In the summer of January 1989, I was the supervisor of approximately thirty maintenance technicians for a large Australian telephone company, based in Sydney's northern suburbs.
Our function was to detect, isolate and fix faults on our customers' telephone lines. To be successful in our roles, we were required to have a rational mindset, be able to collect all relevant facts, perform detailed analysis of a given situation and then follow it to its logical conclusion.
All of this might sound very technical, but we weren't called technicians for no reason. We're born sceptics, disregarding any explanation relating to the paranormal because it appears to us as illogical and hence inaccurate. In most instances, that would be quite true. But that isn't always the case?
My transition to a more open mind started with a call from one of my technicians (let's call him 'Gary'). He was seeking assistance in either tracking down an intermittent line fault, or a troublesome ghost. Ghost? Rather than telling Gary to: 'Go home and sleep it off', I found myself agreeing to meet him on the job immediately. My curiosity had been sparked by the fact that he appeared to be serious and would not be drawn into any jokes about this situation.
On arrival, I noted that we were dealing with an old two-storey house located in the historic part of Fairlight, a suburb on the Northern Beaches. From my perspective, this meant we were dealing with 'old wiring', both in the house and out in the street. The older the wiring, the bigger the risk of it breaking down if disturbed.
Gary told me that he couldn't find any problems with the line, but he kept feeling that someone was peering over his shoulder while he was checking the connections in the house. He told the woman (I'll refer to her as Mrs. Smith) who lived in the house that he hadn't found anything that could cause her line to go 'dead'. She told him not to worry, claiming that the resident ghost was always on his 'best behaviour' when visitors were around. Apart from her strange remark, Gary's assessment of Mrs. Smith was that she seemed well-educated, mentally sharp, witty and good-natured.
I decided that it was about time to introduce myself to the customer and 'check out' the house. Mrs. Smith already had a pot of tea waiting for us, so we sat down to discuss her phone line situation. To my amusement, she referred to the ghost as 'Arthur' and said that he only had an interest in the phone and power lines. In fact, the one piece of equipment that caused her the most grief was the cordless phone upstairs, which needed both the phone line and power to work.
I decided that was the most obvious place to start locating the cause of the fault. After replacing the cordless phone, I made arrangements with her to return the next day. This bought me some time to assess the credibility of this customer and delve further into the fault history of that telephone line.
Back at the depot, I sat down with an extra-strong cup of coffee and did my investigation. It took over an hour as there was a long history of problems at the house in Fairlight. The list of reported faults spanned over a period of five years. The problem could have been going on for longer than that, as earlier customer records were on paper and had not been entered into the current electronic database. There was just one fault ever detected and it was during the year before, located out in street and already fixed. All other reported faults had the same result: "No Fault Found" (NFF).
At the same time, I did an assessment on Mrs. Smith, reviewing the notes made by two other technicians who were the most recent to attend the house. Both had given their findings as NFF. One was my depot boss, the most experienced technician in the team, who had pronounced that "the bloody house is haunted". I thought it significant that my boss was also familiar with the Fairlight house. He believed that all technicians who attended the place would just be wasting their time. The other technician was a young man who had only been in the job for a few months. It was his opinion that "the lady was a nutcase." I tended to lean towards my boss' judgment - but only as far as the customer was of a sound, mental state.
The following day, I went back to Fairlight to see what had happened overnight. Gary didn't accompany me as we had too much work on our plate at the time and was needed elsewhere. As it turned out, an extra pair of hands wouldn't have made any difference. The line had gone 'dead' in the night, but was now working fine.
I asked Mrs. Smith if it was only the cordless phone upstairs or were both phones (including the one downstairs) not working. She said that she only checked on the upstairs phone.
I mentally cursed at the missed opportunity. If both phones were faulty, that meant wiring was the most likely culprit. I decided to replace the phone downstairs, just to be on the safe side.
Next, I concentrated my investigation on Mrs. Smith. How often did the fault happen? Did she report it every time?
She admitted that the fault was not always reported. It was happening so frequently that sometimes she was too embarrassed to ring the telephone company yet again.
I was now determined to fix this problem once and for all. However, I realised that unless the fault occurred while I was there, I was just spending my time in guesswork.
I advised Mrs. Smith that I would return again the day after and gave her specific instructions on what to do when the fault was happening: -
1. Check the cordless phone upstairs first for a dial tone. If it was 'dead', unplug the cordless from the line.
2. Try the phone downstairs. If that one was also 'dead', unplug that as well.
3. Go upstairs to plug in the cordless phone again and see if the fault comes 'good'; that is if the dial tone comes back.
This would help verify if one of the phones was responsible for causing the problem.
When I went back the next day, I found it hadn't mattered which phone was unplugged. The line remained dead when she tested it, but came back on sometime during the night.
I was now in a situation where the problem was looking to be somewhere outside in the street. I isolated the house wiring from street cable. This meant disconnecting the wires at the main connection point to the house from street. My testers back at the depot checked the line and found that the line tested ok. Frustrating!
I then reconnected the house wiring to the street - surprise - the line was dead. I tested it again; found the line was 'open', which indicated a break in the line somewhere. This could mean that the line had been cut, thus resulting in an open circuit.
I informed Mrs. Smith on my success in identifying where the fault lay.
She simply smiled and said, 'Arthur must be getting used to you, this being your third visit to the house.'
The only reasonable explanation left was that the main connection must have been intermittently faulty. I replaced the box where the wires terminated, or rather where the phone lines from the street joined the house.
I had the line tested once more and it was now finally working.
Mrs. Smith laughed out loud. 'Arthur really does like you!'
I looked at her sharply, but realised after a moment she wasn't mocking me. She genuinely believed what she had said.
'Let's leave it for now and I'll ring again in few days,' I said, confident that I had solved the mystery of the line fault.
When I followed up with Mrs. Smith three days later, she told me there had been no further problems. She sounded a bit stunned when she said that, or maybe I imagined it. I told her that if it happened again, she was to report it and I would come back.
As I had heard nothing for two months, the whole matter was beginning to fade from my memory. Then at "mornos" (morning tea break), I was talking to another of my technicians when he brought up a matter concerning a haunted house in Fairlight.
I nearly choked on my coffee. 'Bet you didn't find any fault at the place!'
Evidently there were still faults being reported at the house in Fairlight. The programmers had been assigning the work to the other technicians.
In July that year, the whole telephone company underwent a massive restructure, going from a government organisation to a private corporation. Everyone was redeployed and relocated, including me. I never went out on a job to that house again.
About ten years later, when I told my wife about my experience, she insisted on taking a drive out to Fairlight just to see the house. That's when she pointed out something that I never noticed before.
The house was situated at the crossroads.