It strikes me that it is only in bygone eras that they’d situate a cemetery with prime views across the sea, unable to anticipate the coming centuries where it would become prime real estate with million dollar views to die for, excuse the pun. But of course it was a practical locale as well, because the sailors would bring their dead in for burial in the sandy soils from the early 1800’s.
On the day I decide to walk through the cemetery we are leaving – the rain has set in and the blessing of a week of sunshine in Winter on the south coast of New South Wales has come to an end. The blue skies that turned TwoFold Bay in Eden into a turquoise paradise are now stone grey. The mist rolls over the gums as the rain falls onto the lichen, honey grevilleas, shells and plastic flowers which decorate the architecture of the place.
In any historical Australian graveyard I feel the terrible distances between Europe and Australia in those times. I wonder what brought them to this place on the other side of the world, and what it felt like to know you would never return to your homeland. For some, perhaps, this might have been a good thing – a place of opportunity, of escape, and the promise of fortunes in a new land. Some many never have felt the tug of nostalgia or the longing for family left behind. But I can’t help feel the wistfulness of the migrants who might have stared out into the bay and thought of how their lives would have been if they hadn’t come here, especially as they buried their dead.
Of course, cemeteries are fascinating because of the stories within them, the ones you cannot possibly know about unless some ancestry digging distant relative had recorded their story on the internet. The unknown graves are of course the biggest of mysteries, but then, all it makes me feel really is that I don’t want a marker on my grave, or to occupy space when I’m gone. Jamie spotted the line on this grave which reads ‘see, I told you I was sick!’, and I laughed that she clearly *wanted* that inscription on her grave for who else would have such black humour as to request for that on their loved ones grave? I wondered about the inscription too of the one who lived a ‘busy and useful life’ – is that a marker of a good life? Would someone say that about me? What makes ones life ‘useful’, after all? Isn’t that rather arbitrary? And if one wasn’t useful, according to this criteria, would you go ahead and write ‘lived a useless life, didn’t do a lot’ on someone’s grave?
There’s so many details that aren’t written on gravestones and the mind wants to fill in the gaps. What happened to the woman who died at 32 years old at Green Cape, now a national park and a campground and fishing spot? Did she fall off a cliff or drown? Of course, being a coastal area there would be so many drownings. There is the family who lost their son in the first world war, only for the lot of them to drown at sea after him, as if some karmic debt was wiping out the entire family line – and if it didn’t, who was left behind to mourn them?
I wonder too about how even in death there are symbols of wealth and status in society – the huge pieces of granite surrounded by iron fences in contrast to more simple sandy graves with the wooden crosses long rotten. But time has a way of levelling – the inscriptions wear away in the storms that rise up over the ocean or the lichen obscures the lettering, the stones fall and crack, and the iron rusts and breaks, and we disappear, into the sands of time.