I loved my place in Brisbane. While it wasn’t a true Queenslander, it shared some of the same qualities of screenless windows, high ceilings and wooden floor boards. The little two-bedroom subdivide was my little slice of Paddington heaven.
Paddington was built on Turrbal land, and was settled by white Europeans in the 1860s. The 19th century foundations of workers’ cottages and hilltop mansions still define Paddington today. Rumours of gold were just that, but the modern-day gems can be found in the cheese deli at the Rosalie Market.
While I didn’t know how old my place was, I knew when I moved in, that like Paddington, it had a history of its own. Toward the end of my two-year residence, I saw and felt what I can only describe as a presence. Prior to my encounter, I never questioned anyone else’s experiences but I always considered “ghost stories” cool, but a bit silly (like horoscopes). My mum and sister can recount several experiences of their own. I’ve listened with interest while acknowledging that I never got that special gene of being able to see things that weren’t “real”. I’ve never considered myself a spiritual person, and I still don’t, but I would stake my life on the fact that I saw and felt a presence in my home in the September of 2011.
In the warmer months (which is eleven-and-a-half of them in Brisbane), the back door was kept open to allow the post-storm breezes to flow through the kitchen into the living room. I first felt something while lying on the lounge one night. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw someone at the back door. When I turned and saw no one, I didn’t think anything of it as I wasn’t expecting guests.
But two nights later I saw a man standing at the edge of the kitchen, facing the lounge. I knew he wasn’t real, but I could see him clearly. I inhaled a quick breath and held it. I froze in stunned silence. I was home alone so I didn’t know what to do. Without moving another muscle, I stared at him, wishing my eyes were fooling me. The man stood there for a few minutes, with his left hand in his pocket, his right leg cocked outward, his head directed toward the left corner of the house.
After what seemed like hours he turned in the direction of his right leg and walked through to my bedroom. He could have only jumped out of the windows as there was no other way out. I was relieved when it was over, whatever it was. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t see anything. But the next night I saw him again, and then the next night and the night after that. I didn’t know what to make of it, but he didn’t scare me. Initially, the experience did but not the man. Not once did I feel threatened or unsafe. I felt like I wanted to help him but I couldn’t figure out why.
From the second I saw him, I could make out almost every detail. He was slim, just on six-foot and his dark hair was covered by a trilby-style hat. He was smartly dressed in a three-piece brown suit with a silver fob watch. He wasn’t a young man, but not an old man either. The only detail I couldn’t see was his face, which was completely blank. No facial features just a smooth, blank canvas of skin. I’ve never known why I couldn’t see his face, maybe it was because he didn’t want me to.
For fear of being ridiculed I didn’t want to share my experience with anyone. But it got to a point where I had to say something to my housemate. She nervously giggled in disbelief when I told her what I was seeing. So strong was my conviction, I questioned how she couldn’t possibly see him too, like she was the crazy one for not seeing the faceless, masculine presence in our house. I assured her it was nothing to worry about, he wasn’t there to hurt us.
From the girl who wrote “a crock” in a response to a religion question on a Year 4 exercise sheet, I was now seeing and deeply sensing something that only seemed real to me. I had to find out who this man was, and why he was visiting.
I embarked on a research assignment at the Queensland State Archives. I ignored the condescending smirks of the research assistants when I asked where I could begin my search for information on my Faceless Man. I combed through turn-of-the-century Paddington maps, Births, Deaths and Marriages records, land acquisition contracts and census data. I narrowed my search to the age, profession and residence of three men: Richard Thomas Ratcliffe, Charles Potts and Leslie DeGrant.
It was at the peak of my research when he disappeared for good, but not through my bedroom windows. One rainy night I was driving on North Quay. Crawling along the riverside bend, I looked in my rear view mirror and there he was in my back seat. It scared the shit of me, I nearly crashed into the car in front. It was the first time I saw him outside of my home.
The next night I looked for him to walk through the back door, but he never showed. That rainy night in my car was the last time I saw him. For weeks afterwards I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had lost something, not like when you lose a favourite pen but when you lose something from your life that you knew you needed.
In the early part of October I had pre-booked chats with two different psychics (I thought about psychics the same way I thought about horoscopes). Without me saying a word about him, both psychics asked who the male presence was in my house. I didn’t want to give too much away, but I shared a few details about his physicality and how he left me. Both of them acknowledged that he had a painful and violent past, but one went further: that he met his end by murder or suicide at the hands of a gun. He was a lost soul visiting my house, a place where died and perhaps lived, to find closure for himself. And when I saw him in my car, and never again, I was simply dropping him off where he needed to go next.
I didn’t want to hinge my unexpected experience – and discredit my own “legitimate” hard work to find out who he was – on the assumptions of a physic, but I knew it felt right.
As time passed, I got distracted by other things and my eventual move to Melbourne. But I haven’t forgotten him. I always wished I could have proven his real life existence. My personality demands the hard facts, the data, the evidence to determine what I believe to be the real truth about something or someone. But I don’t think that’s the point in this special case. My sister says that you can only see and feel what you are open to seeing and feeling. I can’t remember precisely what I was going through at the time, positively or negatively, but I have to trust that for whatever reason I needed that man – possibly named Richard, Charles or Leslie – in my life at that time. And it seemed he needed me.