Backlash over ghost tours

THE owner of Willow Court’s Tasmania’s Most Haunted tours says she has been overwhelmed by community support after the council decided to close her operation at the end of this month.

Tour operator Sharmaine Mansfield took to social media after the Derwent Valley Gazette highlighted the decision last week. She called for supporters to show their support online and 500 did so. “I have received online support from many local businesses including Explorer’s Lodge, the Star and Garter Hotel and New Norfolk Distillery, just to name a few,’’ Ms Mansfield said.

“My tours have been conducted since 2017 with previous council approval. The appointment of a Willow Court Executive Officer and the engagement of a further third party to create and implement a plan seems to be a waste of ratepayers’ money. “I have had no direction on how long it will take for the interpretation plan to be finalised and implemented.’’

However, Mayor Michelle Dracoulis said she was being targeted despite the decision being a unanimous one by the council. “It is sad that this is the path they (TMH) have taken,’’ Mrs Dracoulis said. “This decision was made after much debate and takes into account legal advice. “Willow Court is a sensitive site and makes up a huge part of the rich tapestry that is the Derwent Valley. Thousands of people were patients or worked there and there are many in the community today who have a connection to this site.

“In the interest of protecting the memory and reputation of these people it is essential that a Heritage Interpretation Plan be developed and guidelines created for those telling the story of this recent history.” Ms Mansfield said her tours were “conducted with the utmost respect regarding sensitivity of the site’’. “My own father was placed into the institution (Royal Derwent Hospital) back in the 1980s. Why would I be insensitive to the people who lived and worked here?’’ she said.

However, Friends of Willow Court spokesperson Anne Salt said she fully supported the decision to pause all tours while a Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan was developed.