Yesterday, with housework piling up and a to-do list longer than my arm could reach, I yearned for the outdoors. Instead of opting to work in the garden, which would benefit from two weeks of hard yakka by ten brawny men, I grabbed the trowel and headed out of town.
The previous morning, hi-viz vests were dotted like sunflowers amongst the graves, as volunteers weeded and raked. On this visit, I was the only living person in the cemetery. Tending the past was the morning’s mission.
The Maldon Cemetery Beautification Group, which includes women from the local prison farm, does a wonderful job of keeping the place tidy. Although my great-uncle’s grave was reasonably neat, the weeds and grass had taken hold in between the rubble of the shattered slab. The wooden handle of the trowel lasted half an hour before splitting asunder with the pressure of digging in ground riddled with quartz. Gold country is unkind to tools and backs and was even more unkind to the miners of the past.
Undeterred, I levered chunks of broken concrete and dug up weeds, chatting with Henry Haworth and his mate Charles Bird, who lay side by side. To reach the middle of the wide plot, there was no choice but to scramble onto the grave. I figured they wouldn’t mind too much. How long was it since they’d had company? I apologised for any unintended disrespect, and ruminated aloud, suggesting they perhaps view the ordeal as something similar to a Saturday night spruce up, in anticipation of a night on the town.
Focused on the task, and deep in thought and a one-sided conversation, a voice startled me. It took me a moment to locate the owner. No, it was not a voice from the grave, though I’d have been thrilled if it were – so many questions to ask.
Apologising, the woman of around my own age approached along the row of graves. Shielding our eyes against the glare of the autumn sun, we embarked on a conversation of discoveries. She, too, had delved, if briefly, into her family history. Many of her ancestors were buried in the cemetery. Although considered a ‘local’ she was not now a resident. Her forefathers had owned the shop, one block from where I live, that is now a residence but still sports the painted ‘Rego’ sign. Like me, she had a mystery in her family, hers a spinster aunt, who had been engaged to an unknown man. Mine (one of many) was Henry, a bachelor, buried with another man.
Perhaps neither of us will ever solve our mysteries. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. For my grandchildren, and their children, there will be no great mysteries about my life – if the pile of journals in the cupboard proves to be of any interest. Needless to say, I’m relived to know I’ll be past embarrassment when they are read!