Around 100kms south of Longreach in central Queensland lays an inconspicuous small waterhole name Wilga. By this waterhole is said to lurk a ghost which screeches such a sound that the most hardened of bushmen scurry off in terror at the first sound of it.
A small hut was built by a swagman and his wife by the waterhole but quickly was abandoned after the shrieks of the ghost drove them away. The legend grew and more and more people were certain that the place was haunted. There was even legends that the local indigenous would not go near the area as it was said to be cursed. An article in the Longreach Leader may shed some light as to the source of the mystery. It says “A boundary rider there went mad and after killing his wife and daughter, hid them down a well, and that it is his mad cries that are heard. It is a fact, that while sheep sleep quietly, graze in the paddock, cattle or horses if put there always break the fence and get out. They simply refuse to stay there” (1942). The newspaper continues to give an account of another pair of men who stayed at the station and heard a terrifying shriek coming from outside the hut. Needless to say they didn’t sleep much that night and in the morning when they exited the small building they found their horses were gone (later found quite some distance). Of course there were those who don’t believe and some had even set out to solve the mystery of the Wilga, “Two shearers who did not believe in ghosts, swore to get to the bottom of the mystery. They went off with rifles and food but were back within a few hours, scared stiff. It seems they found the old hut and took up position there, just before the rise of the moon. Suddenly they heard the most dreadful screams and they went to investigate. So clumsy were they in their efforts to emulate Sherlock Holmes, that one of the men nearly fell down the well, from where they considered the screams had emanated. They crawled back to the old hut, one moving round to see what he could locate, while his mate, forgetting that his cobber was about on the other side of the hut, heard a noise, crawled round to see what it was – saw something, and fired. Soon they were blazing away at each other – happily missing. When of course, they both heard the greatest clattering of hooves, they took to their heels, not stopping until they reached the shed” (1942).
There are numerous other tales in many publications throughout the early to mid 20th century. Very few however did much in the way of offering an explanation as to what was heard by all these people, most newspapers preferred to perpetuate the idea of a ghost looming over a hut in the middle of rural Queensland. However, S.W. Cleary in the Narromine New & Trangie Advocate offers a very reasonable explanation to what may have been responsible for scaring so many people away from this spot; “There is nothing supernatural about the supposed haunted Wilga waterhole, and the shrieking can easily be explained, in fact it is no mystery to most sensible minded people who have camped there. The legend first got its start from a man being left in charge of a house owned by Colin Bertram. I often heard the weird sound which reminded me of a woman in pain. One night I followed it to a huge tree over hanging the river. Next day a man from Ruthven Station climbed the tree and in a hollow limb (sic), found a nest with four young owls in it. I lived in those parts for years and never knew the blacks to be frightened of the place, in fact they often fished in the hole and one of them, named Milbung Tommy, is buried there. It used to be a common thing for bushmen to who came that way to be asked “Did you hear the Wilga ghost?” but take it from me the owls or some other birds are at the bottom of the business” (1928).
So there you have it and although not as fanciful and entertaining as the idea of a ghost looming over the waterhole, the most probable culprit are birds (Maybe an lyrebird imitating the dying cries of the wife and daughter who were murdered?) Anyone who has spent any amount of time camping in the Australian outback can vouch for the strange sounds and all-round eeriness of some places in the bush. Its what makes it what it is. It wouldn’t take much for something like the Wilga ghost to gain traction from a seemingly inexplicable event. So it was probably nothing – although I will definitely not be finding out for myself!