When Sixth Sense actor Haley Joel Osment whispered the now iconic line “I see dead people…”, a collective shiver went down the spines of millions of movie-goers around the world.But his words would have hit far closer to home for Newcastle woman Renata Daniel.
From an early age growing up in Maitland, Renata struggled with the presences she was experiencing, which often came to her in dreams.
But her initial terror transformed during her teenage years into a thirst for knowledge – which she is still trying to satisfy today.
“They would come to me in my dreams when I was just a few years old so I’ve literally always had this,” she told intouch Magazine.
“It wasn’t very pleasant when I was two or three or four because I really didn’t know how to express what I was feeling other than being terrified. So I would cry, naturally, and I would wake up and I’d be in tears and, of course, Mum and Dad didn’t know what was going on and they would try and comfort me and leave the light on and so forth.
“But I only really tried to understand or learn more about it as I grew older.
“The feelings and what I experienced started to differ the more I got into it. And it grew in intensity in my teens and that’s when I really began to get into the learning part of it.
“I trained very hard for many, many, many years trying to learn from others, reading many books. Back then it was only the library (I’m in my 50’s) so it was going to the library and learning from other people who I could chat to and I could workshop with. I progressed to the point where I felt I was capable enough to try and do some of these things on my own.”
Renata spent many years working as a psychic, although she doesn’t like to be labelled: “I don’t like any titles because a title then lends itself to be condemned by other people.
“We can’t in this field ever call ourselves experts because this area is filled with anomalies, it’s not something you can ever go and get a certificate for or a diploma in; we’re all people who are out there from a passionate perspective so it’s a continuous area of learning for us.
“But I certainly have worked as a psychic for many years and I use what abilities I have to gauge what is going on in a certain situation.”
She also has a deep love of history – an essential element for anyone working in the paranormal field – and so in 2009 decided to channel both of those into a business venture, setting up Newcastle Heritage and Ghost Tours.
“My intention was to create something different in Newcastle, some new type of tourism that might get people a little bit excited about the story of Newcastle,” she said.
“Ghost tours weren’t happening here, but they were becoming very prevalent and there was a lot of buzz going on in Sydney with regards to ghost hunting and tours starting to become available.
“And because I’d been in that industry for many, many years anyway I thought this was my opportunity to start this here before anybody else decides it’s a great idea.”
She began with a tour that remains the core of her business today – a three-hour walk around the East End of Newcastle. The tour starts at Customs House and takes in the nearby convict lumber yard, the site of the former Newcastle Hospital, Fletcher Park, the Asylum, Christchurch Cathedral and Bolton Street before finishing up in front of the old Police lock-up on Hunter Street.
“The East End ghost tour is a really good starting point for anyone who would like to learn a little bit about the history of Newcastle, listen to ghost stories and be on sites that we know have a history of being haunted, so people have heard things, seen things or experienced things,” Renata said.
“It’s a long tour, it’s a three-hour tour but I just can’t shorten it because of the amount of information that there is. It gives an overall view of that first 150 years of Newcastle so that’s an excellent starting point.”
Over the years, the tours have branched out to include other areas of the Hunter such as Wollombi. 2016 will see the addition of a tour in Lambton, a Paranormal Classroom experience that allows people to delve deeper into the spirit world, Ghost Hunting 101 at Maitland Gaol and special events at places such as Tomago House and the Civic Theatre.
“We’re going to do a murder tour as well, just talking about horrific murders up the top end of town, which is exciting,” Renata said.
“And in my spare time I do a lot of research and I gather stories. To me they’re important, they tell about not only the history of a place but they also talk about what life was like back then and to me that’s really an integral and important part of telling the story of a city.
“From my point of view people who come on ghost tours probably do so because they’re interested in two sides of things. Yes, they’re interested in the spooky side but also, I think they’re interested in learning about the place where they’ve come to visit or where they live in a little bit of a different way.
“And those tours are extremely popular everywhere else in the world. Australia’s been holding back on this idea of presenting history or tourism through ghost tours but they’re extremely popular.
“A couple of months ago I came back from England and just for an example, in London you’ve got Jack the Ripper tours running every night with at least four or five people running these tours simultaneously. Each group can have anything from 30 to 40 people going on it, so you’ve got 200 people on a tour every night of the week.
“I just stood there and went ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was happening in Newcastle’.”
While there are still plenty of sceptics out there who turn their noses up at the idea of “ghosts”, Renata said it is also amazing to see just how many people have had some type of spiritual “experience”.
“It is very common. Up in the East End of Newcastle most everyone has a story to tell. I had a tour the other night and of the 17 people about 10 had a story to tell,” she said.
“Most people that are drawn to tours like this are intrigued, they’ve either had an experience or they want to learn more, but it is a lot more common than people would give credit for.
“I don’t try and push my beliefs on anyone, I present from the point of view of ‘this is where we stand now in the paranormal field and what we believe or the theories are or the hypothesis is of why ghosts come through or why spirits exist or why places are haunted’.
“But I don’t come from the approach of listen to me, this is the way it is and you must believe me. People will only believe if they have had an experience themselves.”
Of course, while Newcastle’s history is an incredible source of inspiration – and ghosts – for her tours, Renata makes one thing clear to everyone who comes along: there is no guarantee you will see or feel anything – apart from amazement at the stories she tells!
“People will say ‘Will I see a ghost on my tour?’ – it’s a classic question. I always say to people I can’t tell the ghosts to come, I can’t tell the ghosts to be here at 8 o’clock because that’s when I’m starting my tour and to haunt these people now.
“That is something that is beyond my ability to bring forth, it happens when it happens or it doesn’t happen. You’ve just got to be there at a lucky time or be the chosen one, whatever it is. You bring your energy to the table and that makes a big difference.
“Newcastle is the best place in the whole of Australia (for ghost stories), we are the second oldest settlement in Australia and we’re the only settlement on the mainland that actually started as a prison."
“Our history is amazing, all you need is to get into it and it’s just so exciting. For the first 10 years, we had 100 to 150 people up the top end of town and they were all either prisoners or military guards sent here to work in hard labour, they were chained and had leg irons, which were riveted on, they were put into either cutting timber or coal mining.
“You’ve got stories from back then of floggings that occurred and of how hard they worked. We had a huge gaol that sat up on the top of the hill there overlooking Newcastle Beach, we had hangings here in Newcastle, then as the township grew we had a stack of inns and licenced pubs. We had the Chinese come through that opened up opium dens and gambling, we had a harbour that was filled with seamen that were coming in and out daily that caused lots of interesting things to happen, we had Shanghaiing here – what else do you need for a great story? We had everything!”
Of the many stories Renata tells on her East End tour is that of the fate of Alice Maud Bromley – and her strange connection with a group of Newcastle men 50 years later.
A 21-year-old who came to Australia in the 1930s, Alice was in Newcastle for just one day when she made the fateful decision to spend the afternoon at King Edward Park. Apparently followed by a group of young men on her way back down from the park and possibly running away scared, Renata said Alice fell from the cliff edge and plummeted to her death, breaking her neck when she landed on the beach below.
“Now, I believe that Alice is still in a way trapped on that hill and sometimes her ghost will appear to us, people will certainly feel her energy,” she said.
“I had a young couple on my tour about a year-and-a-half ago now and when I told this story the young man’s eyes lit up very widely.
“I asked him ‘Have I spoken about something that you know of?’ – sometimes I talk about things and someone will say that’s my uncle you’ve talked of or that’s my grandfather you’ve spoken about so I have to be very careful with how I research things because I can sometimes be talking about family.
“And he said ‘I had an experience when I was a lot younger here when the road under that cliff used to be open and you could drive up the hill and around onto King Edward Park. When I was about 17-years-old, I was with three other mates in a car and we were doing laps around. As we were driving, in the headlights we saw a body fall from the cliff, directly in front of the car.
“Now the driver is in shock, he can’t stop and he actually drives over the body. And the car stops, all of us are sitting in the car and we’re panting, our hearts are beating out of our chests and we go ‘What the hell did we just see, what are we going to do?”
As the man explained to Renata, the four friends all got out and walked to the back of the car expecting a grisly scene – but instead saw nothing.
“And they all look at each other at this point in time and they swear they will never tell anyone what they have just seen happen, it didn’t exist, no-one would have believed them anyway,” she said.
“And so this young guy looks at me and says ‘I haven’t told anyone this in the last 15 years – did we run over Alice Maud Bromley, the lady you just talked about?’
“And I said maybe, maybe it was a time slip that you just happened to be in the right place at the right time and you had a replay of something that occurred 50 years ago. Wow, how amazing is that?
“So I guess that experience is real to you (and your friends) and no-one should take that away from them; that is something that will remain in their memory forever.”
Renata said stories of more than one person seeing or experiencing the same thing at the same time is pretty exciting. “That’s when the ears will prick up, even the scientists will say that’s interesting because it’s not just one person’s experience. A number of people are seeing and being able to give you the same amount of information at the same time,” she said.
“To me it’s exciting, it’s a field that, even though it’s been around for many hundreds of years now, it’s still in its infancy.
“For me it is a lifelong passion and I will continue to do this until my last breath and the more I explore and the more I learn, the more questions there are, the more I want to know and need to know.”
HISTORY, HERITAGE and GHOSTS.
If you are curious about the story of early Newcastle, Newcastle Ghost Tours will show you the sites where it all happened and you just never know which old soul might turn up while you are walking around.. If you are interested on finding out more, head to www.newcastleghosttours.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org.