Magic, mischief and misdirection

Image: Scene from A Haunting in Venice,  20th Century Studios


Easily thrown off script, I am, especially by subjects such as the supernatural, mysteries, bushrangers, UFOs … that sort of thing. Several events have distracted me lately from my usual ruminations. Not getting a lot of work done, fitful slumber, glazed eyeballs.

I’m blaming Hercule Poirot’s latest cinematic outing, A Haunting in Venice, a spooky little affair but there might be more to blame than just its seances, corpses and ghostly apparitions on high rotation in my grey matter. Maybe some cosmic, ectoplasmic confluence.

Weird, I know. But why am I being bombarded all of a sudden by stuff about Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1920 Aussie tour spruiking all things spiritualist?

And how do things come together like Ned Kelly’s long missing skull suddenly re-appearing on the anniversary of his mentor Harry Power’s death?

And UFOs, too. Suddenly, the invites are piling up to see/hear/meet various experts after the recent spine-tingling US Congress depositions about little green men being more real than I already thought.

Wouldn’t be so creeped out if these weren’t all riddled with local and personal links.

Conan Doyle’s pre-Poirot Sherlock Holmes was based on a Scottish surgeon named Joseph Bell. He operated on Geelong’s George Morrison, son of Geelong College founder also George, after he was speared by New Guinea tribesmen on a ridiculous newspaper jungle race across the island.

The Aussie Sherlock Holmes Society has been headed up by Geelong’s Derham Groves, author and authority on the great fictional detective, and go-to expert on Aussie culture from TV to kebab shops. Ask him about Geelong’s Happy Hammond; there’s a great joke there about coconuts, a hurricane and a precocious brat on his TV show.

Conan Doyle was mad about seances, spiritualism. Toured Oz in 1920 rambling on about the subject, drew huge audiences. At one stage he was mates with Harry Houdini, also keen on spiritualism, and especially on exposing its shonks, including Doyle’s missus. Didn’t end well.

Couple of unhappy endings also for Ned and Harry, one floating in the Murray, the other dangling at the end of an Old Melbourne Gaol rope. Harry about this time of year, I’m being told by the bombarders. Ned, of course, on that iconic day, the 11th of the 11th.

Did their tours of Geelong in the day. Gentleman highwayman Harry ran under his real name, Henry Johnson. Ned tagged along as a 14-year-old apprentice. They stayed in a pub on Ryrie Street across from James Street.

“Poor Ned, you’re better off dead,” goes the old song but his post-execution, post-autopsy head went missing forever. A bloke in WA thought he had it for a while, no idea why, given it apparently looked like a female skull, but the real thing’s surfaced again, in bits, at the old Pentridge Prison cemetery where it was relocated from the Old Melbourne Goal.

Ned’s remains were shuffled around like a Contiki tour, they tried to RIP him in no less than three different places. The autopsy had separated his sconce from his skeleton, and it was put it in a toolbox beside him.

DNA detective work eventually sorted it all out but talk about a mess. Almost as bad as the perennial stuff-ups by museums trying to exhibit the Kelly Gang’s armour. Could’ve been worse, I suppose. No kudos in your bits winding up as a tobacco pouch like purportedly happened to Dan Morgan.

As for UFOs, well where do you start? Sightings over Shell, off Apollo Bay, Belmont Common? Written them all up. I did like the Manifold Heights clairvoyant who said she saw missing Bass Strait pilot Fred Valentich hanging out with air force pilots in her visions.

Might just have to take up one of these invitations to hear more about the US intelligence defence encounters with hundreds of UAPs, as they’re now called – Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena.

NASA’s put up a study into them but found no evidence they’re extraterrestrial, even if some are still unexplained. Is it possible we’re in a Men in Black world with aliens all around us already?

Certainly think that from time to time when I go through the mall.

Incidentally, my granny and her sisters saw Houdini flying his Voison biplane out at Diggers Rest, present-day Plumpton, back when they were little girls, when he wasn’t jumping off bridges into the Yarra in chains and dislodging a drowned corpse that came floating to the surface in a grisly spectacle.

Love that trick. Old Harry wasn’t ever beyond a good bit of prestidigitation. Just don’t get it, though, why a clever bloke like Sherlock Holmes refused to see through his tricks, Maybe something in that pipe he was smoking – that’ll distract you every time, especially today, Friday the 13th.