by Alison Stuart
When you are next stuck in a traffic jam on Queens Road in Melbourne and find yourself looking at this old Victorian mansion (now part of a hotel), spare a thought for Albert whose restless spirit is still causing mayhem (by all accounts).
So, you ask, who is Albert? Settle down, pour yourself a stiff drink and listen to the sad tale of Netherby’s last resident.
Netherby House c1999 The orderly room was to the right of the front door, officers mess to the left
“Netherby” House, in Queens Road, Melbourne is one of the few remaining Victorian mansions that once lined that street. The building has a chequered history having been variously a private residence, a maternity hospital, ASIO headquarters and since the 1960s had been the home of the Australian Army’s Headquarters 3rd Training Group.
When I was a young pay clerk (Army Reserve) at Headquarters 3rd Training Group in the early 1980s (don’t you love the uniform?) there were stories of boarded up cellars and secret rooms, reputedly a legacy of its use by ASIO (the Australian equivalent of the CIA).
Alison in her days as pay clerk at Netherby – HQ 3 Trg Gp – 1981
Even while I was working there, staff posted to Netherby during those years complained of cold rooms and unexplained trips on the smooth linoleum floor. I was just one of a group of youngsters and while we may have wasted time looking for the boarded up cellar and wondered why there was a room (used as the Officers Mess wine cellar), secured with a safe locking mechanism that any bank would have been proud of, we never saw or experienced anything vaguely paranormal.
In the mid 1980s a couple of members of the regular army staff, attending a late dinner in another part of the city, returned to retrieve a car one of them had left parked at the back of the building. To their surprise the hallway light was on and as they neared the building they saw a figure sitting near the window in the orderly room. The man wore what looked like a red checked shirt. Concerned about the security, the staff members unlocked the front door and, entering the orderly room, saw the PABX light on the phone in glowing red, as if the Commander was on the phone – unlikely as it was 1.30 in the morning. Thinking it had been left off the hook in his office, they went upstairs and found the phone in place on the hook. Back in the orderly room they noted the light still glowed red so they went back upstairs and this time found the phone off the hook. They replaced it, switched off the lights, locked the door and fled!
I had left Netherby in 1982 to do officer training (that’s another whole story – no ghosts!). In the early 1990s I returned as a student on a promotion course. It had not changed at all, still the same linoleum floors and cold, dusty offices I remembered. The chief clerk at the time was a mild mannered regular army Sergeant who in the latter part of his posting was quite often the only person in the building for days on end. This is his story.
Alison, seated front row middle, outside Netherby 1992
The sergeant lived quite a distance from Queens Road so he began the practice of sleeping overnight after the Wednesday night parade. The first night he did this, he chose a small, quiet room at the rear of the building. About 3.00 am he was woken with a start. The room was icy cold, despite a heater that was still on. Struggling to focus, he had the distinct impression of a figure at the foot of the bed staring down at him. He leapt out of bed, switched on the light and with his heart in his mouth did a tour of the house. The room and the building were deserted. He never slept in that particular room again but chose instead another room affectionately called “Netherby Hilton Suite 69”.
3 Training Group was in the throes of moving and this meant that during the day only one or two of the regular staff were present. One of the officers worked with him in the orderly room for company in the large empty building. On one occasion the Major brought his dog to work. The dog dozed contentedly in front of the heater. Suddenly and without warning the dog leapt up, heckles raised and began barking and growling at one of the pillars which extended from the front verandah into the orderly room. This continued for about 5 minutes before the dog returned to its slumbers in front of the heater. Both men jokingly began referring to the third resident of Netherby as “Albert”.
The massive front door to Netherby
Once the Major moved to the new headquarters building, the sergeant was on his own during the day for the next twelve months and perhaps thinking the sergeant was lonely and in need of company, “Albert” began his haunting in earnest. One fine spring morning while working in the orderly room (which was adjacent to the front door), the front door suddenly opened and slammed shut. Footsteps were heard stomping up the rear service staircase to the area which would have been the old servants quarters. Upstairs doors could be heard slamming shut and the footsteps descended the stairs again. The front door, which I recall as being a large, heavy door (see picture), opened and slammed shut again.
Frozen to his desk during this visitation and wondering if he was suffering from an over active imagination, the sergeant went to investigate. Upstairs he found three office doors which had been left open were now closed. The front door, which was kept locked to deter salesmen, was still firmly locked and could not be opened without turning the handle.
One Saturday evening after a mess dinner at “Grosvenor” (55 Queens Road- also haunted), the sergeant and his wife retired to Netherby to save the long drive home to Frankston. Alone in the empty building, they made a cup of coffee and sat on the bottom step of the back staircase drinking their coffee and talking. His wife removed her high heels and left them with the coffee cups on the staircase as they both retired to the “Netherby Hilton” for the night.
During the night they were awoken by the sound of a door slamming, but dismissing it as just the noise of an old house, they went back to sleep. When they awoke the next morning, they found the high heeled shoes neatly placed at the foot of the wife’s bed and the dirty coffee cups back beside the urn in the Officers Mess.
Shortly after this incident “Albert” began to show himself. The sergeant described him as a grey shadow with a lot of detail. He appeared to be Caucasian and although his facial features were not easily distinguishable, he was about 175 -180 cm tall and wore a long coat of the style of the 50s and 60s. I recall the sergeant speculating that he may have been a Romanian “diplomat” who died while being “questioned” by ASIO. “Albert” was also seen by the sergeant’s young son who was visiting during the holidays. Both sightings were at the foot of the service staircase, over the sealed trap door that allegedly led to the cellars.
“Albert” was not without a sense of humour and would occasionally play tricks. One Tuesday evening the sergeant and another army reserve member were moving a filing cabinet. The sergeant recalls that the office they were moving it from was icy cold on this particular evening. The two men picked the empty cabinet up and as they carried it towards the door, the other man stumbled and fell. When he recovered himself, he grumbled that it had felt like someone had tripped him. When the sergeant looked out into the corridor, he had a fleeting glimpse of “Albert”.
The telephone system in Netherby was a “PABX Commander” system. At about 4.00 a.m one morning after a parade night, when the sergeant was quite alone in the building, the phone in his bedroom rang. Blearily he picked it up. The voice on the line was more of a grunt than anything else, so dismissing it as a crank call, he hung up. As he closed his eyes, he realised that the call was an internal call made from another extension in the building. He shot out of bed, turned on all the lights and did a thorough search of the building. It was just as he had left it, locked up and secure and quite deserted.
Convinced by now that “Albert” had singled him out for special attention, the sergeant began to acknowledge his existence, greeting him cheerily in the morning and bidding him good night in the evening. He even invited Albert to accompany him when he had to go out during the day, although whether he ever did is a question for speculation. I rather like the idea of the spectral “Albert” occupying the passenger seat of an Army vehicle on little excursions.
Once Albert’s existence had been acknowledged the sergeant found that the hauntings ceased and the building became noticeably warmer. Not long afterwards, the last elements of 3 Training Group moved out. Netherby was locked up and left empty for many years before being bought by the hotel next door.
Interestingly, the story of Albert reached the staff at the hotel and some years later, the sergeant and I were invited by the manager of the hotel to lunch and to view the restoration of the lovely old house. Albert, it seemed, had not taken kindly to the disturbance to his home. The builders complained about their tools being moved and unexplained cold spots in the house. One member of staff was on crutches having broken an ankle after being, in his words “tripped”.
Many years have now passed but I still think of Albert when I pass by Netherby and wonder how he has taken to living in a hotel.
From award-winning author Alison Stuart comes a stirring historical trilogy about soldiers, spies, and the strong women that love them.
England 1650. In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.
Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.
Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?