A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

343 Bernie Hobbs – Ghostly Encounters

Bernie shares her experiences with the supernatural

Best known as a judge from The New Inventors and her many years with ABC Science, Bernie Hobbs is an award-winning science writer and broadcaster. She performed this story at the World Science Festival in Brisbane.


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, best known as a judge from the New Inventors and her many years with ABC Science, Bernie Hobbs is an award-winning science writer and broadcaster. She performed this story at the World Science Festival in Brisbane.

Bernie: Thanks very much. One of my favourite share houses was in Old Church Hall just up the road from here in Moorooka. I lived there in the mid 90s with my friends Denise and Phillip and like all good share houses, there was usually some random crashing there as well, which was a good thing, because we were a bunch of TAFE teachers and we really needed a bit of edge. Our random was Samuel. He’d usually turn up in the middle of the night and bang around in the lounge room just loud enough to wake us up and get a chorus of “Oh, hi Samuel’s” from our bedrooms. He never left a mess and we really couldn’t blame him for making himself at home. Samuel had lived in the house for ages before Denise bought it and he’d died there as well. Yeah, Samuel was a ghost or a ghosty furniture moving presence, I’m not exactly sure what the correct paranormal term is, it’s slightly out of my area of expertise. All I know is all three of us regularly heard him. I don’t think any of us actually saw him. The closest I got was one afternoon when I got home from work and a door latch just started swinging on the wall in front of me. No wind, no one else at home, just me and the door latch. Hi, Samuel! It wasn’t ever scary, Samuel gave this kind of warm, homey vibe to the whole place. We all felt it, except my then boyfriend. He got a different vibe. Samuel was not a fan. I think Samuel knew I was a lezo before I did.

Now, if you’re any kind of skeptic or scientist and I think we’ve got a few here tonight your mind’s probably whirring right now with explanations for nighttime noises and the swinging latch that don’t involve ghosts, and I’m totally with you, that’s exactly what I was doing. With the nighttime noises, just the kind of creaking you get in old houses that just happen to sound exactly like someone getting up and down out of a lounge chair. I mean, maybe I’m no structural engineer, but that could have been it. It was an old building. But the swinging latch? Come on! The only explanation I could come up with was that someone was in the other room with a magnet making the latch move. I saw it on Get Smart, it was very convincing, but I will just repeat there was no one else in the house. This all happened mid 90s, so it was pre-internet, so it’s not like I could just do a quick search to find non-ghost explanations for the swinging latch. I have done a bit of googling since then and the best explanation I can find is infrasound. Sound waves we can’t hear, but that can make small things vibrate and can even affect your vision so that you see shadowy things out of the corner of your eye. I love the sound of that, but for infrasound waves to make the latch vibrate like it did that day, Moorooka would pretty well have to be straddling the San Andreas fault during an actual earthquake… So Samuel’s still the front runner for that one. None of this would have been such a big deal, except Samuel wasn’t my only ghosty experience. There were three others, and they all happened between 1995 and 98. And these ones were different. 

I saw the ghosts. Each time I’d wake up and there they were in the room with me. The first one was when I was overseas in 1995. I saw this gorgeous, dark-skinned lady swaying over the end of my bed one afternoon in Amsterdam. She looked like one of those Tahitian ladies in a Gauguin painting. She was my only hot ghost. Yeah, she disappeared faster than any of the others, as in life. The next one was a year later, I was in Sydney for a conference, staying at a hotel in The Cross, and I woke up and saw this old lady going through my wardrobe like she was looking for something else to wear. Apparently, the other side thinks I’m quite stylish. 

The last one was a bit full-on. I was staying at Varuna Writers Centre in the Blue Mountains and I woke up and there was a guy in Army Fatigue’s asleep on the floor and another guy in Army gear asleep in bed next to me. No matter what I was seeing, every time I reacted exactly the same way. I’d yell out “FUCK!” Whack the bed and blink my eyes until whoever was there disappeared, which usually took a few very long seconds. They never looked at me, thank god! The old lady had her back to me and the others all had their eyes closed and they were never people I recognised. I’d have totally shat myself if they looked anything like family or friends who’d died. And once they disappeared I’d lie there thinking about what I’d do the next day, how I could find out if anyone had died in that room, say an old lady or a couple of Army guys, and when the next day came I’d get up and do absolutely nothing. Too embarrassed. 

So what the hell was going on? Was I actually seeing ghosts, or was there some non-ghosty explanation? Maybe they were just dreams? Nah, I didn’t see them until after I opened my eyes, and most of them took a few seconds and a lot of blinking before they disappeared. Maybe it was all those hallucinogenic drugs I was taking. I was not taking any hallucinogenic drugs. When you’ve got weapons grade anxiety, like I have, you tend to avoid anything that doesn’t have a list of contents on the label. 

I was, however, a total boozehound. Was I seeing things because I went to bed pissed a lot? Well, no, I was completely sober in Amsterdam, which is not a T-shirt you see very often. And if booze was a factor, I should have been seeing ghosts about five nights a week for the last 40 years. So there was one other thing that was going on for me during that time. I’d just finished uni, so I was all scienced-up. But the mid 90s were my early lesbian years, so I was getting a whole ‘nother education. Like every time a relationship ended, I’d get a tarot reading. I know it’s the opposite of science, but I was a Scorpio in Saturn Return. It’s very vulnerable, yeah, and the ghost sightings did only start after I started having tarot readings. So I did wonder if there was something to all that stuff the nuns had told us about the occult. Maybe tarot readings really had opened some door that had let the devil in. But if that was the case, you’d think I’d have kept seeing things while I was still getting tarot readings. But my last ghosts were those Army guys in 98, and I kept having tarot after many breakups, right up until I met my wife in 2002. So not dreams, not booze, not tarot. I got nothing. But 25 years later, with the benefit of the internet, maybe science has got the answers to what was going on back then.

It’s not looking great. As much as I like the idea of infrasound vibrations that can make you see shadowy things out of the corner of your eye, I wasn’t seeing shadows. I was seeing full-color, regular-looking human beings lying there asleep or fondling my clothes. So infrasound does not explain it. But there’s one more possible explanation a thing called sleep paralysis, which is kind of when your dreams leak into those first moments after you wake up. When you’re dreaming, you’re in REM sleep and in REM you’re hallucinating, that’s your dreams, and your muscles are also paralysed, so you don’t go acting your dreams out. So sleep paralysis when that happens, your mind wakes up before you stop dreaming and before the paralysis stops. So you’re just lying there, frozen, freaking out about what you’re seeing and that might have actually been what was happening with my hot lady in Amsterdam. She disappeared really quickly so I might have actually been paralysed when I saw her, not just because of her hotness. But I definitely wasn’t paralysed for the others. As soon as I saw those other figures, I screamed and whacked the bed with both arms, well before they disappeared. With the Army guy, I actually punched him through the chest before he went away. I’m surprisingly butch in bed. That is a total lie. I’m a completely fucking lazy starfish. The truth will out. So, like infrasound sleep paralysis is a great theory, but it doesn’t explain most of my experiences. And those two things are pretty much the best sciences got to offer in the way of alternatives to ghosts, and I know it’s not exactly a research priority area, but we just haven’t done the experiments to see if things like sleep paralysis really are behind ghostly visions. And a hypothesis without evidence is not much better than a nun renting against the evil tarot. So until science has some decent evidence that really explains what’s happening. Maybe we can lay off the hard-line stances and just be a bit curious about what people are experiencing when they say they’ve seen a ghost. I wouldn’t say I believe in ghosts, but after seeing a few folk in the night I’m a bit more open-minded than, say, Richard Dawkins. Mind you, Fred Nile is probably a bit more open than that guy. They’ve actually got a lot in common, but you never heard me say that. Thanks.

Maeve: Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast, share your favourite tales on the socials and follow Queerstories on Facebook for updates. If you enjoy Queerstories, consider supporting the project on Patreon. Check out the link in the episode description. Finally for late-night ramblings, gay shit and photos of me trying to garden with a baby on my back. Follow Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram. 

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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.