38["Life and Letters", The West Australian, Saturday 26 November 1938, page 5]



A Tale from Broome.

By Norbar.

It was Uncle Mac who told us the story of the Bishop's ghost. We were seated on the bungalow verandah watching the light at the top of the wireless mast winking high in the darkness and we could hear the faint stir of the sea sounding pleasantly on the beach beyond the mangroves. Behind us, from the compound of the native hospital, came the primitive rhythm of a binghi (native) cobber cobber song. We knew that they crouched low over a spark of fire, sheltering from the environing darkness and sang to keep the debbil-debbils away.

"It, whatever it is, is called the Bishop's ghost because Bishop Trower, who was in Broome before Dr. Frewer, was the first to see it," Uncle Mac said. "He awoke one night in the bedroom of the bungalow across there by the sandhills which is still the Bishop's Palace, with that eerie feeling we get when we know that some one is watching us although we cannot see who it is.

"'Who's there?' he called, thinking It was one of his flock come to call him in some domestic emergency. "There was no reply. Rather alarmed the bishop sat bolt upright in bed, for he could now see the faint outline of a form near the french windows. He repeated his question in a more imperative tone but still there was no reply.

"The dim figure stepped from the shadow into the light which came through the open windows. It was a man, dressed not in the white or khaki of the tropics, but in the flowing robes of a Jewish rabbi, with the traditional small round hat on his head. He stood there in the light for a moment and then, before the bishop could do or say more, disappeared. The apparition did not leave by the door or disappear through the open windows but vanished into thin air there, in the light, under the eyes of Bishop Trower. And so the story of the Bishop's ghost began under the unimpeachable guarantee of a bishop of the Church of England.

"The story soon got round," Uncle Mac continued. "Those of us who had been in the pearling business long could easily explain the Jewish robes. Davis the Jew was one of the best known pearl buyers in Broome before he went down on the ill-fated Koombana in 1912. There was quite a community of Jews in Broome in those days. Davis acted as rabbi for their services and he had lived in the bungalow which afterwards became the Bishop's Palace. Why had he come back? There were immediately half a dozen explanations for not many doubted the bishop's word. Pearls were the obvious answer although few paused to ask what a ghost could do with pearls. Be that as it may, men soon dug over the bishop's garden and it was suspected that even the bishop had a good hunt under flooring boards and behind skirtings. But if anyone found pearls they didn't tell and the ghost, so several men and women in this town will vouch, still returns to his old haunts.

"When the Koombana sailed from Port Hedland and disappeared from the sight of men, Davis had with him a pearl reputed of fabulous value which he had bought from the master of a lugger. Behind that pearl was a background of murder and sudden death. But that is a story that has been told before and the Bishop's ghost must be enough for tonight."

"And has the ghost been seen often since?" someone asked.

"I've forgotten how many times," Uncle Mac replied, "but quite often: sometimes by people who had not heard the story before. Two young women who went into the room when there was some social function on at the Palace ran out screaming, swearing they had seen Davis's shade. A young man of sceptical mind saw the ghost seated at a table. When he approached the figure vanished. But the young man was not satisfied. He felt certain that it was a peculiar reflection or a long-thrown shadow, which could be seen as one entered the door but which disappeared as one moved into the room. So he immediately had a rehearsal. Going back to the verandah he went again to the doorway, thinking to see the reflection or shadow again near the table. But this time there was nothing there. He went away thinking. He is still a sceptical young man--in most things--but he is non-committal about the Bishop's ghost. He tells you what happened to him and leaves it at that.

"And do you believe in the ghost?" someone else asked. But Uncle Mac was non-committal. "Strange things happen in the world," he said, "and Broome, Western Australia, is not exempt from them." Then he burst into a laugh "Funny things happen, too," he added, "even in a ghost story:'

"Tell us, do!" asked a young lady. "If I don't have a laugh at something, I won't dare to turn the light out to night."

* * * *

"It concerns one of Australia's best known writers," said Uncle Mac. "He's written a lot about Broome but he's never told this story though he knows it well, for it happened to him. He and Con, the factotum at the Continental Hotel, decided to waylay the Bishop's ghost. The bishop had gone on some diocesan business and gave them permission to sleep on the verandah near the haunted room. They bundled up their blankets and spent a peaceful and disappointing night. Next night, hoping for the best, they started out in the dim light of a half-moon. I don't know who was the first to step on to the verandah. Whoever it was, was certainly the first out of the front gate and first back at the hotel, although his companion was not two feet behind."

"And had they seen the ghost?" several voices asked excitedly.

"The first man on the verandah had seen a wild-eyed draped figure approaching him across the boards," Uncle Mac continued. "He did not wait to investigate further, neither did his companion. Dropping the sheets and blankets which dangled about their legs like the rabbi's robes, they fled. It was not until next day that we discovered the explanation, for the ghost hunters said nothing that night. During the day, acting on instructions left by the bishop, a local workman had been renovating the bedroom. He had taken out a long cheval mirror and stood it on the verndah facing the steps. The first ghost hunter to mount the steps had seen his own reflection in this mirror. The rest you know."