Located out in the Australian state of South Australia, about 25 miles from the city of Adelaide, is the quiet town of Gawler. Lying at the merging of two tributaries of the Gawler River, the North and South Para rivers, Gawler is notable for being the first country town on the Australian mainland in the state now known as South Australia and is steeped in quite a bit of history. Here one can still see many of the original structures back from when the city was first founded, and it also just happens to be the home of one of the most intensely haunted places in the country.
Gawler has a rich and often slightly weird history. Before the British came, this place belonged to the native Aboriginal people, who considered it sacred, used it for Dreamtime, and left behind numerous cave paintings in the area. It then became a British colony and they began selling land to the settlers who were trickling into the region in the 1830s, before it was eventually laid out and established as a town in 1836 by the colonial surveyor William Light, who also designed Adelaide. The eventual discovery of copper reserves nearby helped the burgeoning town grow, and it also became a popular rest stop and resupply point for people moving to and from other outposts to the north and south, which necessitated the building of a pass through the steep adjacent foothills in order to bypass the Para River. This pass would come to be known as the Para-Pass, and later the “Murray Pass,” but it would also eventually earn itself the more ominous title of “Dead Man’s Pass.”
The pass itself was not particularly harrowing, with a gentle incline, smooth trail, and plentiful water resources and grazing land around it, perfectly designed to cater to passing travelers. The sinister name of “Dead Man’s Pass” comes from a popular story surrounding this place, which begins in 1837, when the surveyor, Colonel Light, was supposedly making his way through the region with his team on their way back to Gawler from Adelaide. According to the tale, they happened across a man wandering alone through the pass, wearing “unusual clothes” like those of an artist, who also turned out to be unable or unwilling to speak or explain who he was or where he had come from. Light and his men fed the mysterious stranger, noticing that he drank copious amounts of water, and then set up camp for the night to let him rest.
The next morning, when Light went to check on their new traveling companion he was found to be dead, having passed away sometime in the night. The team had no digging equipment on hand and could not haul any more, but they didn’t want to just leave the guy out there in the open sun to be eaten by scavengers. They looked about the area and managed to find a large gum tree with a hollow niche large enough to hold the body. They then stuffed the corpse into the tree and covered it as well as they could with boulders, sticks, and stones and left it there planning to come back when they could. In the meantime, they made it back to town and tried to find out who the stranger could be, but this would prove to be difficult. No one seemed to know who he was, and when registers from prisons and ship’s records were checked there appeared to be no one who had escaped or gone deserter. In the end, the man’s identity could not be confirmed, nor could anyone understand how he had found himself alone and lost out on the pass. The story would become a popular piece of lore in the area, and in 1842, the Murray Pass became mostly known as Dead Man’s Pass. The body would later be retrieved, upon which it was found that scavengers had mostly mangled the body, yet he was nevertheless apparently re-interred in an unmarked grave at Gawler’s modest cemetery. There would be more death in the area when a rope bridge was erected there in the 1900s and someone died from falling off. Other deaths include an accident in 1901 in which a car flipped and fell to the gully below, and in the same year a young boy was found dead and bobbing in the river.
Whether it is because of this death and the informal burial of the stranger and the fact that the body was initially left there to rot in the wilderness, the pass has come to be known as a very haunted location ever since. The paranormal activity in the area of Deadman’s pass seems to run the range. Ghost lights are frequently seen, as well as shadow figures and the apparition of a young boy who seems to be shy and will hide in the bushes. On other occasions there are seen the spirits of people in old-fashioned, period clothing. Even more frightening is a pair of phantom, unseen hands known to stroke, tap, or push people passing through. A popular tale about the pass is that of two friends who were riding bicycles through the area when one of them heard a voice in his head telling him to turn right. The witness, who gave his report on the site Ghost Village, explains of what happened:
Myself and friend Tony, were riding at a brisk pace down one side of the gully as we’d done hundreds of times before with no incident. On this particular day I was getting an over powering message in my ear to go right… go right! Gooo riiight! (Remembering that I’d never needed to take the very sharp reverse right bend before, I’d always gone around the medium blind left bend on our way to the shops). I was worried because I knew I had way too much speed to go right. I must stick true to what I know and go left with Tony, but we were two abreast and I was getting awfully near the center line of the road, and even if I do go left I’m gonna end up on the wrong side of the road. A quick glance at everything and — bugger it — I just had to go right knowing full well I had no hope of making the bend. I heard a clear enough, “Good boy,” in my ear and… crash… I hit the curb. The bike went straight into a post at full speed and I went sailing through the air — it seemed like forever — and into a big gum tree.
Now pay attention, folks… I thought I must be dead after that bingle. I looked up and saw a figure standing over me, with a lady along side him. The man simply said, “You’re lucky to be alive, lad,” and the Lady said, “Take heed, boy, you only get one chance like this!” I’m laying there wondering just how bad it could be because I haven’t felt a thing at this stage. And where did these people come from? As I got myself back on my feet, Tony arrived to where I was with my busted up bike in tow. After the concerns etc., I asked him were the old couple went and I told him about what I saw and heard. Tony told me the only person he saw was the car that, “Just about took me out on the corner,” stopped briefly to see me get up, and moved on. Tony told him I’d be all right because he heard me talking to someone (of which I don’t remember). Tony said If I’d kept going around to the left I certainly would of had a head-on collision with car. As it was, I went right against all my previous experience, and the car missed me by yards. But at least I’m alive!
Who was that, that said that? The post to the tree measures 33 feet apart. There was only gravel between and quite a mangled bike, but not a scratch on me? I didn’t even feel it when I hit the tree, which Tony witnessed. Softest landing he’d ever seen. The tree turned out to be the same tree that a man and his family were buried by way back when. That’s my experience at the Dead Man’s Pass, with probably the Dead Man himself and his wife.
It isn’t really known who exactly these ghosts are supposed to be, or whether they are connected to the dead man legend or not, but it is known that the place wasn’t really known to be haunted before that. In modern times it is said to be an actually pleasant walk that draws in many hikers and bicyclists, although it is prone to sudden flash floods. We are left to wonder if there is anything to this all, and just what tethers any mysterious forces to this place. Just make sure that if you are ever walking along the area in the evening hours to keep an eye out. You never know who might be watching from the shadows.