Mystery by moonlight

I'M no conspiracy theorist. But even a sceptic such as I could hardly not feel a tinge of excitement at the prospect of entering the inner sanctum of one of the world's most secretive and little-understood groups - the Freemasons.

My opportunity to do just that comes as I join in on one of the city's increasingly popular Mysterious Queanbeyan by Moonlight tours.

The tours, which are conducted by local author and historian Nichole Overall, are now in their fifth month of operation and seek to delve into Queanbeyan's lesser known and often less salubrious past.

The stories behind some of the city's past murders and unexplained disappearances are a particular focus and it's not long before the historical body count begins to mount up.

Indeed, it seems there hardly exists a structure in Queanbeyan that has not been witness to at least one grizzly or gruesome death at some point in its history.

But for this reporter, raised in the age of the Da Vinci Code and the world of internet conspiracy nuts, being shown through Queanbeyan's Masonic Lodge on Crawford Street is a particular highlight.

It's a fascinating look inside such a little-known piece of the city's history and one rarely afforded to those not of the Masonic order.

Earlier in the evening, our tour group assembles on the bank of the Queanbeyan River amid the lengthening shadows of the Queens Bridge.

I join a group of more than 25 people for the night's sold-out tour. The tours are billed as both a look back at Queanbeyan's history and an exploration of the myths, mysteries and legends of the town - including no shortage of ghost stories.

At the start of our endeavour, our host hands out a 'Static Energy Detector'. It's a small, boxy device designed to detect the presence of the otherworldly energies who may be joining us over the course of the evening.

From the riverbank, we head off to take in many of Queanbeyan's most iconic sights including Ye Old Kent House, the suspension bridge and the Mill House - reputably Queanbeyan's most haunted building.

At one point I notice one of my fellow group members wielding the Static Energy Detector with particular intensity, panning first left, then right, intent on his search for ghostly influences.

Peter, it turns out, is a true believer. He tells me of the time he once saw the ghost of a girl in a hotel room on his 32nd wedding anniversary and is keen to discover more evidence of the paranormal in his hometown.

"I hope we see a ghost tonight," he tells me. "I guess that depends if it's friendly or not," I reply someone dubiously. But I get the feeling Peter wouldn't mind either way.

The tour culminates in a stop at Queanbeyan's Riverside Cemetery, apparently the site of an otherworldly encounter in a previous tour that left one startled photographer.

While I can't report any such run in with the supernatural, I can now claim to be far more informed on one of the city's most significant sights.

Our guide informs us that the cemetery is in fact, the burial site of the ACT's first recorded murder victim from 1925.

We also learn that a large number of the cemetery's denizens were reburied in a mass grave after 60 bodies and their burial sites were washed away in one of the Queanbeyan River's periodic floods.

And ultimately, it's in that mix between fact and fiction, mystery and myth where the Mysterious Queanbeyan by Moonlight finds it appeal for the sceptic and the true believer alike.

A word of warning, Mysterious Queanbeyan by Moonlight are walking tours in every sense of the word. Our tour stretches to nearly three hours so sneakers or walking shoes are a must.

The next Mysterious Queanbeyan by Moonlight tour will be held on Friday, April 11. Bookings are essential and can be made via email at qbn@qbncityofchampions.com.au

Cost per person is $55 for adults, $45 for concessions and $35 for children including light refreshments. Private group tours can also be arranged on request.

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