foot­loose RON MOON

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents -

I WAS wan­der­ing around Beech­worth Ceme­tery not long ago, check­ing out some of the in­ter­est­ing grave­stones, when a com­plete stranger walked up to me and started telling me about some of the graves there. At first I thought it was a bit strange, but then walk­ing around a ceme­tery is pe­cu­liar and even a lit­tle macabre to some. How­ever, I don’t mind wan­der­ing around an old burial ground; in fact, I go out of my way to find them and see what ‘fas­ci­nat­ing’ graves and head­stones I can find.

In my de­fence I’m not alone in this. If you do a cur­sory search on the web you’ll find all sorts of web­sites ded­i­cated to our ceme­ter­ies and graves and the peo­ple and his­tory con­tained therein.

At the en­trance to the Beech­worth Ceme­tery is a plaque, which goes some way to ex­plain the fas­ci­na­tion some peo­ple have with grave­yards.

In ceme­ter­ies lives are com­mem­o­rated, tes­ti­monies of de­vo­tion and pride are there for all to see, and com­mu­ni­ties pay their re­spects to those buried there. Fi­nally, a ceme­tery is a his­tory of peo­ple, which goes some way to ex­plain­ing why the Na­tional Trust of Aus­tralia has set a goal of record­ing all the known burial sites; first in NSW, but hope­fully and even­tu­ally in all of Aus­tralia.

The web­sitewww. aus­tralian ceme­ter­ies. com.au is a good spot to start with your search on ceme­ter­ies, while there are books, guides and more in­for­ma­tion avail­able on our his­toric burial grounds to be found in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne. The old­est ceme­tery in Aus­tralia is the St Johns Ceme­tery in Par­ra­matta, with the first in­ter­ment be­ing a child in 1790.

You don’t have to visit too many ceme­ter­ies to re­alise that in the early days of Aus­tralian set­tle­ment – and even into the 1900s – be­ing a child was a fairly risky un­der­tak­ing. I re­mem­ber find­ing one head­stone in a re­mote grave­yard in out­back Queens­land, on what was an old gold­field, of five chil­dren un­der the age of 11 years old, all lost to the one fam­ily in the course of just 10 years.

A bit of search­ing in the re­mote north­ern Flin­ders Ranges at the Yud­na­mu­tana min­ing site will re­veal a small burial ground. While there are some early pi­o­neer prospec­tors buried there, prob­a­bly the sad­dest head­stone be­longs to An­nie Bar­ney, aged just 39, who died on De­cem­ber 27, 1906, two days af­ter Christ­mas, the plaque sim­ply read­ing, ‘Shot by hus­band’.

Right across Aus­tralia, es­pe­cially in those of­ten short-lived min­ing ar­eas such as Yud­na­mu­tana, you’ll find ceme­ter­ies that record how tough life was in th­ese re­mote fields. Some of the older ones died of thirst, while some were killed in falls or crushed in min­ing ac­ci­dents. At Mt Mul­li­gan, in Far North Queens­land, the nearby ceme­tery is tes­ti­mony to the worst min­ing dis­as­ter in Aus­tralian his­tory: in 1921 a se­ries of un­der­ground ex­plo­sions re­sulted in 75 min­ers be­ing killed.

Of course, not all of our burial grounds are An­glo-euro­pean. Some are Afghan (think of our desert towns that were once rail­heads, like Mar­ree), a few are Ja­panese (think Broome and TI) and quite a few Chi­nese (think Beech­worth and other min­ing towns). All are di­rect links to our rich his­tory.

Not all those who died in the re­mote ar­eas of Aus­tralia were buried in a ceme­tery. My great grand­mother was one of them, and she lies buried amongst a small copse of trees in the mid­dle of a wheat pad­dock not far from Salmon Gums, in­land from Esper­ance, WA. Such lonely graves can be found all over Aus­tralia, poignant re­minders of our past and the en­deav­ours of our fore­fa­thers and moth­ers.

Chi­nese ceme­tery at Beech­worth; and (right) Moonie at his great grand­mother's grave.

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