I’m standing in the sub-basement of what is now the National Film and Sound Archive: A cramped, claustrophobic space known as the Blood Room.
The name comes from a time when the building housed the Australian Institute of Anatomy, and its basement level was home to a morgue.
There are channels chiselled into the concrete floor of the Blood Room, which once collected fluids from draining cadavers.
Skeletons used to line the walls outside.
I’m holding a large TV light which will come in handy when it’s time to take pictures. Right now it’s a makeshift torch.
Then, as our guide Annie directs me to a spot known for paranormal activity, the light extinguishes without warning.
In the near-darkness, I flick the switch on the back a few times — nothing happens.
I’m told this phenomena is common at the building, which for years was home to hundreds of human and animal specimens.
Joining us on our tour of the building is Canberra folklorist Tim the Yowie Man, who runs tours about the building’s supposedly supernatural history.
He tells me that when he takes visitors to the Blood Room some feel faint, and others ask to leave, complaining of an uneasy feeling.
Some supposedly smell decaying flesh.
And it’s not the only room here known for odd happenings.
From morgue to meeting room
Further along the corridor, half a level up from the Blood Room, is a meeting space with a sloped floor.
Again, Tim says, this has to do with draining blood. It’s another mortuary.
“[In this room] they’re not actually seeing the classic ghost,” he said.
“They’re more seeing the effects of an uneasy spirit in there.
“An electrical contractor was pinned up against the wall by an unknown force.”
Tim acts out the supposed incident on the spot where the man is said to have been pinned.
As the Australian Institute of Anatomy, the building housed 150 human skulls, including that of Ned Kelly, before it disappeared.
Disembodied and disfigured body parts and a mummified woman were also on display.
“Right up until the 60s and 70s, people came here to look at this gory stuff,” Tim said.
“This history of the building being the Institute of Anatomy, that’s what the building has a reputation of not only being one of Canberra’s, but one of Australia’s most haunted buildings.
“Many claim that they’ve had brushes with the supernatural.”
The girl behind the grate
Our guide Annie MacKay says children who frequent the Film and Sound Archive would sometimes see another young girl in an impossible place.
As children attended excursions in the building’s theatrette, some would become distracted, and begin waving at something beneath the stage.
They’d report a little girl’s face behind a grate — in a spot directly above the morgue.
Annie says staff at the morgue have become accustomed to lights switching on and off, doors opening and closing, and a helpful elevator that will come without being called.
“From the moment I was interviewed in the morgue, I knew that anyone who works here is probably signing up for a few weird things,” she said.
“A lot of the staff who work here, especially the staff who’ve worked here for a while, just take it in their stride that there’s a strange history to the building.
As we toured the building, another strange thing took place.
The door to the Blood Room, which Annie insists she locked the last time she left, has been tampered with.
We find the padlock used to keep the door secure hanging open and useless from the handle.
“Whatever you think the forces at play here are, whether they’re explicable by natural phenomena, or if you think there’s some more spiritual activity in the background, there’s not much report of anything nasty going on,” Annie says.
“It all seems to be in the beneficent category.”
So is it haunted?
For all his ghost stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking Tim’s a true believer when it comes to ghosts — but that’s not quite true.
“Am I believer or not? I’m actually not, I’m not a complete sceptic, I’m more sitting on the fence,” he says.
“I guess I’m sceptical rather than a sceptic.”
And what about my own spooky experience with the camera light?
Well once we were back in the florescent-lit safety of the stairwell outside the Blood Room, ABC cameraman Ian Cutmore gave me an empirical explanation.
It seems as I held the light against my chest, I somehow turned a fader switch on the back of the light, dimming it to darkness.
Not so much creepy, as clumsy.