Welcome to Hidden Histories: Childers Grand Hotel, the fifth episode of series two of the Bundaberg Now Podcast.
A poker game gone wrong is thought to have led to the demise of Luke the Spook, who famously haunts the Grand Hotel in Childers.
Though Luke is generally a friendly ghost, hotel manager Helen Corliss said the encounters can be somewhat unsettling.
“Luke apparently was a gentleman that sometime in the turn of the last century had lost a poker game and accrued a large debt, and he was staying upstairs at the time,” Helen said.
“We don't know whether he was pushed over, or he jumped, but he certainly fell to his demise over the top of the balcony there.
“And sometime after that, people started reporting and sort of seeing and hearing strange occurrences throughout the hotel.”
Luke has become so well known that paranormal experts regularly visit the hotel with specialist equipment to detect any ghostly presences, said Helen.
“There was vision from not very long ago, a couple of years ago, where they did catch curtains moving and objects moving by themselves when there wasn't any wind, and the windows were shut.
“They even said we weren't expecting anything like that, so that's why they keep coming back because they are detecting something.”
The Grand Hotel was the first hotel built in Childers in 1892 and is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, with celebrations to coincide with Heritage Weekend in Childers on May 14 and 15.
Listen now to hear more about Luke the Spook and the Grand Hotel:
In this series we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings and infrastructure in our region.
Listen as we uncover memories, mysterious ghost stories and bizarre facts about some of our most iconic structures.
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Hidden Histories: Childers Grand Hotel transcript
Gennavieve Lyons [00:00:06] Welcome to this special series of the Bundaberg Now podcast, where we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings of our region. My name is Gennavieve Lyons, and I'll be your host as we uncover some hidden histories, mysterious stories and some pretty bizarre facts about our most iconic buildings and structures. This month we’re getting to know a little more about Luke the Spook. By the name alone, you may already know who I’m talking about. Luke is one of the most famous ghosts in the region and likes to hang out at the Grand Hotel in Childers. Today we’re joined by Helen Corliss the Grand Hotel Manager. She’s here to shed some light on what’s know about Luke’s origins, and the poker-game-gone-wrong that’s thought to have led him to haunting the halls of the hotel. Luke has fascinated people for so many years that paranormal experts actually frequent the hotel, people book to stay there just in the hope of seeing him, and a dedicate plaque has just been installed on the building in his honor.
In this episode we’ll also find out more about the history of this heritage listed building that I recently learned is celebrating 130years this year. Here’s Morgan Everett from Bundaberg Now having a chat with Helen at the Grand Hotel.
Morgan Everett [00:01:25] Thanks for joining us here on the Hidden Histories podcast, I'm here with Helen at the Grand Hotel. Can you tell me a little bit about the Grand Hotel?
Helen Corliss [00:01:34] So we're entering our 130th year this year. The hotel was first built in 1892. It was originally called the Childers Hotel. And around 1897 it was bought by a different owner, and he got a Bundaberg architect to make a two-story building. The one that you see now, which was really grand at the time. It was the only two-story building in town, and it was the only survivor on this side of the street of the big Childers fire in 1902. So, we were very lucky it's still standing. And in 1992, it joined the Heritage Register. It was heritage listed. So, we've had the hotel now for this is the 26th year the Corliss family have had the hotel and we love, you know, it's a beautiful hotel and we love being caretakers of it, you know, and it's Pam and Dennis Corliss who bought it. They've made some beautiful improvements to it and trying to keep the heritage nature of the hotel and not change it too much. We don't want to modernise it. We want to sort of, you know, keep the beautiful characteristics that made the hotel so lovely in the first place. We don't want to modernise it. We've been 26 years now, so it's fantastic. Loving it.
Morgan Everett [00:01:29] Beautiful. And I see you've just put up a plaque about Luke the Spook. Can you tell me a bit about him?
Helen Corliss [00:01:34] OK, so we inherited the legend of Luke the Spook and it's been really interesting over the years to see different stories pop up every now again, someone make a comment on social media and say, hey, we used to stay here 50 years ago when we were kids, and we'd stay up all night looking for Luke the Spook. So, Luke apparently was a gentleman that sometime in the turn of the last century had lost a poker game and accrued a large debt, and he was staying upstairs at the time. We don't know whether he was pushed over, or he jumped, but he certainly fell to his demise over the top of the balcony there. And sometime after that, people started reporting and sort of seeing and hearing strange occurrences throughout the hotel. Mainly, it's been things like people late at night up on the veranda sort of, you know, watching the view or something. And next an arm will be draped across them. The toilets are not inside the rooms. It's not ensuited, so they'll go to the toilet in the middle of the night, and they'll see a gentleman sort of leaning against the railing. And, you know, they don't take much notice at first and then they realise he's in the wrong period clothing, you know, and it's a bit of a shock. And then they look again, and he's gone. I don't think we've had any bad experiences. Most people have sort of said it's not been the best moment of their life. You know, it's a bit of a fright, but nothing, nothing nasty. I lived here about 20 years ago I was living upstairs with my husband. We had to move out because we've always had Chihuahua and we moved in here with our Chihuahua and he every night would howl and bark at a particular corner of the room and he wouldn't settle. And this went on for six months and nothing would settle him. So, we had to move out. We bought a house move out, and he was fine as soon as we moved out. So, there's definitely something going on up there. And we've had paranormal groups come through quite a few now and they've all put like static cameras and video cameras around the place. And just about all of them have said, yes, we've detected something, we're not sure what it is. Yeah, the most sort of extreme experience we've had was actually with the paranormal group, and that's the first time I think that it happened in public in the bar. A paranormal group came in and they checked in and as they were checking in and just about to come up the stairs, one of the windows we've got like the old-style windows that prop up and have something underneath them. We've never had an issue with them the whole time we've been here. And as they checked in one with smash and crashed down and everyone was looking at each other going. Is that because the paranormal groups here? And a few people were like, I don't think we'll be staying here tonight. So, I didn't know whether, you know, Luke might have been a bit angry about that. But that's the only sort of, you know, I think incident that we felt was a bit scary. Most of the other ones have just been unsettling, you know, but it's certainly an interesting story. And like I said, we inherited that legend. And you know, a lot of elderly people have told stories about their experiences with it, which is lovely. You know, we love hearing about those stories. There's a set of steps. We don't let anyone use them anymore, but there is a set of steps up to the higher part of the hotel. Like the attic of the hotel. It's a very steep set of steps and apparently kids used to love climbing them. You know, 50, 60 years ago and looking for Luke and staying up there all night. But I've only been up there once and I'm not keen to spend any more time up there than I have to, but we've closed that off to the public now just for everyone's safety. It's certainly an interesting story I had, I have seen and heard a few things that I can't explain, but like I said, I've never felt threatened or scared. If there is a spirit up there, I think he's just observing, keeping tabs on us all.
Morgan Everett [00:06:43] And you've had first experience yourself. Do you know how many other people having encountered Luke?
Helen Corliss [00:06:51] We've had, like just in the 26 years, the family that we've had countless people staying up there going. I think something happened to me last night and I can't explain, you know, curtains move when the windows have been shut in their rooms. You know, one guy said he felt pressure on his chest when he was sleeping in the middle of the night. You know, I've been woken up a few times with bangs on the office door. Hey, there's something going on in my room. I can't explain. People actually come and stay now looking for the experience that a lot of people sometimes actually get thrilled that they've had the experience. Yeah, I personally have seen sometimes something catch the corner of my eye and I turn to look and it's not there anymore. But yeah, I think it's I think it's a wonderful bit of history, you know, and I'm glad we inherited something so interesting, and we do have a tour that comes through that brings people specifically to look for Luke the Spook, Jo Jo's Tour. She does a paranormal tour, and she stops in here. But again, we do get contacted by paranormal groups and they and they do come in from time to time. We had one a couple of weeks ago that stayed on set the cameras up overnight. And yeah, it's very interesting. Every time they do it, they find something. So yeah, it's very interesting.
Morgan Everett [00:08:00] And why do you think they always think it's the same ghost?
Helen Corliss [00:08:10] Well, just from the ones that actually do see something, it's always a gentleman sort of mid-thirties, you know, like some late twenties, early thirties, perhaps, in black, turn of the century, dark clothing, it's period clothing. So, it's always the same sort of thing. And you know, when they when they catch them at the corner of the eye, it's always the same thing dark clothing and a youngish gentleman. So, I'm feeling that it's got the be the same guy.
Morgan Everett [00:08:34] And when the paranormal groups come in, is there anything that stands out that they did find?
Helen Corliss [00:08:46] So most of the time, I think it's like they set up static cameras that detect movement. But there was vision from a not very long ago, a couple of years ago, where they did catch curtains moving and objects moving by themselves when there wasn't any wind, and the windows were shut, and you could actually see the curtains sort of moving across. And even they were surprised. They even said we weren't expecting anything like that, so that's why they keep coming back because they are detecting something. That's been a couple of chapters in books, and we've had an episode on a TV program sort of thing about it over the years. But like I said, nothing negative. You know, I think he's a friendly spirit who's just spending some time here. Maybe he's trapped here. I don't know what. I don't know what happens in the spirit world. But maybe he can't get away. But it's something to do with how he died, perhaps. We'll never know whether he jumped or was pushed, but maybe he was pushed in his waiting for revenge? Who knows, waiting for the right people to come back.
Morgan Everett [00:09:47] Now you were telling me about the young kids that used to sneak upstairs trying to find him? Did they see him?
Helen Corliss [00:09:54] Well, I don't know these were stories that we've heard over the years from elderly people who said we used to stay here, you know, with our parents 50, 60 years ago and stay up all night and people would be tagging each other. And it's really cute, actually, the whole it brings all the community together. I would love to actually get a wall somewhere in the pub one day and get a collection of all the stories from people that have an experience with Luke the Spook because it will surprise me sometimes when we'll put a post up and people will be tagging each other and saying, Oh yeah, I remember when we stayed there and you know, our dog went crazy one night or something like that, but there seems to be a lot of stories. So, you know, I think it's lovely that a community to have something like that that they can all talk about and remember about. Like I said the hotel itself 130 years old this year. So, if the walls could talk, I guess if they could speak, there'd be a lot of stories.
Morgan Everett [00:10:48] When was this building heritage listed and can you go over what makes it so unique?
Helen Corliss [00:10:53] So it was heritage listed in 1992, so that would have been its 100th year. I think it's it was actually the first hotel in Childers, so the original building was moved from Horton. I think they carted it up with horse and cart, bit by bit from Holton and built it here. So, William Ashby, who was one of the first generation of landowners in Childers when Childers sort of started taking off because they sort of logged the area in the late, I think 1870s and then the railway line came and so the sugar industry, you know, took off. So, this was the first hotel built. And then around by the end of the 1890s, I think five other ones popped up all of a sudden as well, and the town would have been full of cane cutters, I guess. And then this hotel was then bought by another man who got a Bundaberg architect and turned it from the one-story building that it was into the beautiful big two-story and they called it the Grand Hotel at the time because it was so grand compared to everything else in town. And then the original guy who owned this then sold it then decided that he had changed his mind and wanted the hotel, after all, then built the Federal across the road. So, in competition to the new guy that bought this one. So, he must have been very happy with that. But, you know, it was a bustling, thriving little town at the time. It used to look a little bit different. It had some beautiful lacework along the verandah, but I believe the story went that they sold that, it must have been lead. And I think they sold it to the government during the war for the war effort to make, I think, bullets or something out of it. Yeah. So, it's a real shame we would have loved to have. It's still got some lacework work across the road. We would have loved the lacework on this. It would have been lovely. But yeah, so it went towards the war effort. So, I went to a good cause anyway. The hotel has been largely kept in its original state because we think that's very important. You don't want to destroy what made it so beautiful and unique in the first place, and it is heritage listed, so we couldn't do anything to the facade anyway. But this carriageway here, it's lovely. It's so in the old days when ladies weren't allowed to drink in the bar with their husbands, the carriage would pull up through here and deposit the husbands and wives there and the husband would walk into the bar and then the ladies would stay in the carriage way with the horses in the carriage and do their needlework and talk to each other and wait for the husbands. And then the carriage would take them out again. So, I think that's unique having that lovely carriageway still there.
Morgan Everett [00:13:20] It’s awesome history! And can you tell me about how this building was damaged in the 1902 fire?
Helen Corliss [00:13:27] So we were lucky. So, we were largely intact, a little bit of smoke and water damage, but that was it. So, from here, right up until the current site of Dimmies was completely destroyed. So, I think, you know, by a hair's breadth way, we survived and that was fantastic. You know, would have been such a shame because I don't think they would have been able to rebuild it, probably the way that they had built it in the first place. But yeah, we were very lucky. So, one of the only buildings on this whole side street that survived. So yeah, very lucky.
Morgan Everett [00:13:58] Definitely so. Is there anything else that you want to cover about the building?
Helen Corliss [00:14:05] It's 130 years this year and it's a beautiful old heritage hotel. And if anyone wants to come and stay, if they mentioned the Podcast, I'm sure we could do a special for them. But it's just a beautiful chance to experience some history. And I think Luke's a bit of a bonus. If you have an encounter with Luke that's even more special. We're sort of in the middle of the pandemic in the mandates at the moment, but we're, you know, we're moving along, and we've got Chad Morgan playing in May to celebrate 130 years of the hotel. And it's in conjunction with Heritage Weekends, you know, the National Trust of Heritage Week events around the country. So, Childers is going to have a Heritage Weekend here, and we're going to have Chad Morgan come and play because he used to be one of the cane cutters in the area back in the day. And he's 89 now. He's amazing. He's playing the Gympie Muster. So yeah, he's coming in May. We're really excited to hosting him. So, here's to another 130 years, I hope!
Morgan Everett [00:15:05] That is super exciting! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on the building and Luke the Spook.
Gennavieve Lyons [00:15:12] Ok, I understand his name is Luke the Spook, but if we’re talking a tall, mid-thirties, well-dressed gentleman I think I might have to head to the hotel and see if I can spot him myself! Thanks for listening this episode of the Bundaberg Now podcast, tune in again next month where we’ll hear about another of the region’s heritage builders and structures.