Category Archives: Cemetery Explorers

Offering Endless Variety of Nothing

It was Grand Final Day and crowds were packing the MCG. This is the day everything seems to stop in Melbourne and the city takes on the feeling of being a ghost town as people gather in venues to watch the match. It is the day of bar-b-ques and general partying.

Not being vaguely interested in football,  the big match or for that matter being in a crowd, I was feeling a little restless.

Sensing my need for broad open spaces on land where there is a whole lot of nothing, Akari (my beloved Mazda 3) rattled her wheels and said she was up for one of our mystery tours. So, without stopping to gather any supplies, the Lappies (my two Finnish Laphaunds) and I set off on one of our expeditions.

We headed west from Castlemaine, through Maldon, stopping briefly for a sniff run at Eddington and then on beyond Dunolly to Bealiba.

The area around Bealiba was originally known as Cochrane’s, after John and James Cochrane, who took up a pastoral run in 1853. When gold was discovered in 1855-56 the area was known as Cochrane’s Diggings, but the surveyor who laid out the township in 1862 adopted the name of the pastoral run, ‘Bealaba’, later Bealiba. It is thought that the name is derived from Aboriginal words meaning red gum creek.

Once a hub for those seeking gold today Bealiba is a quiet little town. With nothing open to visit, I was content to go to the historic cemetery where one is inevitably confronted with the grief that people who lived in this harsh place endured. As the headstone I photographed testifies, the mortality rate amongst infants was very high. The loss endured by John and Mary Jones is hard to imagine.

Glancing at the petrol gauge Akari and I agreed that it was best to head towards St Arnaud. The drive from Bealiba to this gracious old town seemed to take forever and Akari and I muttered to one another about the folly of deciding to wander about in a part of the world where there is hardly a car to be seen. But we pressed on, relieved to finally reach our destination and stop to refuel, for me to savour coffee and a packet of mixed sandwiches. As I looked at the beautifully manicured park across the road I did think that next time we spontaneously decided to head bush I might pack my picnic basket.

Logan, with its endless variety of absolutely nothing, represents outstanding paucity of value for the tourist dollar. Situated in an area that boasts some superb scenic, high speed, touring roads with extremely low traffic density this is a shabby scrap of dying history

So journey to Logan and relive the shocking hardship of those wretched souls who opened up this land for reasons that no historian has ever been able to fathom.

All roads lead to the Logan Pub.

Sourced from Logan Pub Website – a delightful must read.

As we left St Arnaud I contemplated how far it was to get back to Castlemaine. It was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon the Logan Pub in The Scrub a hotel which promotes itself as offering old fashioned hospitality. The hotel’s quirky website informs us that Logan, a rustic and historically significant hamlet in North Central Victoria, offers the genuine tourist a wealth of valuable experiences.

The perfect place to wait and meet Godot I wondered?

Over a lemon-lime and bitters and a bag of potato crisps, I stopped to chat with the bartender (look carefully you will find him in the photo I took) and took in my surroundings. I mentally noted the assorted items that were hanging from the roof and adorning the shelves. Nearby the huge screen revealed that the big match had started and an array of country folk began to materialize to watch it. I was happy to slip quietly away and head home via Tarnagulla.

A day spent in a land where there is supposedly nothing revealed that there is always something. There never was nothing in the beginning and it turns out that there is something very special in a part of the world that proclaims to be a place where there is a whole lot of nothing.

Footnote: This post is taken from a journal entry. I am offering an intensive journal writing course at the Castlemaine Community House beginning on October 16th. An online version is available at Trains of Thought but only subscribers can view this. Feel free to contact me for more details.

Places for Quiet Meditation – Prague

 

Throughout most recorded history, human societies have used various types of cemeteries for burial purposes; this theme points to humanity’s need to construct a meaning behind death and reflect life into the places where the dead are interred. Whether the bodies of the deceased are placed in the ground, within elaborate tombs, or simply in the presence of ancient or contemporary monuments, their location holds symbolic meaning as well as practical historical meaning for the surrounding living community. 

At the beginning of November, Mexicans celebrate Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. People wash and sweep their family’s grave-houses, decorate them with flowers, bring their loved ones’ favourite dishes, and eat the meal by the graves.

Up until the early 20th century, cemeteries in America were a popular place to relax, picnic and get together near a loved one’s grave.

In Prague, the old Jewish Cemetery is a popular place of pilgrimage, particularly by Jewish people who come to pray and leave small coins on tombstones. While I was in Prague I visited this famed cemetery but I managed to find my way to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Zizkov and the sprawling, beautiful Olsany Cemetery which is also in Zizkov.

The challenge, this November, is to think of a ritualistic way that I can honour my ancestors.

A Touch of the Macabre in Kutna Hora

If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;

‘Tis sweet to know….
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It make the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

Emily Dickinson

Once I learned about the Sedlec Ossuary I knew that I would be making a visit to Kutna Hora during my time in the Czech Republic. It was by sheer chance that I stumbled upon Prague Bus Tours as I scurried away, fled from the milling masses in the Old Town Square in the centre of Prague. There was little to hold me there!  Overpriced cafes, endless shops selling piles of tacky souvenirs, horse and cart rides and the usual get on, get off bus tours. There may well have been better deals available but this company, true to their word, picked me up at my Airbnb and even went out of their way to drop me at another address on the return journey.

The only downside was that our charming guide never had volume button so we could not lower the sound as we drove through the Bohemian countryside. When two American women and I tumbled off the bus all I could mutter was that “I only came to see the bones!”. As we distanced ourselves from the very loud commentary I teased others and asked why they were not taking notes. Much to fellow travellers amusement, I remarked that there would be a test at the end and if we failed we would have to do it all again, with him, tomorrow.

That aside, nothing prepares you for the awe-inspiring Sedlec Ossuary. For once I was speechless! It is magnificent and I was taken by what I perceived to be ‘reverence’ for those fallen whose bones lie here.

Idyllic Bush Resting Place

Bush songs devised by ordinary, everyday people are a record of the people’s experiences of living, surviving and dying in the bush, as well as the colourful slang of bush life.

 

Today, on my way back from meeting a friend at Malmsbury for lunch, I saw a sign, that I had never noticed before, pointing to the Elphinstone Cemetery. It was quite a trek, along an unsealed road, to find this well maintained old cemetery. At the time when it was established in Elphinstone, there would have been more bush to be seen. Today you pass by properties on acreage!

What is it about ‘the bush’ that is so special to Australians? The bush has an iconic status in Australian life and features strongly in any debate about national identity, especially as expressed in Australian literature, painting, popular music, films and foods.

The bush was something that was uniquely Australian and very different to the European landscapes familiar to many new immigrants. The bush was revered as a source of national ideals by the likes of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. Romanticising the bush in this way was a big step forward for Australians in their steps towards self-identity. The legacy is a folklore rich in the spirit of the bush.

Many Australian myths and legends have emanated from the bush. Early bushranging – ranging or living off the land – was sometimes seen as a preferred option to the harsh conditions experienced by convicts in chains. Later bushrangers such as Jack Donohue, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly were seen as rebellious figures associated with bush life. Their bushmanship was legendary as well as necessary. Source: The Australian Bush

Penang’s First Lady – Martina Rozells

A Eurasian of Siamese and Portuguese descent, Martina Rozells, is said to be have been born in Thaland, Phuket and later became an adopted child of the Sultan of Kedah in what is today Malaysia – just south of Satun province in Thailand. She has variously been depicted as the a Siamese Princess, the Princess of Kedah

Much has been written about Francis Light, the founder of Penang, but little has been written about his beautiful Thai-Eurasian, common in law wife, Martina Rozells.

“Martina Rozells co-habited with Francis Light, the founder of Penang, for at least 22 years before his death from malaria in 1794. She bore him five (or possibly six) children, one of whom later became the founder of Adelaide in Australia. Founding a city must have been written into the genetic code of both father and son.

Over the years many romantic legends have been constructed about Martina, and the truth may never be fully known. One of the most exotic stories is that she was a princess of the royal house of Kedah and that the island of Penang was presented to her (and her husband) by the Sultan as her dowry. However, as the Sultan demanded tribute from Penang as recompense for revenue lost, this cannot be true. Along with this story is the notion that Light and Martina were actually married according to Malay customs; but they were not recognised by the East India Company.

Other versions of the Martina story dress her as a Catholic Eurasian of mixed Thai and Portuguese descent. One of the reasons for Light not marrying her might have been the fact that she was a Roman Catholic and he was a Protestant. The other is that she was almost certainly a Eurasian. It is hard for us to realise how much race counted for in the past. Being of mixed race was especially tricky because you belonged to neither side. Despite these prejudices, the Eurasian community has made a rich contribution in the field of Penang’s musical history, with artists like Jimmy Boyle, Joe Rozells, Larry Rodrigues, the Baum brothers, the Jeremiahs, Colleen Read and Leo Aeria. An equally important Eurasian heritage piece is in the field of food with such delights as Beef Semur, Chicken Devil Curry and Salted fish pickles – all Malaysian favourites even today. It is thought that Francis Light himself invited the first wave of Eurasian migrants to come to Penang in 1786, the year of the Colony’s founding and that subsequent migrants came from Phuket as well as Kedah.

Light died fairly young, but he had made exceptionally detailed provision for Martina in his will, which perhaps gives us an indication of the value placed upon common household objects in those days: “I give and bequeath unto the said Martina Rozells my bungalow in George Town with one set of mahogany tables, two card cables, two couches, two bedstead large and two small with bedding…. a dressing table and 18 chairs, two silver candle sticks, one silver teapot, two sugar dishes, twelve table spoons, twelve tea spoons, one soup spoon and all the utensils not under the stewards charge to be disposed of as she thinks proper without any limitation. I also give Martina Rozells four of my best cows and one bull….” (Quoted in Streets of George Town).

It is rather shameful that after Light’s death, his business partners tried to cheat Martina out of her inheritance by transferring his properties into their names. She struggled in the courts for many years perhaps hampered by being illiterate, as so many women were in those days. She did finally win justice in 1812 but by then, she had married John Timmins. Even the street which once bore her name, Martina’s Lane, has been renamed Leith Street Ghaut”.

taken from Expat Go

Wall and doorway between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Cemeteries. Photo from http://malaysianmeanders.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/penangs-colonial-past-at-old-protestant.html

It is not clear where Martina Rozells was buried but, given that she died in 1822 in Penang, it is quite possible that, as a Catholic, she was buried in the Catholic Cemetery, divided from the Protestant Cemetery by a wall.

Stones Record Family Losses

In the first few years of the colony, mortality was very high, but the common childhood infections were absent until the 1830s. From the 1880s, there was a sustained decline in mortality from communicable diseases, and therefore in aggregate mortality, while maternal mortality remained high.

Some details included with photos.

Akari Writes Her Own Adventures

I am sure you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you’re chased by a tiger.  You can escape it by leaping into the ocean 50 feet below (go to page 48) or face the tiger with your homemade slingshot (go to page 128).

Akari (my Mazda 3) loves driving through roads with avenues of white-trunked eucalypts. Side roads beckon! It is hard for her to resist them. However, while she could be talked into some sophisticated adventuring, Akari is no risk taker. For the moment she finds it is exciting enough to explore hidden valleys and go down unmade roads that are not only reserved for four-wheel drives.

Akari and I were out messing about today and we wandered along out of the way, an unmade bush road called Providence Gully Road. When we turned off the road, along another unmade road, to head towards civilisation, we came upon this rather dramatic entrance to a property. We thought this might be just the setting to write your own adventure.

The gate is open!

You take the time talk to all the bones and heads that are decorating the gate to learn more about what really lies within.

OR

Thinking that Baba Yaga may live here and give you the creative fire you decide to ignore all the DO NOT ENTER signs and step through the portal into this private world.

OR

Because you are so imaginative you think of something else!

Melissa Pilakowski puts forward a fun version of writing your own adventure using Hamlet as a kick starter.

 

 

Honouring The Pioneers

Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife is an Australian classic that depicts life for the early Australian pioneers. McCubbin’s monumental painting The pioneer reflects the self-conscious nationalism of the years immediately following Federation. Each panel is ‘read’ to link the progress of toil on this land across time.

The first panel shows a pioneering couple in their new bush environment: the man is lighting a fire to boil the billy, while the woman contemplates their future life. The second panel shows the couple several years later: the woman holds a baby, land has been cleared and a small house has been built. In the final panel a bushman discovers a grave, and in the background a city begins to emerge. It is uncertain who has died and whether the male figure is the pioneer, his son or a stranger. By presenting his painting across three panels – the triptych format for traditional religious art – McCubbin elevated the status of the pioneer within Australian art history.

The pioneers who came to Central Victoria are honoured in various ways. Less marks the lives of those people who lived on the land that was not actually empty when Europeans first arrived.

This installation, at the Vaughan Cemetery, was gifted by the artist in memory of her pioneering ancestors who, like couple, sacrificed so much and contributed to shaping the township of Vaughan. She also pays respect to the Dja Daj Warring, the first people who lived here.

Cemetery Exploring With Akari

Workers and players have earned their repose.
Soon on their names all in vain we shall call,
For even the grandest old landmarks must fall.
Just a warm hand-clasp ere one disappears—
These are the last of the old pioneers.
John Sandes

Turn off the Castlemaine to Maldon road onto the gravel Sandy Creek road and follow the old Cobb & Co route, past the old hotel, where they stopped for a break and drive on  towards Welshman’s Reef through Box-ironbark country.

Welshmans Reef is a former gold mining town 15 km west of Castlemaine and 110 km north-west of Melbourne. The name presumably came about from a Welshman discovering the gold-bearing reef: there were numerous Welsh and Methodist settlers at neighbouring townships such as Fryerstown and Vaughan.

West of Welshmans Reef there were the Loddon flats, which enabled miners to diversify into farming. A school was opened in 1877. The place was seldom more than a hamlet and its peak pre-twenty-first-century census population of 215 persons was in 1915. In 1956 the Cairn Curran Reservoir was completed, inundating much of the river flats.

As you approach the hamlet a sign points to the old Sandy Creek Cemetery, a cemetery that was closed in 1956. Many pioneers who came seeking gold lie here. Noting our arrival a large mob of kangaroos took off, bounding across the creek.

The sight of so many small white, numbered markers, combined with the fact that there were only a few headstones, took my breath away. Memorials placed by descendants revealed that this  is a place to honour the pioneers who came here.

The Past Dwells Here

An entire past comes to dwell here!
Gaston Bachelard ‘Poetics of Space’

In the summer of 2011, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula on Scotland’s west coast, excavations revealed the only known Viking boat burial to be excavated on the British mainland in modern times. The vessel survived in the form of more than 200 rivets, many in their original location, and indicated a small clinker boat. It contained a sword, an axe, a spear, a ladle, an Irish bronze ring-pin and the bronze rim of a drinking horn. These items indicate that it was a remarkably rich Viking boat burial of a warrior. Positioned beside the warship Roskilde 6, the Ardnamurchan boat burial represents the final journey of a Viking warrior, sailing into the afterlife. Source: A History of the Viking World

An African proverb says that ‘when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground’.

Here at the Glenlyon Cemetery there may not be a rich treasury of artefacts, but rich memories lie here. One grave holds an image, perhaps created by the lad who died, forever young, who is mourned by his family.

Another tombstone in the Sutton Grange Cemetery includes images of a young lad skiing. A photo of his beloved dog watches over him. Nearby the crystals, of ‘a woman with a gentle soul’ are mingled among the stones of a beautiful modern memorial.

It is may not be as fashionable to spend time in cemeteries now but a graveyard can be  a great place to explore local history and genealogy, take a peaceful seasonal walk and contemplate the pasts that lie there.

It is also a great place to meditate, make art and enjoy a flask of coffee!

Interpreting Spaces

In an age of so much homogenised space, so much shoddy, cramped, dimly lit, low ceilinged space, these resting places offer a fresh way of interpreting and understanding space. In an era suffused by television and video games, fluorescent lighting and plastic floors, air conditioning and badly built houses these memorials demonstrate the poetry of space and love.

from forward to ‘The Poetics of Space’ written by John R Stilgoe

 

If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.

All inhabited space bears the essence of home.
Gaston Bachelard

Local Cemetery Exploration

This Sutton Grange Cemetery enjoys scenic views across to Mount Alexander and the green stone quarry of special significance to the aboriginal people who first lived here.

What used to be a thriving town during the prosperous days of the early 19th century, Sutton Grange has now been reduced to a population of around 150 people, after a typically devastating Australian bushfire ravaged the town, burning down most of the area’s established civic buildings and homes, and leaving behind nothing but scorched earth on the land that remained. Today, the town survives off the back of a few determined farming families who raise sheep and cattle, breed thoroughbred horses, and grow wine.

The Glenlyon Cemetery is another quiet, beautifully maintained, peaceful space.

 

Akari’s Mystery Tour

Definition: a mystery tour is a short journey that people make for pleasure without knowing where they are going

Akari, my 2008 Mazda 3, specialises in magical mystery tours that feed the soul and the creative spirit. Akari knows all about duende, that raw, tempestuous creative energy that flamenco guitarists, gypsies and dancers are familiar with. Her inclusive tours take in all aspects of Central Victoria including: geology, the environment, culture, flora, fauna and history.

A mystery tour is all about anticipation! Those who come on one of Akari’s tours, especially visitors from other countries, are always surprised when Akari takes them to some out of the way  place that reveals a different perspective of Australia. They are always  inspired !

Today, with the smell of spring in the air, my dogs and I went out on an artistic date with Akari.

 

In Art Heals: How Creativity Heals The Soul, Shane McNiff says that ‘photography can help us become more aware of our environments. When we walk with a camera searching for images… this process helps us look more closely and deeply at our surroundings.” There is no doubt that the camera has the capacity to hold moments of our perception and help us to see the possibilities for perceptual awareness.

I took the time to receive the benefits of aesthetic contemplation and to look attentively.  My perceptions were not all captured by the iPhone! Moliagul is almost a ghost town now yet it proudly boasts being the site where the Welcome Stranger Gold Nugget, found here by John Deason, changed Australian History.  Moliagul also has an amazing monument to John Flynn who pioneered the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service in Cloncurry, Queensland (later to be renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service). At one time he was the headmaster at the small iconic school I stopped to photograph.

This meditation brings a new energy and creativity into my life. The fruits of Waiting For Godot over the past three months are beginning to ripen. There are so many things I can do with the images I collected on this ‘tour’ with Akari! I look forward to a rich harvest.

Mcniff, S 2004, Art Heals: How Creativity Cures The Soul, Shambala, Boston

Harsh Times on the Goldfields

Life in the 1850’s in Hobart Town was not easy. Like my great grandfather it is  likely that this family were drawn to the Victorian goldfields, from Hobart, lured by the prospect of finding gold and making a fortune.

Disease was rife upon the goldfields, where poor sanitation meant that refuse and excrement were liable to end up in the rivers that supplied drinking water for those on the diggings. Dysentery, typhus and other contagious diseases were all represented. The monotonous diet of mutton and damper did not help the health of diggers, and it is probable that many people, especially during the first years of a rush, were deficient in essential nutrients and vitamins. Common colds could be lethal; because of the combination of lack of sanitation and poor diet, miners lacked the necessary antibodies to fight off disease. With a weak immune system, a cold could quickly develop into pneumonia.

Within a week something of plague proportions wiped out Elizabeth Smart and her children. It is hard to imagine how Elizabeth Smart’s husband managed the grief of the loss of  his wife and children within such a short time . The experience of life on the goldfields was different for all who arrived, but few, as this tombstone reveals, had it easy. This husband and father had it tough.

Sacred To The Memory Of
Elizabeth Smart
Native of Hobart Town
Who Died July 5th 1864
Aged 26 Years
Also
Salena Smart
Who Died July 5th 1864
Aged 5 Years
Also
Henry Smart
Who Died July 8th 1864
Aged 5 Years
Also
Elizabeth Smart
Who Died July 10th 1864
Aged 14 Days

Weep not for me my husband dear 
I am not dead but sleeping here
Weep not for me but pity take
And love my children for my sake

The Stones and Ground Here Tells Stories

Recently I have taken to exploring cemeteries.  A taphophile, otherwise known as Tombstone tourist, cemetery enthusiast, detective or graver is an individual who has a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries, epitaphs, gravestone rubbing, photography, art, and history of (famous) deaths.

I am not sure I will become a taphophile but I can see how visiting cemeteries can become quite addictive. Cemeteries tell the histories of our towns, states, and our country as well as the stories of all the people who lived in the community. Apart from being able to contemplate the meaning of life, there are lots of interesting things to find. The stones in these places certainly have stories to tell.

No doubt because of its isolation and the shortage of water the Eddington cemetery is decidedly derelict. Although there are recent graves no one is obviously taking care of this place and it has been affected by the contrasting heat and cold experienced in this harsh part of the world.

This tiny green area, a family grave sheltered by a very old peppercorn tree is an exception. Just as old people are all too often abandoned in sterile care units, it feels as if the dead who lie here have been abandoned to bake in the summer heat and freeze on extremely frosty mornings.

Perhaps most disturbing was the sign pointing to the Paupers section; a barren field with no markers.

Sadly paupers funerals still exist. They are now known as destitute funerals. In general they are given to people with no known family or assets. They are arranged by the police, if the person dies at home or in a nursing home or by the Social Worker if they die in hospital.

In the situation where someone dies and the family have no ability to pay for funeral expenses it is possible to have the state pay for the funeral. However there is no formal service because a chapel would need to be hired and the priest/minister paid. The grave is not marked so it is difficult to visit in the future.

The paupers section is devoid of statuary with one exception. A stone marking the life of a man who loved fishing lies here.

 

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