It seems strange to have arrived at forty-something with only a few deaths among my circle of family and friends (but by no means none of significance), and of course I know that from here on in they will come with increasing frequency. Some of you reading this will be nodding from your own greater experience, no doubt.
Today I heard that a friend from school had passed away, someone I had not seen for twenty years until I got in contact with him a few years ago, and had got to know again through the lens of maturity and see the wonderful person he had continued to become. Not only that, but I got acquainted with his beautiful family, further enriching the experience.
Hearing that this great bloke had suddenly died was shocking, and plunged me back to a dark time when someone knocked on my door with news of the same kind for me, my heart swallowing itself whole. The grief I have known most intimately is for a partner: full of a leaden lack of sensation, except an ache in your chest you can’t rub away; of meals barely touched and mockingly tasteless, and toss-turn nights with dreams of mounds of dirt in the bed at your side; the text messages you send, knowing they’ll never be answered; the absolute, bloody loss as your dreams for the future are ripped away.
Grief is personal, of course. Maybe yours feels different to what I describe.
Grief is because of gains, and it’s because of loss. Sometimes, gains keep multiplying in time as you move slowly towards the light again, and you bless what you had with genuine gladness instead of an assumed, desperate hopefulness. Grief can change shape, if you let it, with time, and become a thing that creates you into something better than you were. That’s what I hope for my friend’s family (though I acknowledge that the experience of the departed’s family can be very different from that of a partner): that the light of his life shines over the rest of theirs.
The Mansfield cemetery is one that beckons you in to explore its historic graves, with some telling the story of pioneering families lost dreadfully over the life of its surviving matriarch, and others of heroic stands made and failed against the legendary Ned Kelly gang.
South of Goroke, and set away from the main road down a lane, is a tiny bush cemetery with a dozen graves, some of which are fairly recent additions to the older ones. Stopping before the one in the first image, I was struck by the inscription – the death of one’s infant children within a year of each other is a sad thing in anyone’s language.
‘In loving memory of HARRY GORDON and MABEL PHILLIPS infant children of JP & R Jelbart 1885, 1886. “TILL THE DAY DAWNS.”‘
As I looked away from the main cluster, I saw an impressive headstone way over on the eastern edge, unflanked by others. Making my way across the uneven ground, heavily carpeted in grass and native understorey, I was interrupted by the soft bounding of a large Eastern Grey kangaroo, moving to get away from the human intrusion.
‘In Loving Memory of JOHN D’ARCY FORREST born in Melbourne 1840, died 26th July 1902. Also children of above LYDIA died Sept. 3rd 1895, LESLIE NORMAN died Nov. 9th 1899.’
After taking a few shots, I spotted another gravestone set against the southern boundary, tucked beneath some small trees, and made my way through the thick grass to look.
‘In Loving Memory Our Dear Father GEORGE MUNT died March 9th 1893, aged 65 years. THOUGH LOST TO SPORT. TO MEMORY DEAR. And his son CHARLES HENRY MUNT died Sept. 15th 1951 aged 82 years.’
The day I visited was cool and overcast, but without a hint of the oddness that sometimes overtakes me in places like this.
Recently we had the unexpected opportunity of making a quick trip up to the Flinders Ranges in the north of South Australia, and despite it being during the school holiday period, we were able to book a room at Blinman Hotel.
Blinman is located an easy hour’s drive north of popular tourist destination, Wilpena Pound. It has been around 15 years since I last travelled through the area, and I was delighted to find the road through to Blinman had been sealed since then, making the trip even easier.
At 614m above sea level, Blinman is apparently the highest town in the state – it’s also pretty dry most of the time, and this being a fairly standard year, rainfall-wise, the dust lay thickly on every car we saw. The town makes a good base for camping and day trips, with interesting drives through the nearby gorges, another outback pub to visit at Parachilna, and a cemetery full of the town’s history.
Feeling beyond full after our evening meal at the pub, we decided to take a walk in the balmy darkness. Inevitably, heading downhill from the hotel led us to the cemetery, so we headed on in. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be hanging out in a cemetery after dark; but it was a beautiful night, and we had nowhere else to be.
It turned out to be the perfect place to try out some dramatic flash photography – particularly as my flash is usually kept switched off. The fun was in trying to get the shots lined up in the dark properly, and I was surprised that most of them turned out okay!
This is a very harsh environment to live in, and the number of graves – both marked and unmarked – is a testament to this.
There is more information available about the cemetery at Ancestry.com.