Behind the bustling cafes, boutique shops and trendy bars, the historic village of Milton has an eerie past and who better to expose some of the town’s best-kept secrets than Charlotte Seccombe, the former mistress of the Star Hotel?
From hidden underground tunnels to a haunted manse and a cheeky theatre-going spirit, local historian Cathy Dunn has been conducting Milton Ghost Tours as her alter ego Charlotte for more than a decade.
Visitors flock to the coast to enjoy the beaches, bush, shopping and eateries over the summer holidays, but Cathy said some people came for a different reason.
“There’s a very big market for ghost tours and we get a lot of people coming who are into the paranormal scene,” she said.
“Most people are just regular visitors to the area that are blown away because, during the day, you wouldn’t think these things have happened in Milton or that there are spirits in Milton.
“It’s a fun way to learn about the stories, the characters and the history of Milton.”
Charlotte conducts tours at night, wandering throughout the village with a lantern sharing tales from years gone by and visiting many of the town’s heritage buildings. Cold, rainy nights make for an even more exciting experience.
“People have come back two or three times because they want to learn more,” she said.
“There’s no script and no itinerary as such, we just walk around town and people ask Charlotte questions and it just goes from there.
“It’s a great way to raise awareness of the history of Milton and the beautiful buildings. Even the locals have gone, ‘Wow, I never knew that and I walk past this building every day’.”
As a professional public historian who has been studying the history of Milton-Ulladulla since 1980, Cathy is a wealth of information and has a story to tell about almost every historic building in the township, as well as those who have lived and died in the town.
She said taking on the brazen persona of Charlotte, who ran the Star Hotel with her husband in the 1850s and died in 1890, added to the experience.
“It takes Cathy Dunn away from it all and helps people to actually step back in time,” she said. ”Charlotte can play up a bit, and having a real character from Milton’s past just adds to the whole experience.”
When Cathy, ahem, Charlotte began the tours in 2012, she was lucky to attract 20 guests, but now she is inundated and is booked out weeks in advance, with families, business groups and ghost hunters keen to explore Milton after dark.
The tour includes stops at the grand old Methodist Manse on the corner of Thomas Street and the Princes Highway, The Star Hotel, Milton Theatre, the old Post Office and The Settlement precinct, all of which have spirits that have been regularly reported over the years.
“People might come along expecting to see a ghost – but it doesn’t happen like that,” Charlotte said.
“They’re always keen to hear all about Milton’s history and characters and the spirits that have been seen – and we always hope someone might make an appearance.”
She said the ghost of a woman, believed to be Eleanor the granddaughter of Milton pioneer Thomas Cork, was often seen in the windows on the top floor of the pub.
“We don’t know who her mother is, but she’s been seen quite a few times upstairs,” Charlotte said.
“An 11-year-old boy, Walter, is a larrikin ghost known to make appearances and interfere with shows at the theatre. Walter gets the blame for every mishap at the theatre.”
During the walks, Charlotte tells stories from the courthouse, historic Mellick’s building and many of the homes and burial grounds in the village.
She’s had people, including ghost hunters and psychics, “freak out” during private tours.
“I’ve had someone walk into the Star and instantly freaked out and walked away, and others have shunned when we got near the manse,” Charlotte explained.
“Another time, we were walking past a building and a person said they knew something had happened there and went white as a ghost. Some people believe, some people don’t believe. Everyone’s different.”
Charlotte’s tours normally take around two hours, but when she starts talking it can take up to three and a half hours.
Cathy, not Charlotte, will be conducting a tour of Sandridge Cemetery at Mollymook Beach on Australia Day and she runs private group history tours on request.
Sandridge Cemetery opened in 1893 and features many local family names including Kendall, Corks, Turnbull, Butson, Mison and Millard. The oldest grave is that of Linda Bartlett, who died in 1889 aged 68.
There are more than 30 other burial grounds in the Milton-Ulladulla area, including at the site of the original Methodist Church in Croobyar Road, Milton, which has more than 100 graves and is now home to the popular Altar Bar.
“When people are driving past McDonald’s on the Princes Highway in Ulladulla, they are actually driving over the top of a public cemetery which operated from 1854 to 1855,” Cathy added.
The Milton Ghost Walks operate twice a month on a Saturday night and bookings are essential. The next walk is on 13 January.