“Shite – where the [expletive] am I?” After driving through densely suburban Sydney from the Northern Beaches I suddenly found myself looking down a long and deserted road, which seemed to go to who knows where. The chick who channels herself through my GPS kept telling me over and over “you have reached your destination – you have reached your destination” and the little red finishing flag showed on my GPS screen as a visible confirmation of what my GPS girlfriend was saying was true. But where was I? Had my GPS finally Gone Permanently Silly?
After the APPI tour and investigation of the old Parramatta Gaol, and after having lived on their website for many days trying to get tickets to same, I saw that they had a volunteer program, and was impressed with the way they do things and the cool historic locations they went to, so I decided to “apply” to become a volunteer. Peet, who runs APPI, asked me to come to their next venue, which was the Casula Power Arts Centre (from here on to be called “The Centre”) at – you guessed it – Casula – for what effectively was a job interview.
Anyhow, looking down the long a deserted road I decided to proceed, if for no other reason than to prove my GPS girlfriend wrong. So after about three kilometres The Centre suddenly loomed into sight. So I was in the right spot, and my Tom Tom was correct correct! (only someone with a stutter would name a GPS device Tom Tom)
Anyhow, I pondered what would happen next. Here was this, errh, “mature” guy with grey hair (read “old dude” or “silly old bugger”) wanting to volunteer with a group of people most of whom were the same age as my three boys. “Damn it” I thought, “I have come all this way so the worst thing Peet can tell me is I am in the wrong place and Casula Power House Arts Centre is actually at Manly Beach, and to go there”.
However, I need not have worried – Peet greeted me warmly on my arrival and introduced me to the rest of the team there on the night, who like Peet made me feel right at home. I was not the only one there who had offered to volunteer, and I meet Neilson, and the two of us were kindly offered the opportunity to join the group that night to watch how the APPI group conducted their ghost tour of The Centre.
People started turning up and at 8pm things kicked off. The Centre was an old power station that had been converted by Liverpool Council into an arts an entertainment venue, with expansive indoor space for exhibitions, including a 321 seat theatre. It also had a coffee shop and looked bright and airy, even at night, and what struck me was it was not your typical old spooky building.
However, as the group were soon to learn, as a major industrial facility, it did have a fair share of “interesting” historic stories, both inside and out.
Built in 1951 by the NSW Electricity Commission, the Casula Powerhouse (then known as the Liverpool Powerhouse), was one of a series of identical buildings erected to supplement electricity production during winter and power shortages.
The Powerhouse was closed in 1976, and was bought by Liverpool Council in 1978 for $75 000. The building became derelict over the following decade, and in 1985 the residents of Liverpool decided that the building should become an arts centre.
In 1993 Casula Powerhouse, as it had then become known, was allocated funding in council budgets for the very first time. An ambitious development took place, and the centre opened its doors in 1994.
We started out in a large-ish room off the main area, where a man has been seen peering out and a door that had been the workers exit door during the centre’s industrial times kept opening, despite best efforts to keep it shut, at exactly the old “knock off” time of 3pm. This area immediately gave me the creeps, and I was glad to get out of there.
Then we went outside, where Peet showed the group the Casula train station, right next door to the Centre, which had a rich and sad history of its own. Now both The Centre and train station are right next to the George’s River, and back in the early 1900’s it was a popular picnic and swimming spot. It is not hard to imagine people in Edwardian dress sitting by the river having a picnic, playing records on gramophones, and paddling in the river.
However, as Peet explained, there were numerous accidental deaths in the river, mainly from children drowning, and a man committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree on the nearby river bank. So this beautiful place masks much sadness.
Back inside the Centre and up to the first floor, where a long “exhibition” space is located. In this area a small girl with a ball has been seen many times, including one of the APPI guides. The theory is she most likely drowned in the river after chasing and trying to retrieve her ball, and has made the Centre her home. Why that particular area is not known.
Then up to the next level, which is essentially the same as in the industrial days. Peet shows the group where a worker was killed on a metal staircase landing by a falling object. The impact was so great it bent the heavy metal landing – the poor chap would have been killed instantly from the impact. Then we are shown a metal staircase which leads outside as access to the large chimney stack. The security firm who look after The Centre are regularly called out to this area as the door that leads outside is opened for no apparent reason, generally around 2am. Lucky security guys – not!
Next, we are lucky enough to get access to the “artist in residency” area, mostly off limits but available to us that night. This is basically a large apartment right at the back of the building where artists who are doing exhibitions can stay while their exhibits are being set up and on display. Peet tells the group about the weird things that have happened and been seen in this section of the building.
Then we go to the backstage to the makeup area, which as the name suggests has a number of mirrors. Reports have been made of people’s faces distorting when looking into the mirrors and strange images being seen.
Finally, we go to the theatre, where a creepy old guy with a badly burnt appearance has been seen peering at people over time. This guy is reported to be a nasty person. The group are shown a video that further tells of the weird things that have happened at the Centre.
But wait, that’s all well and good – but how did my job interview go you are probably asking? Well, before the night began, we set up things in the theatre and Peet then explained to Neilson and I what the APPI requirements were. As Peet was talking to us, banging and other noises were heard coming from the back of the theatre – the APPI guys and girls checked it out but nothing found. But I digress. So how did I go? Well I have my first “official” volunteer duties next Friday night – Friday the 13th, at the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery. And Neilson also made the cut!
So now after another great night I just need my Tom Tom girlfriend to get me home home…………………..from wherever the bloody hell I am!
Ross (lost in the 'burbs) Downie
12 November 2015.