After dark portal to a netherworld

By Lachlan Durling

WHAT DO YOU do when you feel a cold chill come over the room. The sense of another presence in the room, yet you’re the only person there?

For Jenny Watson the next move is to introduce them to her tour group.

And the room is usually at Henry’s Bridge or the Star hotels. Leading the Port After Dark Tour, Jenny is the go-to girl when it comes to all things spiritual and the one to introduce you to the locals — of the 1800s.

Whether it’s the mysterious man knocking on the pylon of the bridge, the woman in blue at the Bridge Hotel or the man under the wharf — Jenny can tell you their story.

Or the story of anything else that happened on the superhighway of yesteryear.

But just how did a dairy farmer end up being the town’s unoffi cial clairaudient?

It’s a long story that involves an unlikely combination of paddlesteamers, jetboats, dolphins and volunteering which led Jenny to become the second woman to get a paddlesteamer ticket.

“I just love the history of the Port, all the boats and the history of the rivers because it was a whole super highway back in the day. It was the fastest way to transport goods, wool especially,” she said.

“And I love telling people about it, you meet the most amazing people.”

After she studied at the British Horse Society, Jenny moved around the globe before landing herself a job as a jillaroo at a farm in Tongala.

“I didn’t picture myself doing this at all, I was always horse mad as a kid. I had vowed and declared that I would have nothing to do with boats — my relatives had been captains and that wasn’t going to be my scene at all,” Jenny admitted.

“But guess what, it was — so you never know what is coming ahead of you, just accept it.”

Jenny skippered paddlesteamers in town for fi ve years during the late ‘80s after studying for four years to gain her ticket — with the encouragement of the paddlesteamer captains of the time.

“In 1983 the Emmylou was built in Barham and brought up here, then it was advertised for somebody to be a purser on the boat,” she said.

“So I applied for it and talked my way into it. While I was doing that I got to know all the guys driving the paddlesteamers and they said ‘you’ve got to drive paddlesteamers.

We need a female skipper’.

“I said no, but in the end I thought, ‘why not’ and they all taught me.”

Soon she had Peter Pain on the Emmylou, Andy Simpson on the Canberra, Kevin Hutchinson on the wharf and Alan Bartsch helping her.

“And they kept at me, on my days off I’d go on a couple of different boats, it was really fantastic,” she said.

After fi ve years it was time for something new.

“Then I went over to Western Australia to drive jetboats and play with dolphins, because I could,” she laughed.

“I moved back to be closer to my grandchildren and become the babysitter — it’s great, you can fi ll them up with sugar and then just send them back to the parents.

“But I came back and got a part-time job working at Cape Horn Winery, I loved that and then started volunteering at the Information Centre.

“All of a sudden this job as tour guide came up. I knew about the place and picked up on the rest of the history.”

After two and a half years guiding people around the Port, Jenny knew there was more to the story.

Nothing too sinister, but an insight into the real nightlife of our portside town.

“It was sort of decided one day that we needed something to happen at night down in the Port and it’s been very popular, one of the best tours we’ve had,” she said.

“Three nights a week, there are four of us who do it and we’re all completely different.

“I’m the only one who is spiritual, two of the others are fi nding things out about the Port.

“But it’s great, we all do a different story and we all put it over in different ways, it just goes down so well.”

Even with the sceptics. Jenny said while it’s easy to get caught up in the supernatural — there are always those who can bring things back to reality.

“You don’t have to believe it, what we say is that we’re all on different levels and whatever level you’re at, if you’re susceptible to it or if you’re not, that’s fi ne,” she explained.

“It’s your journey, not what you’ve chosen to do in your lifetime.”

But that’s also one of the perks of the job — seeing the reaction of people who have just witnessed something very out of the ordinary.

Whether it’s someone who has seen a man hanging under the wharf, the woman in the blue dress standing on the balcony of the Henry’s Bridge Hotel or the Irish lads who hang out at the Star Hotel, Jenny has seen their reaction.

Usually it’s those who are older and aren’t buying into the hype.

“A lot of older people say they ‘don’t believe in that stuff’,” Jenny said.

“At the end of the tour I ask if anyone has had any experiences and they fob it off going ‘no of course not’ then they get talking and go, ‘well, actually this happened …’”

But when things go wrong the job can start to look a lot less glamourous.

Thankfully Jenny is a people person — and that extends into the afterlife.

“These spirits around here are all okay, but you get the odd one who isn’t — just like people,” she laughed.

“Not long ago, where the woodturners used to be there was a man there for many, many years, before it was redeveloped.

“Once it got done up he wasn’t very happy so he moved out. He went under the Star Bar where we have the couple of Irish lads who hang around, and he caused absolute chaos, he was very angry and we were getting worried.

“He eventually ended up underneath the wharf, he was so negative and so angry. Often, it’s the comical events that have the biggest impact.

“I had a couple of guys from Longreach on the tour and they were so tuff and rough and saying ‘we don’t believe in this stuff’,” she said.

“We were down in the Star bar and all of a sudden this guy started looking at me and he said ‘Jenny, there’s a hand on my shoulder, there are fi ngers running up and down my spine’.

“Well, I’ve never seen a man jump so far. He leapt about two metres.”