If it's an out-of-this-world experience you're after, there's no need to leave home: Melbourne is positively teeming with ghosts. By Lorna Edwards.
Drew Sinton, occultist and owner of the Haunted Bookshop in Melbourne (which is haunted by a ghost named Donald), talks to Angela Allan about the supernatural.
Do you have any problem with ghosts?
When it’s something you’ve been doing your entire life, I have no problems with the dead or ghosts, it’s always the living. It’s the idiots you meet from day to day. I mean, I’ve never taken a restraining order out on a ghost but I’ve had to on the living. The police have been out three times this week to this shop because of some living idiot – it’s not ghosts they’re coming to arrest, it’s the living, and that’s the reality.
What has Hollywood done to the public’s perception of the supernatural and ghost busting?
I’ve seen Paranormal Activity 4 and it reminds me of those B-grade ‘50s movies when they used to have the audience screaming. It’s the modern equivalent of those movies, which would have audiences jumping. And what happens it sends expectations through the roof and when they talk to me, you can see that it’s Hollywood talking. People have these unrealistic expectations. Society has moved towards extreme everything. People miss the point of some of these experiences. People live through their technology. I mean, the ghost hunters you meet now are extreme ghost hunters, living and investigating vicariously through technology.
Why is horror so popular in Hollywood?
Guillermo del Toro, who did Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Saw people are making horror cool again. That, and Paranormal Activity is the only genre that is bringing in the kids, because you’re talking about kids now that are so sensory challenged that the only thing that gets them excited is extreme stuff. Because supernatural presses the magic buttons of imagination and creativity, you can use your imagination more in the horror genre more than in any other genre – you’re not limited by reality.
What attracted you to the occult?
Of all written things, it is one of the most creative genres because you can suspend belief and you can play with what-ifs. I love that. I remember a quote from a maths teacher of mine but it was a quote from Einstein, which was “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious”. I use that quote, which to the gothic folk, the supernatural is beauty. That’s why I don’t like these bogan ghost hunters in their tracksuits because they miss the point of the beauty of the supernatural. It was a respectable genre and gentlemen used to investigate it, and it was a gentlemen’s preoccupation – and the gentle ladies too – from the Victorian era. The supernatural has become the paranormal now. It’s scientificy, well, pseudo-scientificy. Leave it to the romanticists. Today, you’ve got this weird clash between people who see the beauty in the supernatural and those who see it has a challenge and want to kick the doors in.
There was some talk of you being a “legal vampire”. How did this come about?
I got assaulted in the street because someone had an issue with this bookshop and what it represents, so they beat me up for it. It went through court and the guy who beat me up got a QC –believe it or not – and the QC was out to character assassinate me and make me out to be a liar. He had read an article, which I did for Who, which was just a bit of fun. And I said in the interview that I was going out with a stripper at the time, which was true and she was a gothic chick and she like being bitten on the neck, thinking it was a bit of fun. So they jumped on that and asked me if I bite, so I said “yes”. So in court a year later, low and behold, the QC is reading it out and said to me, “So you believe you’re a vampire?” and then I knew if I said no, they were going to make me out as a lair about the assault. So I said, “yes I am vampire and an integral part of the gothic scene”. And that got into the papers about me being a legal vampire.
You wanted to become a priest, why didn’t you pursue that?
It was an Anglican priest who told me not to become a priest and he said to me it will knock the spirituality out of you. So I decided not to do it.
What happens after we die?
My personal response is, because I can’t be bothered arguing, is I will believe anything you want me to. I notice the trend toward atheist, but we have an atheism mentality right now. But when you’re sitting next to someone who is ill and holding their hand and they are asking you “what happens when we die?”, all fixed ideas go out the window. You just say, “you’ll be in a better place”. Really, no one knows.
Is Donald the ghost still around in your bookshop?
Yes, he’s a nice fellow. He made himself known during séances I used to do years ago.
For more information on the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tours and The Haunted Bookshop, visit www.haunted.com.au