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How creepy ghost stories help us deal with the real-life trauma

How creepy ghost stories help us deal with the real-life trauma that haunts us

On a lonely road north of Sydney, locals talk of a woman in white who appears to motorists - but the true horror lies in our need for such tales.

Elizabeth Rawlings and her then-teenage daughter Sarah were on their way home from a picnic dinner at Norah Head one night when they decided on a whim to drop in to Noraville Cemetery. It is a visit they will never forget.

The sun had already set when Sarah pulled up to the driveway of the graveyard on the NSW Central Coast. Besides the hundreds of granite markers, there was little else to keep them company.

With the car still running, Sarah glanced across at her mother and quickly realised something was not right.

Elizabeth began to describe what she could see - a dark-haired woman dressed in white, blocking the entrance - but, as she pleaded with her daughter not to panic, her gaze suddenly shifted to the back seat of the car.

Sarah’s pulse began to race.

“Mum, she is in there (the back seat) isn’t she?” Sarah asked.

To which Elizabeth replied: “She is.”

The pair believes Elizabeth had seen the spirit of “Jenny Dixon”, a young girl said to have been sexually assaulted while hitchhiking on Wilfred Barrett Drive in 1970.

The story goes that the girl eventually died from her injuries and local legend has it she is buried in Noraville Cemetery - although there is no headstone and no record of anyone by that name, or indeed any headstone from 1970 that could match the story. It is a complex tale with links to the wreck of a coal schooner called the Janet Dixon in 1870, after which Jenny Dixon Beach was then named. Why the name changed from the boat to the beach and the rumoured assault victim’s own links to the beach are unclear. It is not even certain if her name was Jenny Dixon. Despite a lack of evidence supporting the story, it has flourished for decades among Noraville and Toukley residents - and well beyond. It inspired the 2011 horror film Jenny Dixon Beach and has attracted many curious paranormal investigators hoping to communicate with her. Paranormal investigator Nadine Gray - part of Amazon Prime’s Haunted Down Under team - has never looked into the legend of Jenny Dixon but notes spirits tend to attach themselves to areas that are personal to them. “When there is an element of tragic or horrific death involved, we tend to find those victims or people tend to be attached to those places more so than people who pass peacefully,” Gray says. The Jenny Dixon story is believed by some locals to be linked to the documented case of the Holmes sisters - 18-year-old Grace and 11-year-old Kathleen - who went for a walk to Norah Head lighthouse in 1950 and never returned. A day later their bodies were found in a swamp near Tuggerah Lake. A local fisherman was charged but not convicted and the case remains unsolved. Behind ghost stories Federation University senior lecturer in history Dr David Waldron says ghost stories, urban legends and folklore have cultural value and reflect issues and anxieties in our societies. The Central Coast has a long history of shipwrecks and historical tragedies but recent years have produced more contemporary traumas, with the area following a nationwide trend of ever-increasing sexual assaults. This year the area was dubbed the “the child abuse capital of NSW” by The Daily Telegraph, after the local government area recorded more child sexual abuse incidents than anywhere else in the state. And all of that feeds in to the kinds of stories which communities tell to each other. “Urban legends are created all the time and ... some fall by the wayside,” Waldron says. “But many just continue indefinitely and become deeply entrenched in our culture ... because those issues are still there and we’re not grappling with those issues.” In the case of Jenny Dixon, Waldron says local folklore has likely merged with the urban legend archetype of the vanishing hitchhiker. “This story tends to relate to someone who picks up a hitchhiker on the side of the road. Most often it’s a young woman, sometimes an old woman, and they sit in the back of your car, usually behind you and not next to you. You have a conversation with them and they disappear and vanish, or sometimes they will say something ominous and disappear.” Missing the point On the Northern Beaches locals speak of a woman, called Kelly, in a white dress who supposedly appears to unlucky motorists driving on Wakehurst Parkway. The road is also the scene of the tragic death of a young woman. In 1995, the body of 21-year-old university student Frances Tizzone was found, strangled, dumped off the road at Frenchs Forest. “Getting caught up in the ‘is it real’ or not misses the point of what the story is about, what it’s trying to communicate about the issues we have in our society,” Waldron says. “There is no small accident that most ghost stories, not all of them but many ghost stories, most of them relate to atrocities committed against women.” Whatever Elizabeth and Sarah saw that night at Noraville Cemetery, what cannot be doubted is that violence against women is a trauma that keeps repeating itself, forcing communities to find new ways to cope. While Jenny Dixon may or may not have ever existed, in 2014 the grave of the Holmes sisters was honoured with a headstone funded by the local community, providing some kind of healing. ARTICLE FROM:

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