By MEGAN LEVY
Patrons ordering a pint of Guinness at Mt Kembla Hotel should beware – there may be ghosts on tap.
The section of bar from where the Irish stout is now served was the site of the hotel’s coolroom more than 100 years ago.
Over a beer with locals, however, you may discover that the coolroom chilled more than the odd ale.
Folklore has it that the room was used as a makeshift morgue for victims of the Mt Kembla mine disaster, which killed 96 men and boys and shook the close-knit mining town in 1902.
It’s an unqualified ghost tale, but one which has haunted hotel owner Paul Mack since he started working there 14 years ago.
Mr Mack can recall numerous incidents of mysterious happenings and unexplained noises from the depths of the hotel cellar late at night.
“One night I was turning the beer cooling system off, and someone spoke to me,” he said.
“It was just mumbling. I turned around, but no-one was there.
“Another night as my wife and I were leaving I unlocked the front door, and I heard “bye-bye, bye-bye”. My wife and I both heard it and we said “did you hear that?”. We both bolted.
“There are a lot of stories like that.”
Mr Mack insists he is not one to blanch at a ghost story. Indeed, he considered himself a cynic until he heard things go bump in the night.
“I’m not a superstitious person. I didn’t believe in anything like that,” he said.
“Then I found myself in the middle of the room saying “hello?”. I felt like calling the doctor the next day.”
This year marks the centenary of the mine disaster, and Mr Mack and a committee of Mt Kembla residents have organised commemorations from July 31 to August 4.
Events include solemn church services and a village parade, as well as food stalls and art exhibitions reflecting life in 1902.
Committee secretary Cate Stevenson said the disaster had a profound impact on the small mining community 100 years ago, and the effects still reverberated today.
“It’s close to all of us up here. It’s six degrees of separation,” she said. “After the disaster it was just one continuous funeral. When you see the photographs it just crystallises what happened.
“(According to newspaper reports) women went and lifted the body bags off the stretchers, and if they recognised them as one of their own, they’d scream.”
She doesn’t raise her eyebrows at claims that the hotel may be haunted.
“Of course I believe in spirits. There was so much death in one hit. There would have to be a few punters out there with a sense of humour,” she said.
The pub will be one of the centrepieces in the commemorations, where locals can catch up and tell tall tales over a beer – chilled a little more than usual perhaps.
– Illawarra Mercury June 15 2002.