booked beforehand, and our route investigated, but we knew very little of its history.

As we turned off the highway, my husband became concerned. The road was single lane gravel which felt spongy from recent rain. The shoulders of the road testified to the folly of moving over for passing traffic. The many bog ruts illustrated the pitfalls of black soil plains. The light grey surface of the edges of the road deceived what lay beneath—the innocent-looking crust which would crack under the weight of a vehicle into the thick, black, sticky mud below. We were relieved when we reached Mount Coolon with no traffic encounters.

If you could call it that, the township consisted of the single-storey timber pub, a tall, brick chimney, mullock heaps, rusty mining equipment, and a half dozen tin mining shacks scattered throughout the bush. The remains of a rickety timber picture theatre sat on the outskirts—a miracle that it had survived the numerous bushfires often in this area.

A hospitable woman, whose husband was away mustering, ran the pub. They had modernized the bar and dining area which, through a doorway, opened onto the lounge area. The accommodation section and lounge were still part of the original pub. The rooms came off this large lounge area—three doors on one side and three on the other. We were the only overnight guests.

A wide kitchen was at the far end of the lounge. From the kitchen, a narrow passageway led to the toilet and shower blocks—one for women, one for men. Our room was spacious and closest to the dining room. It only had two narrow single beds shoved hard against corner walls, but nothing else.

After lunch, the publican started up a conversation because, I guess, two ‘city slickers’ this far out would cause some curiosity. After telling her about my quest, I asked about the history of Mount Coolon.

She told how it had been named after Tom Coolon, one of the first gold diggers to stake a claim in the district, and how the story had ended in tragedy.

“You know,” she said, “A ghost haunts this pub, and many people have seen it. Tom shot four people here over a claim dispute, then topped himself. We’re not sure if the ghost is him or one of the ones he shot.”

“Have you seen it?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “but then we don’t live on site. My little grandson has seen him though, quite a few times in the lounge. I’ve witnessed him talking to someone. We babysit him periodically, you see. He’s two-and-a-bit years old.

One day, I saw him sitting in one of the lounge chairs yakking away to someone across from him. But there was no one there. I asked him, ‘Who are you talking to, Sweetie?’

He replied, ‘To that nice man there.’

‘What man, love?’

‘That man,’ he said, pointing to the empty chair across from him.

Other times I have seen him walking through the lounge and chatting as if someone is walking along beside him. When I ask, he always says it’s the nice man again.

I have asked his mother if he does that at home. She has said emphatically, ‘No!’

So, I decided not to get upset, as this ghost seems to like and not harm little children. Therefore, he can’t be all bad.”

Now ghost stories don’t bother me all that much, and it seems that most outback pubs seem to have their own poltergeist. My husband is skeptical of such things.

After dinner, we socialized for a while with the drinkers at the bar, then headed off to bed. The pub became very, very quiet after the bar closed. We were the only ones in the whole building.

Sometime after midnight, I woke needing to go to the toilet. I lay there for a little while wondering if I could delay the urge, or if I should wake my husband to keep me company. We had forgotten to take a torch, but there was a night-light left on in the lounge room and also in the toilet blocks. The kitchen and passageway were dark.

I padded in my bare feet and pyjamas along the lounge, into the dark kitchen and passageway towards the women’s toilets.

As I entered the passageway, I felt a strange heavy feeling following me, coming at my back. A feeling of dread consumed me. Quickly entering the cubicle, I slammed shut and locked the door.

In the cubicle, the heavy presence increased outside the door. It was a presence of pure evil. The hair on my head was electrified and felt like every strand was standing on end. My skin tingled and prickled all over. I was terrified. I even contemplated sitting there all night until the sinister spirit left, or morning arrived. I felt safe on this side of the door but had no idea what I might encounter on the outside. My heart thumped overtime! The evil was so intense! Evidently, this ghost preferred children but had no time for adults.

Gradually I gathered up my courage and opened the door a crack. Nothing to see, but evil still hung heavy in the air. Viewing the dark passageway and kitchen like a sprinter on the starting blocks, my goal was to reach the dimly lit lounge room unscathed. I ran—through the passageway, through the kitchen, into the lounge, into our room, and into my husband’s bed. The bed being narrow, my jump almost threw him into the wall.

He woke with a start and wanted to know what was wrong.

“Can you feel it?” I asked, trembling. “The ghost is here.”

“Your imagination is working overtime,” he said. “Go back to bed.”

Since the single beds were very narrow, it was a bit squishy in there.

Taking comfort in that my husband was now semi-awake, I lunged myself into my own bed. In the fetal position, arms pulled tight into my chest and back as close to the wall as I could, I pulled the bedclothes over my head. Somehow, I felt that if I kept my eyes shut tight and didn’t look, I would keep the menace at bay and be safe.

The heavy feeling of evil and dread lessened a little until I finally fell asleep.

I had never, ever, before, felt such a suffocating presence of evil.

The following day, after breakfast, the publican asked how we had slept.

“Okay,” my husband said.

She looked at me and saw my face, “And you?” she asked.

I told her about my experience and the sense of dread and evil I had felt.

“I know,” she said, “I have felt it too. That’s why we no longer live on site.”

“Thanks for nothing!” I said, “You could have warned me.”

“Well, you asked if I’d seen it…but I surely have felt it many times.”

When we headed home, we decided to backtrack our route rather than going on along a road that no one at the pub could enlighten us about.

It was an unusual trip, but I did get some great photos of the relics of the little gold mining township. I was also glad my husband had come along on the expedition, and I hadn’t been alone.