Monday, December 22, 2008

Chills up the spine at Fortuna, Bendigo

Fortuna villa is situated in Victoria's Bendigo, built in the 1860's and formerly the home of Australia's "Quartz King" George Lansell, the man credited with introducing deep tunnel mining. George was an extraordinary man who lived till he was 82, dying in the house. During his time there he spent a fortune on his fairytale mansion, importing antiques from every corner of the globe and installing stained glass windowns, turrets, decorated ceilings and delicate wood panelling for the walls. It is said when Lansell left Bendigo (after finding a coffin on his front lawn, a message from one of his enemies) the town languished, so the townspeople organised a petition to be drawn up which was then sent to England, urging Lansell to return. Fortuna was eventually taken over by the Survey and Mapping Regiment of the Australian Army and it is believed to be Bendigo's most haunted house.
What makes this house interesting is the numerous official reports from soldiers over the years have been recounted and documented including this one by Major John Bloor
Captain J. Bloor, February 1973: "Whilst on picket duty, at about 0450 hours, I crossed the road in front of the new barrack block to go down the stairs leading to the path around the lake. Out of the corner of my eye, just as I mounted the gutter on the lake side of the road, I noticed an object standing by the double doors of the kitchen. I stopped and took another look, because usually there is nothing in that position. I saw an apparition which was like a shroud hovering by the door and moving slowly from side to side. The form was about 1.8 metres tall. Brickwork could be seen through it. The apparition was moving very slowly and moved through the outer door of the kitchen and stopped by the inner door. The top half of it could be seen. It stayed there for some time and then turned around and returned to its original position. Once again it rotated slowly from left to right and then suddenly stopped. I got the impression that it had suddenly sensed my presence. It then moved about six metres to the east which, due to the building corner between us, put it out of my view. I moved back to the centre of the road to a position where I could see the apparition beneath the window of the kitchen. It was still moving slowly from left to right. Once again it stopped as if again it had seen me. It then moved back to its original position and disappeared. The whole sighting lasted for a couple of minutes."
Sergeant, 1982: "I was performing a security check of the main building of Fortuna and as part of my duties I was to check incoming telex messages. I checked the door to the telex room and found it to be locked as would be expected. I then proceeded to the main keyboard located in the switchboard room, and, as I was removing the telex room key, I heard a woman's voice say softly: ‘What are you doing here?' I was extremely frightened as I had carried out a full check of the doors and windows of the building and knew it to be secure. I then hurried to the telex room (a distance of some six metres). I approached the locked door and just as I was about to insert the key, the door slowly opened. I had not touched the door at this time and there were no strong draughts that could have caused this movement."
Corporal, 1965: "At 0300 hours, I was adding logs to the open fireplace in the billiard room (now the Corporal and Sappers mess). Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps approaching the double doors that connected the ballroom and the billiard room. As I turned towards the doors, they both opened fully. As the building was locked and I was the only occupant, there was no logical explanation."
Footsteps are reportedly heard in what was once Sir George Lansell's bedroom and it's adjoining bathroom, also in the billiard room and officers mess. A female voice is also often heard. The voice, which seemingly comes from no visible body is supposedly that of George Lansell's first wife, Bedillia, who died under "uncertain" circumstances in the 1880s
It appears it has now got to the point where the soldiers refuse to stay overnight at Fortuna, though the Army does run Sunday afternoon tours around Fortuna, and with the proceeds hopes to restore the mansion to its original grandeur.
and from The Bendigo Advertiser:

4/06/2008 8:44:00 AM
SAVING Fortuna Villa as a cultural icon of Bendigo means the council must act now, a local group said last night.
The Villa Fortuna Action Group outlined its plans for the Fortuna Arts and Cultural Enterprise at a public meeting, calling on the City of Greater Bendigo Council to act soon in order to save the historic landmark.
Defence Department personnel are due to vacate the 19th century building in coming months but action group president Merle Hall said the council did not need to wait for Defence approval to place a bid for the building - despite comments made by City Futures director Stan Liacos in The Advertiser last Thursday suggesting the council's options are limited.
Ms Hall said the council must offer a priority or concessional purchase to the Defence Department as soon as possible, or risk having the Federal Government deal with the site in its own way.
"It's time for everyone to realise just how close we are to losing this forever. The idea is to raise awareness so that the council is aware that the community would really love to have this property as a major asset of Bendigo.
"If the council purchases it, we're giving them an excellent project plan that will show them how it can be utilised."
Ms Hall said Fortuna Villa could centralise many community functions and events, and she contended it could be self-sustaining in just a few years.
Representatives of vastly different community groups attended the meeting.
They included descendants of quartz mining magnate and original villa owner George Lansell, and a member of the indigenous Jaara people.
Ms Hall said the action group was yet to discuss its intentions with the Department of Defence, which uses the facility for its Geospatial Analysis Centre.
She also acknowledged that limited contact had been made with the council, although councillors Elaine Harrington and Rod Fyffe attended the meeting last night.
A business plan established in the next two months will be presented to the council and the community.
Ms Hall said the arts and cultural focus of the redevelopment had been chosen because the villa was ideally suited to it.
‘‘Some of our earlier groups have had the idea for this for a number of years.
‘‘We have a wonderful model for it in the Abbotsford Convent project in Melbourne.
‘‘It is in the black after only five or six years.’’

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