Mystery ‘hum’ baffles Inner West residents

A mysterious 'humming' sound was heard in Sydney's Inner West this morning. File image.

By PETER HACKNEY

Mother Nature appeared to play a pre-dawn prank on residents of the Inner West this morning, when a mysterious humming sound left locals baffled.

Social media users in and around the Balmain peninsula, including the suburbs of Balmain, Leichardt, Lilyfield and Rozelle, reported the strange sound at approximately 4.40am emanating from “the sky”, according to various reports.

One Balmain resident, located near the Father John Terry Catholic Primary School, described the sound as extremely loud.

“Was it just me or did anyone else hear that really, really loud strange noise?” she asked. “I’ve never heard it before.”

Another woman asked social media users if she was “going mad”.

“Just wondering if anyone else heard a strange hum? I’m just trying to establish if I’m going mad.”

The woman said she had checked her house for the source, believing the sound to be “a bit like feedback coming from a speaker”.

“Following the noise, I ended up in my bathroom, opening the window to discover it seemed to be coming from the sky. I thought perhaps one of my neighbours was up early using a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer but … it was too perfect a [frequency],” she wrote.

Others, however, chimed in with prosaic explanations, according to the Daily Mail.

“Sounds like it could have been a cruise ship horn,” one person responded.

Another wrote: “You live on a working harbour. I only remembered hearing it after I read all the whinging comments this morning … You need to get a life.”

A Balmain street scene depicting Sydney Harbour in the background. File photo.

Earlier examples

Despite the scepticism, this isn’t the first time Inner West residents have reported such sounds, with previous complaints coming in from suburbs much further from the harbour.

In 2016, Burwood Council carried out acoustic testing after Mikala Mihaljevic – a resident of Eurella Street, Burwood – formally approached the municipality about a persistent low frequency noise.  

The resident, who carried a letter co-signed by 16 neighbours, told Council the sound was “like a spinning washing machine or a small plane hovering”.

Council investigations were reportedly inconclusive, with the complainant stating: “Staff in Council’s Health and Environment unit, through no fault of their own, do not possess the necessary skills and experience to accurately measure and analyse the noise under investigation.”

In 2011, Neil Hill of Newtown wrote a letter to the editor of the Inner West Courier, published in the title’s 6 October edition, complaining about a persistent local “hum”.

The letter led to other Inner West residents coming forward with similar stories, including John Berry, who lived opposite Sydney University. He reported that a continuous humming noise had disturbed his sleep for years but said investigations had been fruitless.

Global grumblings

The phenomenon – which was the subject of a further Inner West Courier article, detailing similar stories from Balmain, Camperdown and Newtown – has been reported from numerous places in multiple countries since at least the early 1970s.

One of the earliest examples of the phenomenon attracting serious notice was a 1973 New Scientist article by Dr Joseph Hanlon, titled ‘Can some people hear the jet stream?’

The article described more than 50 cases of people complaining about low, throbbing background noises that other people couldn’t hear – including a woman brought to the brink of suicide by the sound – postulating that they may, in fact, be hearing prevailing winds moving across the planet between the troposphere and stratosphere.

Other possible explanations for the persistent hums and buzzing sounds – which have drawn complaints from people in countries as disparate as New Zealand, India and Madagascar – have included electrical substations, industrial activity, magma, tinnitus, wasp colonies, bees and even fish.

A 2012 local TV news report about the West Seattle Hum. Video: xBehindthetruthx/YouTube.

Often named after the place in which the ‘hums’ are heard, there is a so-called Taos Hum in the US state of New Mexico; a West Seattle Hum in Washington, USA; a Bristol Hum in the eponymous British city; and a Windsor Hum in Ontario, Canada; among others. (In August, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition reported that the mystery of the Windsor Hum had been solved – the sound apparently ceased when a nearby steel facility closed.)

Perhaps it’s time to start referring to an Inner West Hum, considering the reports here in Sydney?

It is the silly season, after all.

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