Episode 14: Paranormal Investigations with James Gilberd
Episode 14: Paranormal Investigations with James Gilberd
New Zealand is a very small country, consisting of two main islands the North and the South islands. We also are a relatively new country and so do not have the history that Great Britain, European countries, or even the USA does. But despite our relative newness, we do have a large number of paranormal encounters of the spirit and things that go bump in the night kind. Because of this, we have our fair share of people who want to investigate, or experience, or explain these events to their own satisfaction, or who simply want the thrill of experiencing the unknown.
My guest tonight, is one such person. Actually, when I first was considering creating this podcast and who would be interesting for people to listen to, tonight’s guest, was the very first person who came to my mind, when considering the paranormal field of study.
I have been following his group and page for some time, partly because of professional courtesy, as I also run my own paranormal investigation group called Shadowlands Paranormal Investigations, that website is linked from this episodes page on my podcast website www.walkingtheshadowlands.com . And simply because I like and really appreciate his approach to this work, and I love his subtle and a bit dry sense of humour. Which is something that is quite necessary when working with people and especially in this field.
So with that, I am very excited to begin this week’s journey into this part of the shadowlands…. Let’s begin
I am very excited to introduce my guest for this episode. His name is James Gilberd. James was born in 1963, and currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand with his artist wife Denise Durkin and their cat Leo. He is a professional photographer by day…. Running a very successful photography gallery from 37 Courtney Place, in Wellington City, called Photospace. This gallery is one of New Zealand’s few specialist photographic art galleries.
His hobbies include playing the drums in various bands over the years, from the post-punk era (1981) to his current band, Kosmo-0, paranormal investigations, and authoring several books – with likely more to come at some stage, I imagine.
James has twice been a guest speaker at Paracon Australia, and his special area of the paranormal which fits in with his profession, is trying to explain photographs that may show paranormal phenomena.
He is co-author with Jo Davy of a really interesting book, which I have personally read twice now called : Spooked: Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand The book chronicles the Strange Occurrences crew as they search for the truth behind the dark stories of some of New Zealand’s most infamous, haunted sites. In exploring the nature of ghosts, the team has interviewed mediums, psychics, fellow paranormal investigators, skeptics, and a parapsychologist. They look at the history of paranormal research and delve into the then existing science.
We will be talking about this book during this episode. James has also authored two other books:
All of his books are linked on the podcast episode page of the website, so you can check them out or purchase them for yourselves if interested And, he also has edited a book on photography called “Fiat Lux: 51 photographs by Andrew Ross”
As if that all is not enough, James is a founding member and the leader of the Strange Occurrences, paranormal investigation group, based in Wellington, New Zealand. The group was first formed in 2005 and over the years has slowly evolved into what it currently is today, with new members added from the original eight. All of the original eight members had personally had experiences they were unable to attribute to normal or any known natural causes, which was what prompted their interest in this field. So with this intro, here is my guest James:
Paranormal Investigations With James Gilberd
Marianne: Hey thanks very much for joining us today James, I have been very much looking forward to talking with you, especially since I know you have been very busy lately.
James: Yeah same. We had an exhibition opening last Thursday. A lot of people turned up. We run photographic exhibitions there. Yeah, I’ve been showing photography exhibitions up there for about twenty years, and I have a photographic studio – been there all day today. I run photography courses, and I’ve worked in photography for a long time. And, photography has been my way into the paranormal, I guess. It’s a big part of what kind of started off the paranormal investigation group, the photography angle.
Right. I’ve actually read your book twice. It’s good and I really liked it. I have a few things marked in here that stuck out to me when I re-read it in preparation for this conversation. I was really impressed with this book. I thought you guys did a really awesome job. Perhaps you might like to tell the listeners how you got into this field to begin with?
Well, I think like many people in the paranormal field – my interests started off as a young teenager. I’m talking about the 1970’s in my case – ‘cause, I’m quite old. So, on TV – it seemed like every Saturday night, if it wasn’t the Osmond family, Uri Geller was on television a lot. He was bending forks, and spoons, and he claimed to be doing so by psychic power. And, I find him very interesting. There was also those Eric von Danekon films, you know – about the visitors from space. And, I read a book called ‘Supernature’ by Lyal Watson, which really sparked my interest in…. It was science, but it was outside the normal realms of what would be considered science. So I read all those books. I didn’t do anything very much about it.
And, I guess in my mid-twenties I started to have some interesting experiences…. The…. You know things…. A few odd things happened, which I don’t particularly want to talk about. It was so long ago. But, they made me worry a little bit about my mental health. I am sure a lot of people who experience paranormal events, or things that could be paranormal…. There’s always that worry that it maybe it’s just going on inside your head, and you can’t control it. So it was interesting, but I tried to sort of shut it down. I didn’t want it to happen, and I kind of progressively switched it off. I don’t know if I had any particular psychic abilities, or anything like that, I probably don’t. But, enough things happened that, you know, I got a bit scared and a bit worried. And I thought, no, I don’t want this to happen. So I progressively shut it down, and it kind of stopped.
And then, the Spooked book, the prologue. There’s quite an account of an event that happened to Denise – who I’m now married to, and myself in Whanganui. It was such a scary event – I won’t relate it all, because it is in the book, and also if you look up the book and go to whatever it’s on? Amazon, I guess, you can read this whole account free – it starts off…. It’s probably better that you read it, then I tell you it…. Because frankly, I’m a bit sick of telling it. But, it was pretty scary. And was so scary, that we had to flee this particular hotel in the middle of the night. We were just terrified, and shaky, and crying, and we just had to leave. We didn’t get back to Wellington, until like, five o’clock in the morning. And, only then did we begin to calm down. I mean, we’re talking about a really upsetting event. And, I still can’t quite wiggle my skepticism and the rest of it. I can’t really explain it. It’s not something that’s easily explainable in normal terms – and I haven’t been able to write it off as its oh such and such…. You know? And from that experience – Denise had it too. We simultaneously experienced this…. Attack, seemed like. That one, it gave us greater sympathy and understanding for people that have experienced, unusual, unexplainable things. We know what it’s like to be absolutely terrified.
We experienced that once and quite frankly, I don’t want to experience it again. Once was plenty. And two, it sort of sowed a seed, cause there’s no one we could go and talk to. You know, we’re not… We’re not church people.. We’re not religious. Had we been church people, you’d probably go and talk to your minister, or your priest, and say look this happened… But look, we didn’t have that. We were just on our own, and there didn’t seem to be anybody to approach about it. That changed…. This was in the beginning of nineteen-ninety- nine. I think it was new years day – nineteen-ninety-eight or ninety-nine. A long time ago. It wasn’t until two thousand and…. I’m going to say, late two thousand and five – Me and Mark Marriot had this sort of crazy idea that… Of forming this paranormal group. You know, from a few things coming together…. We saw those T.A.P.S guys on TV. We thought…. We were sitting there watching it at midnight on TV two or whatever it was on and I said hey! We can do this! And Denise was like – oh no, (laughing), you know, surely not. But Denise was recruited in pretty quickly. And suddenly, there were the four of us. We started the paranormal group.
We didn’t do anything much for a while, may be for six months. We put up a website, and we had a few meetings, but nothing really happened. And then, kind of come Halloween, or whatever it was – then suddenly the newspapers were interested. We were in the newspaper, with quite a big feature. And suddenly like, we are getting calls. You know, people are wanting to know stuff. A few people sent in photos for analysis, and we got to do a couple of investigations. And, a short time after that – yeah, a couple of other groups formed in our area. One in Wellington, and one in Palmerston North. Particularly the Palmerston North group – it was called Phoenix Paranormal. We did a lot of investigations with them. They were better at getting investigations then we were. So they invited us along, and we did some good stuff. Up-country, Napier, Waipukurau, Whanganui…. You know we did various investigations up around Central, Lower North Island. We really cut our teeth. We learned a lot, and we had a good time doing it.
We meet some really nice people along the way, and that continued for a while. And unfortunately…. I don’t want to dwell on this, cause it’s kind of negative, but there were some quite negative people sort of in the paranormal community. And, some of those people contributed to things breaking down a bit. So that came to an end, and in a good way, not a bad way. But, we were starting to get our own investigations going in Wellington by then. And, TV and newspaper, and radio were interested. There weren’t very many paranormal groups in the country at the time. And they would come to us as well as some of the other groups, and want to do stories, features…. So we got on Radio NZ a couple of times. Got in the newspaper a couple of times, both local and regional. And TVNZ got a bit interested. TV Three got a bit interested, and you know they want to do those things, and you know to be honest, some of it’s a bit of a leg pull. I mean, it’s not that serious. And they would do funny little graphics and the ghost busters theme and stuff like that…. And they’re doing that again – how original, but we quite like the coverage cause it – you know, I’m a self confessed media whore so….
I know you are sick of speaking about this James – but when I first read your book and the story of your encounter in the hotel, that got you into this field…. When I was reading it, I got the impression that you might have picked something up from that church you photographed, before you got to the hotel.
Yeah, well that’s, that’s what we think as well. On the way down to Whanganui – we drove down from Ruapehu. We’d been at the Chateau. I played in a covers band at the time, and we’d done this gig at the Chateau. It was really good. But, it was like six hours and we didn’t finish until two or three in the morning. We were really tired. So we left the next day, and we thought well instead of driving all the way back to Wellington, let’s just make a bit of a trip of it. So we went to the train crash place – So on the way from the Chateau we drove around the base of the mountain and we visited the scene of the Tangiwai disaster, which was a very bad train crash – I think it was New Year’s eve in…. I’m going to say nineteen-fifty-three. Queen Elizabeth was in the country, she’d just been crowned and her job was to read on the radio, the names of all the people who had died in that tragedy. It was on Christmas eve. It was really bad, but before my time. So we visited that site, and it is quite a haunting place with the river coming down from the mountain.
And, then we drove into Raetihi, and as you drive in, there’s and old church on the hill. And, I’d seen a nice photo of it – I thought, oh yeah, I’d like to take a photo, but I’d like to get a little closer, go up and see the church. And what I didn’t realise – I didn’t just want to hop over the fence. So, we went around the front and we asked permission. And, it involved going onto a marae. So, I kind of rocked up with Denise, and my camera, and said hey, do you mind if we go up and take photos of the church? And, there were three older men sitting there on the marae, and they kind of looked at each other and looked a bit dubious, but they said yeah it’s ok. So we went up there, and you know to be honest, the whole thing just didn’t feel right! Sometimes you just know your transgressing – even though they said it was ok. It sort of wasn’t….
And, we went up there. I took a few photos. I was pretty uncomfortable. So we left pretty quickly. And, then we drove from Raetihi, down to Whanganui, and it’s quite a strange route. Kind of heavy and overcast, and with nothing else on the road. Finally get to Whanganui. The place was deserted, was quiet, and the whole trip just seemed strange – like we were a little bit in another time. You know, there was no body else about. And, it was just odd, you know. It was not like any other car trip. And, it did seem like we might have transgressed on that marae, and you know this was like, late last century. Maybe I just wasn’t as aware of those things as we’ve become now days. We’ve become more attuned to – to Maori culture. But, I wonder if that was what it was, because, this thing in the hotel room that kind of frankly came at us in the middle of the night – I thought it was a man dressed in black. A dark figure. Denise thought it was a big dog.
And, as it turns out – you know, a large black dog is often like a spiritual guardian. So if you transgress, if you break a tapu, it’s said that a black dog can be a protector of that tapu. And, it can, it can avenge it, itself. Do you know what I mean? I’m not saying that [inaudible]…. But maybe, that’s what it was? There are black dog stories from all around the world, and actually, near the end of the book we met a parapsychologist from England who…. Simon…. Forget his name, sorry, but he was travelling around New Zealand, going to places. And, he met us, and came on an investigation with us. Which was really cool. And, he was studying black dog stories, from different cultures, including New Zealand. That was his personal sort of hobby. His personal hobby, interest, to find out these stories about black dogs, so…. I guess we had one of those for him. At least Denise did.
Yeah. Very cool, so that was my…. When I first read your book, that was my very first impression. That hit me straight away. As soon as…. As soon as saw the photograph, without even reading your experience. Oh, they took something from there with them. Where did they go from there? And, I could feel it straight away. Yeah….
That’s interesting, ‘cause, it took us a while – I won’t say, come to that conclusion, but it took us a while to consider that as a strong possibility. Don’t really have any conclusions. Don’t know what it was…. But, I’d say that’s a strong possibility, and it’s interesting that you got that feeling about it, just from the photos.
Yeah, just from the photo, from the first time I read your book. Even before I got to your experience later on. As soon as I saw that photo – I thought, ohhh there’s something just not…. Something just doesn’t feel right about that…. So yeah, that was really interesting, and I found that to be quite fascinating. I’m going to put a link on this episodes webpage, on the www.walkingtheshadowlands.com podcast website to your book on Amazon, and hopefully you will get people visiting it.
The book is no longer available in print – or so I am told. I’ll bet there’s a whole pile of boxes of them in a warehouse somewhere, but, I was trying to get some more copies. But, I can’t get them, and so, it’s only available as a digital book now.
Oh wow…. Well a digital book, is still a book isn’t it
It’s a book, and I get paid if they sell a copy. So does Jo Davy the co-author of the book. Digital books good. It’s also cheaper than the hard copy. They pop up on Trade Me occasionally, and in second hand book shops. It’s kind of funny to see that, but on Trade Me you can pick it up for ten or fifteen dollars and….
I know I paid $40.00 for my copy.
Good, good, ‘cause, I got some of that…. But, if someone buys it on Trade Me, I don’t get anything. But, it’s getting hard to find now is what I am saying…. Yeah.
If they get enough requests for it…. Maybe the publishers might redo it?
Well I’ll tell you what – I doubt they’ll reprint it, but you never know…. I’ll tell you what, I still stand by everything in the book, and it’s a wee while since we wrote it, but I re-read it myself recently. You know, earlier this year I guess, and I have learned a lot since then. But I don’t want to retract anything. Do you know what I mean?
Right! Right, of course. Because, this is what you knew at the time and we’re always learning, and we’re always learning new things. But, I really liked Spooked. I like the way you laid it out. I like the way that you go into the scientific aspect of it. And yet, you don’t discount the possibility that…. Well, of something else – you know? You’re not so…. I feel like you have a healthy balance in the book
That’s really hard to maintain, that balance is…. You know, some people would just say, you’re sitting on the fence. Or, you’re refusing to commit one way or the other – ‘cause, you know, I get it from both sides, because, I’m a member…. Look I’m a member of New Zealand Skeptics, and I find that really interesting. There are a lot of really clever people, you know. And, boy if you want to know anything about anything scientific or medical, you know, you just ask about it on the FB group, and there’s always people who just know about stuff! And, I mean, they’re actually a nice bunch of people. But, I would have to say…. Maybe calling it a monoculture is a little bit harsh. But, what I would say is a lot of people in skeptics come from a similar background and perspective…. I mean, it’s not ALL bearded white men like me, but, (and women). But, there’s not many people outside of European culture for example…. I don’t think there are many – I might be wrong, but I don’t think there are many – sort of artists. More scientists than artists.
So they come from a place, and I think that’s a good place, and it’s one perspective. But, it’s far from the only perspective. And, I understand that…. About fifteen percent of people on earth. That’s one five, fifteen. A fraction of people on earth, actually share that rational, analytical perspective on life and the world. The other eighty-five percent have different perspective. And, I think that’s really interesting. You know the fifteen percent think they’re right all the time. What about the other eighty-five percent? What about the other way to looking at things? And that intrigues me. You get shot by both sides. I’m not saying the skeptics are shooting at me, ‘cause, they’re not. They’re actually quite accommodating of what I’m doing with the paranormal. But, I also get shot at by people who are anti-skeptic And; I think that’s ‘cause, skeptics have a bad name. You know, the word has a bad connotation. People think that it means cynical and definitely in some cases, in some people, it does mean cynical. Skeptics can be quite dismissive of people with other world views. You know what I mean?
And, it’s…. It’s hard to sit and maintain that balance, and be on the one hand rational, and kind of scientific, and on the other hand, be open. And, it’s like you’re standing on an edge and the wind is blowing you from both directions, and you can sway one way, and sway the other really easily. That, that’s a difficult position to maintain. It’s a difficult balance, and you know, sometimes when you’re doing a paranormal investigation, you get pulled much more to the – if you like, the believing side…. That, you, you really have to be much more open. ‘Cause, if you go in kind of hard-nosed, skeptical, nothing will happen! You won’t receive anything. You won’t notice anything. It just doesn’t work! It’s – it’s difficult….
It is al…. It is a difficult thing to maintain. Would you mind sharing how you got involved with the skeptical society and how you spoke with them? ‘Cause, I think it’s absolutely brilliant!
Yeah it’s funny. I joined out of curiosity. And, I…. I am with them on a lot of stuff, but you know the…. They were organising a conference in Wellington, and I thought well if I’m going to join this group – I might as well get involved in this. So, I volunteered to be on the committee of people organizing the conference, and actually I didn’t end up doing very much – but, you know, I was part of it. And, that’s what counts!
And, we went to the meeting. It was in the back room of a hotel downtown. And as soon as I…. I’ve got a beard, and I’m sort of a middle-aged, white male – so as soon as I rock up to the hotel con, concierge, he looks at me and says: “Ah sir, the skeptics are meeting in the back room!” Which I think is hilarious, that I look so much like one of them. So I go there, and there’s like nine or ten other bearded white men, and a few women that…. And, we thrashed out ideas to get this conference to happen. And, I sort of put my hand up and said, well I’d quite like to speak. And, that was one of the most terrify…. Everyone’s most terrified of public meetings, but speaking in front of people with PHD’s in various scientific and medical areas, and…. They do a really high IQ audience, you know? And, it was a little intimidating. And, the only way to deal with it was with a bit of humour. Like, if I came in dry and cold I thought I would probably get picked to pieces.
And, if I made…. If I started talking about things that were too spiritual…. I didn’t mention the Whanganui thing, for example. Probably get picked to pieces, so I stuck to photography. Because, I know about photography. And, I’m on solid ground. I have a deep and long understanding of it, because I’ve been a photographer for thirty-five, or something years. And, I have a degree in it. So, it’s something I know about, and can talk about with, I think, equal authority to the other people in the room with their subjects. And, it’s only when I strayed off photography that people start to sort of pull their beards, and mutter…. You know – what’s he talking about now? But, I didn’t stray very far off it in the end.
I don’t think the podcast is still up? I mean there was a podcast of it for a while. I couldn’t possibly listen to it. But, it went well, and I survived. It was only by humour, and Mark Marriot who’s in our team. One of the founder members, had a great sense of humour, and that kind of rescued the situation. We…. We did it like…. We blacked the room out, and we walked in with our EMF meters and started pinging and twitching. And, we sort of did a sweep of the room. And, we walked between all these people, and Mark made some comment about – well, I’m not detecting anything paranormal. But, there’s an awful lot of skepticism in here! That cracked everyone up, that was a really good start.
I thought that was absolutely brilliant, because that would have absolutely broken the ice, and they obviously took it the way you intended…. That would have made them much more receptive to what you had to say, I feel. Yep. Brilliant, it’s absolutely brilliant.
I think if, if you come across as being too serious about it, and you can’t take a joke, you’re not going to last long. ‘Cause, people are going to…. You know, you’re going to run into people who you know, excuse the phrase, are going to pull the piss, right?
Right, absolutely! So, you’re part of the skeptic’s society, you do this work. And, I know New Zealand’s only a small place so there’s not really a lot of old places that we can investigate, here in New Zealand.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’m very envious when I see these shows from the UK, and also the East Coast of the United States where, you know, they’ve been around a couple of hundred, and something, years longer than we have. And so, it’s very old places. But, you know, the oldest buildings that you’ll ever go in, in New Zealand that still stand are from about the eighteen-sixties. Or, you might find something from the eighteen-forties if you are really lucky. But, beyond that, there’s not much surviving Maori architecture. But, there are places, and sites. Like if you’re in the UK, it’s going to be an old house, or a castle, or a church, or a monastery, or something. In New Zealand, there are not so many of those things, so quite often, it’s out in the bush. Or, it’s down by the river, or it’s on a coast line. It’ll be in some outdoor location. And, you know, the land holds its stories, and you know, arguably it’s eight hundred to a thousand years of human habitation in New Zealand. So, there’s that length of history….
Remember that ghost hunting show on TV, the New Zealand one? I mean, that was kind of early days. It was before we were doing our investigations, and those guys didn’t have a lot to go on. In terms of how you do this stuff. So, I thought the investigations were a little undercooked, but…. What was quite cool about those shows, is the people who did the research on the locations. And, they did a pretty good job of that. Actually researching the history of the places. And, the paranormal accounts. And, there’s another book that came out after, with a whole lot more stories around different New Zealand locations. And, I have the book over there…. I can’t quite read it from this distance, but…. I can probably give you the title of it. It’s on the page, on the Strange Occurrences website, about other New Zealand books. There’s a whole list. It’s a really good resource. So, if you were travelling down the West Coast of the South Island, for example. It just lists all these locations, that have supposedly got ghosts, or other strange things happened. And, I want to go down and tick those off someday!
Oh I was just thinking that exact same thing. It would be really nice to have that as a reference and just do a tour of New Zealand. When I win lotto eh! Do a tour of New Zealand and go and visit all these places.
Totally! I mean I want to do that too, and take my wife Denise with me, and…. Take some pictures when we’re there….
That would be really brilliant. One of the things I really enjoy about your…. In the book was that your team always has their tea and bikkies before any investigation starts.
Hmmm hmmm… well we’re kind of…. A lot of English people in the group. I mean Denise is British originally, and Mark is British, and Karen has – sort of British sensibilities, and Jo…. And, Jo Davy, and Helen Gow. They were both Brits. So we’ve got…. Sort of had this British thing going, and Nick who joined later on. He was even more skeptical than I am…. And this whole British thing going. And so, you know the tea and biscuits, were all kind of part of it. It…. It also calms you down a bit. You sort of need to calm down a bit. Rather than drinking a lot of energy drinks, and stuff, and going out there like the energiser bunny! We don’t sort of do that. We’re kind of low-key. We don’t run and scream, like that British woman on that ‘Most Haunted’ show either, hopefully, but…. That was just craziness. That used to be on TV all the time you know? But, the American shows – they’re really good, but they’re kind of confrontational…. I don’t know what…. What do you think about that Marianne?
I don’t like it! My attitude is you treat them with respect. You treat them as you would treat a living person. You talk to them respectfully; you are polite – you know? Just how you would a living person.
Yeah! Yeah, I agree. The…. I was at work yesterday, on that topic, and you know, I have customers, and I’m mostly polite. Sometimes, I get a bit ratty. But, a guy came up and he wandered in, off Courtney Place, and he asked me a question, and I just sort of started to answer him. And, I’m not going to repeat, but he said…. He kind of cursed something and said oh, I’m going to go and find someone who speaks English and he stormed out. And you know, when he…. When he sort of stormed out – I’m not going to say it on this podcast, but I just oh for [inaudible] sake, you know, after him. ‘Cause, I was just annoyed, and he turned around and swore at me again, and, wandered off and…. It was just this kind of brief encounter that was…. He was rude to me. I was rude back, he was rude back. Now, that could happen…. I’m not saying, he’s not a nice person, I don’t know. Maybe, we just weren’t on the same wavelength, or something. I don’t know. But, you might meet someone like that in a place, and the encounter might not be very good. It might not be very nice. You know what I mean?
And I don’t know what you do when that happens, but, it could do. No harm done, but, you might meet someone who is…. They don’t want you there. You’re on their turf. They don’t know what’s going on. They wish you would leave, and they wanna get rid of you. And, I mean, I may have met situations like that – I can’t really be sure…. Maybe it’s just imagination. I don’t know. But, I think it can happen like it does in normal life….
Yeah, I think it can too. I know when I’m out with my team, I always make a point of introducing, each team member. I explain what we are doing…. And why we are there.
I guess… I’m just guessing do you do some sort of protection…. You do? It’s something, for whatever reason, we’ve never done. I’m not quite sure why. But, I’ve been with other groups occasionally where that has been done, and I’m…. I’m comfortable with it. What I would say though is, if you’re…. I’m sure you’ll understand this, that if you’re not in a very good place personally – say you’ve got a bad head cold, or a bad mood, or a bit upset about something. Or, you’re just generally overworked and stressed. It’s better to just not do the investigation.
Correct, correct. Yeah
Like, just bow out. I’ve done that once or twice, ‘cause, I’m the supposed leader, the group leader. I tend to take the lead. But, I remember going on a couple of investigations where, frankly, I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t feeling that well. And, it just didn’t go well. And, I think, I really shouldn’t have done this. I shouldn’t have engaged with this, while I was feeling like that. Be better to just stay in the tea room, and like, man the video screens, or something like that, and don’t actually go out and try and engage with anything, because, that’s when it might go a bit pear-shaped for you.
Yeah, I agree. I absolutely agree! Attitude and energy you put out is really important, I think. And, if you are of the opinion that spirits are real, and that they exist, and if they are conscious, and are aware, they are going to pick up on any energy you are putting out. That’s always been my attitude as well. I agree with you on that. Are there any experiences that you and your team have had that really stood out for you?
Yeah. Funnily enough, you know, we’ve been doing…. Ok, the number of paranormal investigations we’ve done has probably fallen off a bit in the last five years, ‘cause frankly, it’s harder to get ‘em now.
Yeah, it is.
Wellington, is like…. Nobody will let you in anymore, because of basically health and safety, or the buildings are earthquake prone. And, without like two men in hard-hats, present at all moments, or something like that. So we don’t get the free reign of places, like we used to. And, most of the investigations we’ve done, have been private houses and dwellings…. And, we don’t talk about those ones publically because, it’s someone’s private house. So, we don’t put anything online about it. We just keep it between us, and the people. I’ll talk about that one I mentioned later though, ‘cause, the people were actually cool with me talking about it. But, this…. The scariest thing that happened was, we went to the old fever hospital on Mount Victoria, in Wellington. It’s kind of above Newtown. And, this place, it does have a reputation. And, you know, there’s not many places that I’ve been too, that I’ve really thought are kind of active. But, this place would be one of them. It’s now the SPCA.
And before…. It’s been derelict, empty for a long time. But, for a while it was the Wellington Polytech Music School. And, I know that when it was – you know, the students used to like rehearse up there at night, and stuff. And a lot of them really, really, didn’t like it! They didn’t want to be there after hours, and there’s a lot of accounts of like doors slamming on people…. On people’s faces. Stuff like that. You know, just strange things, strange noises with…. We’ve done three investigations up there, when it was an empty building. And, we’ve done a couple more since it’s been the SPCA, and you know, there has been other investigations done by other groups as well, up there. So, it’s still a place to go.
On the South end of the site is a derelict… Well, it’s not derelict, it’s a closed up part of the building, which is still a building site. And, you know, we’ve been in it briefly once during the day. But, you’re really not allowed to go in there, ‘cause, it…. It’s just a health and safety hazard. Which is unfortunate, because that building, we uh – the first time we did an investigation at the fever hospital the guy let us in there. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t supposed to. But, he did. So, we went in, and we did our stuff. And, you know, we’d been there for ages. Eight or ten hours, or something, and most people had gone home. And, we’re back in there.
It’s about…. I’m going to say, it’s about one-thirty in the morning, at this stage. We’re tired. We’ve done enough investigation. There’s only three of us left standing, everyone else has left. And, we’re sitting upstairs in the balcony thing, talking about cars or something. It wasn’t…. We weren’t…. We’d lost interest in ghosts by this stage. ‘Cause, nothing had really happened. But, prior to that, I’d had a bit of a good go, in the upstairs hallway, of actually trying to, kind of, get attention. Do you know what I mean? We’re on the…. I got a little bit more American, and I was being a little more confrontational. Not as confrontational as some of those guys, but more than I usually am. Right? Trying to pull something out. And, with me were Patrick, and Rob. And, Rob had had an experience in the building. Some…. Like a decade earlier. He’d been a security guard. A bad experience, where – it’s in the book. His fellow security guard, who was a big – like Norwegian guy. Huge guy. He just upped and fled! And, ran down the fire escape and was gone. And, Rob kind of wondered, why? And, he thought well, if something scared him that much, I had probably better leave as well!
So, he goes to leave… And, the door to the room that had the fire escape, which was the only way out of the top floor at the time slammed right in his face! The door handle fell out! So he couldn’t get out of the building! The downstairs was all boarded off with plywood, and that. So, there’s no way out. So, being Rob, he had a multi-tool on his belt, and he managed to get the door handle open. And, out of the building, and he said that guy, the big Norwegian guy, was terrified. He never spoke. He never said a thing about what it was that scared him. He just refused to talk about it!
So Rob approached me, and said oh you guys. If you ever do an investigation there – like, can I come? And, he did. So that was his first investigation with us. So, you know, we’re upstairs talking about cars. We’ve lost interest, and there’s this mighty big bang! And, we could feel it through the floor, like somebody really slamming a door hard, and you could feel it coming up through the building. We all kind of looked at each other, and thought – hmmm, wonder what that was? That was big! So, we go downstairs and have a look around, and of course, can’t find anybody.
And, we had cameras. You know, we had surveillance cameras going. There was nobody on those. There was nobody in the building. And uh, ok, we figured out which door it probably was. It was the only door that was unlocked. Which was the one we’d been using. Thought, we’d better go check around outside. So, we open the door, we go out. Patrick closes the door behind us. He doesn’t lock it, he closes it. And, we get a few metres away, and behind us this door bangs again, just as hard – like this mighty big bang, right behind us!
And, we all kind of turned around, and think, how did that happen? ‘Cause, it had been windy earlier in the evening, but, the wind had actually dropped. And, it would have been would have been a hell of a wind gust to bang the door like that. It was only a small door, not a big, heavy door. So um…. I mean, it could have been some kind of freak gust that we didn’t feel or something. But, we thought it was maybe a person – you know, just playing around, so we looked around, and we couldn’t find anybody. There was nobody about. Nobody showed up on our security cameras. So, it remained a mystery. And, it was pretty unsettling. You know, it was…. It was scary. And, actually where we….
Once Rob left, ‘cause, he had to get back home to his wife – just me and Patrick. We’re actually a bit scared to go back in that building. You know, we had all our stuff in there – cameras that we’d set up, and all that. But, we actually didn’t want to go back in. So we went, like everywhere else, just to kill the time. And, eventually the security guards came back to lock the place back up. And, they said, oh who let you in that building? You know, you’re not really supposed to be in there. Ok, so we went in there with them! And, we packed our stuff up, we go quick! We exited, real quick! And, left them to lock it up. Nothing was getting us back in there without like four of us! And um, it was kind of funny. But yeah, the security guards, they’ve got all the stories, ‘cause, they go up to all these places at night. And, they see stuff, and hear stuff, and…. You know, we’ve had pretty interesting stories about that place, from the security guards – well, you know?
So, it’s fairly lively, the whole place. And, I think that nurses home in particular. But, you’re not really allowed to go into it anymore. Still, I’d like…. I’d like to get back into there someday, and do a proper investigation. One thing we will not do is, we don’t do the kind of urban exploration thing, of like climbing into places…. Don’t do it! Um, the only time we’ll do an investigation is if it’s completely public land, where anyone can go there. Or, if it’s private land, we only go with proper permission. We won’t trespass…. I think, all the paranormal investigation groups hold to that, um…. So what I’m saying is, I told you about this place. Don’t go and break into it! You know? Yeah, cause um, it…. It’s dangerous – fire risk. If something goes wrong, you hurt yourself, you fall through a hole in the floor or something – its just a friggin great disaster that actually brings disrepute on everybody, and then like – nobodies allowed in, ever again! You know what I mean?
I absolutely agree with you! Getting permission is paramount. You never, ever, go onto a place without proper permission. It’s just not done. Yeah, for those reasons, and….
Like a vampire, you have to be invited
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it – that’s a good way of looking at it, yeah, yeah, yeah! I can see why that experience would have scared you. It would have scared me too, to be perfectly honest. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go back in unless I had burly…. Well, strong, burly men around me….
These two big guys showed up, we thought well…. We’ll go in there for a few minutes, and let’s get our stuff and we’re gone man! One thing I would say…. That what I just told you, was probably the single most, unsettling thing that’s ever happened to us on an actual investigation. People think, sometimes because we’re there, like maybe things are going to levitate, and things are going to appear – like they do in the ‘Ghost Busters’ movie, but honestly, that doesn’t happen. If things do happen, they’re usually pretty subtle, you know. You get a sense of something, or something happens you can’t quite explain.
But maybe it could be the building. Or it could be a draft of wind, or something. You know, we haven’t really had like, really scary investigations, where it’s um…. When we have it’s frankly, probably ‘cause, we were a bit inexperienced, and your imagination gets a bit running away with you…. Three o’clock in the morning, when you really ought to be asleep, and someone says there’s a dark shadow in the corner – it looks like a man! And, you get the chills, and you, kind of see it as well, you know. It…. It’s that power of suggestion thing. We’re kind of over that now. That doesn’t happen so much. ‘Cause, we’re used to – we’re used to it. But, we don’t get affected by that power of suggestion quite as much, as we used to.
So, one of the things I really liked about your and Jo’s book, was the way that you laid out how you do investigations…. The tools you use. Particularly with the photography…. Things to look for, things to disregard, in an investigation….
With photography…. I mean, most…. Most of what I spend my time doing now – I get these emails from like, all over the world. Photographs, and sometimes videos attached. And, people are asking me, is this paranormal? Can you explain it? This happened. We got this photo…. And, I find that really interesting, and I get a number of these per week, and you know…. I was sitting down between getting home, and doing this – just going over a couple of emails, and reply…. And, you know, I’m going to say, that because I know how photography works, and I keep trying to update myself with that, as technology changes…. A lot of things in photographs, can be explained in terms of photography. And, they can also be explained in terms of the way we interpret photographs. Like when there are ambiguous things in the photograph, people will see things in there, for various reasons, depending on where they’re coming from – spiritually, or personally. No, I don’t want to go into detail on the photography stuff, ‘cause, this is a talky thing, rather than a picture thing.
But, I’ve talked about photographs a few times in public, and put up slides, and you can sort of see what the stuff is…. And, we can talk about it. But, I tell you, I’ve learned to tread more carefully, because, one – I’m never absolutely sure, so I never…. Almost never, say this is definitely the case. There are a couple of things…. Honestly, I’ve had so many of them. That, when you see yet another one…. I always look carefully, but sometimes I say – look, I’m pretty sure with it, it’s this, it’s a lense flair caused by the sun, you can see the sun. You can see the little green orb. That’s…. That’s caused by the sun shining into the lense. Or, something like that. But, mostly I leave it open because, hey…. I wasn’t there, I don’t know all the context of the photo being taken, and what else was happening when it was taken. I can’t see the place, and I can’t be there to look…. Look for myself. So, I just leave it open, and say – Look, here’s a possible photographic reason for what’s going on here. But, there could be other reasons for it, that are kind of hiding behind the natural explanation. At that point I’d say, it’s very important to think that just because a natural explanation exists. It doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely the only explanation that’s possible. Things in photos can be caused by physics, you know, by the way cameras work.
But, at another level, it can just be that devices way of pointing at something. I…. I don’t really…I’m not really a believer in Ouija boards. But, if you think about how a Ouija board points to stuff…Maybe a photograph can point to things, and maybe the ability of a photograph to point to things, can be manipulated, in much the way that sound – voices can be recorded on electronic recording devices. A camera is just another device, and it can be manipulated in various ways, is what I am saying.
I really like the way you explained that. That’s a really good clear explanation…. And, I like the way you think about that too. That to me says heaps about you, and about your integrity as an investigator, actually. That you’re prepared to look at the angles like that. Yeah.
When people send a photo – look, even if I think I’ve seen it a hundred times before, I still have a real good look at it. You know, it’s not – oh it’s just another of those – dismissed! No, I open the photo up, and I look at it carefully, and I try to couch my reply in terms of…. Look at…. This is a…. Probably what’s going on. But then, people don’t always tell you everything at the start. So you get this photo, and it says, oh what do you think has happened here? And, It’ll be like a dust orb over someone’s head – say right? So, I send them an email back, explaining how dust orbs occur. And then they’ll email me back and say; well, that’s all very interesting, but the guy in the photo who’s got a dust orb over his head, died like two hours after the photo was taken. And, that’s the last time we saw him, and he drowned in a river. And, you think, crikey – I really put my foot in my mouth there. Didn’t I?
You know, it’s like this has happened. Several times, and it’s taken several times for me to learn to watch what I say. Because, you can just write something off with – oh it’s just another dust orb. There’s dust in front of the camera. The flash reflects off it blah-d-blah. A couple of doubts, to explain it. And, then you find out the story. And you think oooafff…. Well, that’s really sad. Maybe it was connected? Maybe it was trying to say something? Or maybe it was just a complete coincidence? I don’t know. But, the point is, I don’t know. And, you’ve just got to be careful, because, we don’t know what the circumstances were, you know? It’s just like if someone comes to you, and they’re really rude. For whatever reason, in real life – you just don’t know what’s going on in their life, you know? You have no idea. And, if you’re rude back again, it’s not very helpful, ‘cause, you know they’re having a bad time for a reason. And we don’t…. If they’re a stranger, we don’t know what that reason is.
The same thing with anything you encounter, when you don’t know the full story. Whether it’s normal, or perhaps paranormal. Or perhaps, from the other side. We don’t have all the information. We don’t exactly know what’s going on.And, I think we just have to tread quite carefully. We might offend the living. We might offend – you know, those that aren’t living. We’ve got to be…. Like you said at the start, you’ve got to be respectful.
Yeah, yeah. I agree. I really like your attitude James, I think that’s really awesome. Have you…. On the subject of photographs, have you or your team ever caught anything, any photograph that you would…. Hmmm, that you couldn’t explain away?
Tell you what. Taken a lot of photos, and videos, and things – and the answer to that is no. And, sometimes it’s just bad luck, ‘cause, quite often when things are happening – like that door banging, I was talking about earlier. We just didn’t happen to have a camera pointing at it. You know, we had cameras, and things everywhere else! Except there. And, another time we’d just finished packing up. Putting everything back in it’s cases, and something goes down, and you think – Well, huh! We missed that. Didn’t we? ‘Cause, you just…. You haven’t got the right thing pointing in the right direction, at the right time. And uh, we haven’t been lucky enough to sort of…. Like if a door’s banged, or something else has happened. Or, some strange noise…. We just haven’t been lucky enough to kind of catch it. We’ve caught the odd sound. But, nothing really tangible.
Oh! Having said that. Now just a minute….It’s not in the book, but subsequently we did an investigation in the – what was then, the Wellington Museum of City and Sea. Now called Wellington Museum. And, it has a nautical kind of theme overall, with Wellington being a port. We were in the board room, and the area just outside the board room. And, we did an EVP session, and Helen did it. And, if anyone in our group can make this stuff happen, it’s kind of her. Um, she’s more tuned than the rest of us. And, we had two recorders. We had two voice recorders, which I had synchronised. So we…. We go out in the, the kind of foyer area of the boardroom, and we do the EVP session with two recorders.
Then we move through into the boardroom, and I left one of the recorders out in the…. Outside the door, and the other one we brought in with us. And Helen’s asking for, you know…. Can you knock on the table? Or not, then make a knocking sound if you…. For yes, whatever it was. And, we can hear this very faint knocking. We’re all in this big boardroom. Big meeting room, and very faint knocking. And, she asked a few questions, and we heard a bit of faint knocking. Thought, that’s really interesting. And, when I got home…. Well, maybe the next day, I listened to the recordings, and the recording we left back in the other room – the knocking was really clear. So, it wasn’t coming from the room we were in. It was coming from the room we’d just left.
And because, I was able to synchronize the sound of the two recorders, you got Helen asking questions in one room, and knocking in the other room. And, you know, I transcribed it. I wrote it all out, and I put x’s for knocks, and…. Frankly, it looked pretty good. However; there were a few random knocks, that didn’t correspond to any questions. Now, if you ignored those, it looked quite good. You know. Can you knock on the table please? And, a little delay, and you hear a knock. And, if that’s you there, can you do it again please? And, you hear another couple of knocks. Stuff like that. It’s really good. What you really want to happen, but I still don’t entirely believe it. Like, we hadn’t put it online. I’ve talked about it at a couple of public talks, and I’ve played the recording – you know, to the audience. But, I hadn’t put it online, ‘cause, can’t really verify it. And, I wanna repeat it. I wanna go back there, and try it again.
I have been back there one time since, with another group. And, I hung around in the area where we recorded the knocking, while they were doing a session in the next room. And, didn’t hear anything. I didn’t record anything. Didn’t hear anything. I don’t think it’s a building sound. We’ve been there half a dozen times, and we’ve never heard anything like it before. And, there are plenty of sightings in the area of the building that we were in. A number of people have seen a number of things, including a full apparition. One of the staff saw, so, it’s an active area of the building. And, what I really want to do, is go back there, and try it again. Hmmm… But, I’ve kind of lost my contact at that place, like you know – you have someone there, that is like letting you in. And, staying after hours, and stuff, and we don’t have that anymore, so…. Plus, all the OSH stuff has come in since then, so they won’t really let us run around in there after hours anymore. So um…
Never got the opportunity to go back, and try, and repeat it. But, I really would like to, because, if we can get it again – and, we can be a little bit more certain that, you know, what it is. And, it’s not coming from plumbing, or some other weird thing that we couldn’t…. Then, that would be really good. It’s just on one attempt…. It’s a pretty good recording, but I’m just not quite convinced. But, I’m not going to claim it’s paranormal, because, it might not be.
Right. Oh very cool. So, where do you see you and your investigation team going from here James?
We’re trying…. We’re trying to kick it back into life a bit. We’ve got…. We’ve kind of found a few younger people that are interested, ‘cause, all the original team, we’re all either middle aged, or we’re pushing middle aged. And, people are kind of…. Job’s gone a bit upscale, and you know there’s just less time, less impetus. Found some new people that can hopefully breathe a bit of life back into it, and actually go out and get us into some places. ‘Cause, I’m just really not very good at that.
Yeah. I have the same issue James, it’s like…. And, it’s really hard when like, everybody has their life outside of the team, and you know…. Things get busy, and finding places is really hard. And, also ‘cause, New Zealand’s so small. Then, having money to go to places is an issue too.
We used to drive up country a lot more, but one I don’t have so much time, and two it’s actually pretty expensive, like the petrol isn’t cheap now. Like, we drove up to Patea last…. Two weekends ago. And, I mean, Wellington to Patea is…. Back, it’s frankly about seventy or eighty-dollars worth of petrol. Plus, the rest of it. It’s a three, three and a half hour drive each way, something like that. It’s a really nice drive, and we really enjoyed it. And, I sort of missed doing those kind of road trips. We used to do them, you know, every month or two. We haven’t done one for ages.
Do you find James, that sometimes when you’re walking into a place you’re investigating You can instantly have a feel for – of the place? Like, you can feel if something feels off. If, something bad happened there. That sort of thing. Have you found that?
You walk in, and you think nah, this…. This is…. This place is wrong…. There’s something bad in here. Something’s happened. And you might find that someone’s committed suicide, or something, in that room…. Something left over from it! I don’t always trust my own personal feelings, ‘cause, they can be affected by how your day’s been going…. but
Oh correct, correct
You know, what we do is…. We try not to set up too many expectations. Right? So, if we go to a place…. I mean I might know what has been reported, and I might know some of the history, and someone else in the group might know. But, we make sure we’ve got one or two people going in cold. And, we just…. I’ll just say to them – look, you two just go around the building, and just spend some time, you know, and just come back, and say if you notice, or feel anything. And, you know, these team members will not have any expectation that, you know, there’s a red lady been seen on the stairs or anything like…. They don’t know anything like that. And, I also say – look, don’t go research this place. You know, don’t start looking online, and finding out the history, because, we just want you to go in – just neutral. Don’t go around with the people that are there, because, they will take you around, and tell you this or that happened. Just go in and spend half an hour, or an hour getting a feel for the whole place. And, then we’ll talk about it later.
That’s the best way to do it I reckon. And, I always work like that. Unless my team needs to know, specifically for health, and safety reasons. I won’t tell them.
If there’s something dangerous it might be a different story, but, that’s what we do anyway we…. We, at least, you know half the team, or whatever – will go in with no preconception. So, that if they do notice anything – You think, well that’s really interesting, because, that’s the same room that this has been seen – or that’s been seen. And, we’ll let it go for a while, and we’ll sort of later in the evening…. So we’ll actually – here’s the information that we have, and here’s the historical information. And, you know, that’s really interesting that you sense that because it lines up with this. Or, it doesn’t. That’s kind of how we come at it. Trying to be fairly objective. Not everybody expecting that a things going to happen. And, that way if it does happen we’re adding something to the story, you know? We’ve got more to bring to it, I guess.
Yeah, that’s really awesome. Your book is a very good read and I DO recommend to listeners that they check it out for themselves! Don’t just take my word for it.
We were lucky with the book, because, it came out of…. We got on TV one night, and then this publisher rang me from Random House. I was at work the next day, and he said – oh we saw you on TV, and we’ve been following you guys for a while – and, do you want to write a book for us? And, that actually was pretty amazing in itself. So, I’m pretty pleased with the way it went. And, we had the benefit of a professional editor, and you know, design so it was done professionally. And yeah, there were a couple of little typos, and mistakes here, and there. One of them was mine, for writing someone’s name down wrong – sorry, um…. You know who you are. But, I’m pretty happy with it still. As I said, I don’t…. I haven’t…. Although, I’ve learned more. I haven’t changed my mind. I don’t think that anything we wrote…. I don’t want to pull any of it back, or retract it. I just think – yeah ok, that was interesting. We know a bit more about that now, but, I still stand by what we wrote at the time. Yeah, which I’m happy with. So, you know…. We don’t know everything, but, we’re just at the bottom of the hill, you know, looking up the slope.
And, there’s always more to learn too. But I think the book is great, and I think it gives anybody who’s looking at considering, getting into this area, it gives them a good base of knowledge to work from.
Good! Thank you I will say that I didn’t really start the paranormal group ‘til I was in my forties, and maybe that’s kind of old. But, I think if you’re a young person, in your teens or twenties, that’s cool. But, I wouldn’t have like to…. I mean, I don’t know if there really was paranormal investigation, when I was that age? But, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been mature enough, or stable enough emotionally to do it. Some people are more worldly, and mature than I was at that age. But, I think you need to be pretty, kind of, grounded. And, I think fairly emotionally grounded as well. If, you’re flying off in all directions, it’s not a good thing to get into. Yeah…. In your sort of teens and twenties…. Us middle-class kids, that nothing much ever happened to – we didn’t grow up very fast, you know? So, I wasn’t mature enough at that age to start to deal with other people’s paranormal experiences. Just couldn’t handle it. I’m not saying somebody else couldn’t. I just…. I just couldn’t myself, at that age.
Right. And, it’s very individual isn’t it? But, as a rule of thumb, most people in their twenties are just too busy focused on other things…
Yeah, they don’t pull themselves away from their phones for long enough.
That’s true enough…
You’ve got to be in the moment! You know, you’ve got to be in the world, and aware. You can’t be too distracted. You know, you’ve got to be open and engaged with what is around you.
Absolutely. Because, when you’re doing an investigation you have to have all your senses available.
And, also for me – I can’t speak for you, but for me – I have to be aware of what my body is feeling at any given time as well. So also, so I can keep an eye on my team members, and make sure they’re ok too.
Yeah, that’s really important. ‘Cause, it’s all…. I mean, your body, and your mind are already…. They’re all really one thing, aren’t they? If you’re not feeling good, or you’re too tired, or you’re unwell – just leave it ‘til another day – you know?
Yes, absolutely! Well look, I think we might call it a close here, because, I’m aware you’ve had a really long day, and it’s getting late. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation James. Well James, thank you so very much for joining us for this episode, I appreciate your time immensely. It’s been awesome!
I enjoyed the talk, um Marianne. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure!
This episode we’ve talked with James, about his book Spooked: Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand , which is available from Amazon. We’ve discussed how he got into the field of paranormal research and investigation. James has shared some of his experiences with us tonight, and this has hopefully given all of you a glimpse into the world of paranormal investigations – at least a tiny weeny bit, anyway.
If any of you have any questions for James, or myself, comments that you would like to make, or experiences, that you might like to share – with myself, and my audience. Then please don’t hesitate to email me at:email@example.com
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