Way to go Australia


So many ways to die…

fire, drowning, fever, poison, lightning, murder, mining, suicide, the list of creative ways Australians have found to die is endless.

This is a harsh land, and one of the best reminders of that is to visit a cemetery.

All over the country, from the capital cities to places with only a name and a few decaying gravestones, stand man-made reminders of the souls who lost battles with this land.

Many gravestones have been lost to the elements, along with the records which proved their existence. Weathered stone markers have fallen, cracked, or been destroyed by lichen. The letters which spell out the last remaining memory of a person have faded and are impossible to make out.

Image: Sharyn Moodie

But even those words which are still legible do little to describe the myriad ways people have found to die in Australia.

Newspapers give macabrely detailed accounts of disembowelments, limbs blown off, crispy corpses, often in a delighted tone.

This exploration of how Australians have died gives a glorious insight into who we were, how we lived and how our deaths were reported

The stories with named deceased are mostly about deaths about 100 and more years old, out of respect for those still living. Most are in remote cemeteries, and long forgotten.

The Barringun cemetery is on the border of NSW and Queensland, in the middle of a paddock. The fence has fallen down and stock can roam the barren grounds. Image: Sharyn Moodie

And as time inexorably passes, perhaps these stories may be all that eventually remains. Click on the names to read the stories of these lost souls, and help perpetuate their memories.

Abbott, Charles, Springsure, QLD (1926) – died while working up a windmill he was fixing for a friend.

Ackerman, William, Coolgardie, WA (1898). The constable William Ackerman Westrop died at midnight of “consumption of the throat”, a term which usually referred to tuberculosis. His illness was blamed on “turning out at all hours of the night in attending to the prisoners”.

Allen, Henry, Gulgong, NSW 1918 – jumped off a horse-drawn lorry as the horses were bolting. It didn’t end well.

Armitage, George, Bourke, NSW (1877). The policeman was shot by a barman, for an unknown reason. Newspapers of the day blamed either the delirium tremors, or a temporary madness on the part of the culprit.

Ayton, Grace, Charters Towers, QLD. They were saying “such is life” way back in 1888 – even on children’s headstones.

Bassett, Archie, Condobolin, NSW (1900). Eight-year-old Archie was sent “out after cows’’ one Saturday afternoon. His horse came home riderless about 20 minutes later.

Beretta, Leo, Coolgardie, WA (1900) died when his bicycle’s fork broke as he was moving at about 40 miles/hour. He was training to race at the time when the sport was the world’s most popular and lucrative past-time.

Boggons, George, Boulder, WA, (1900) who fell under a train on his way to work in the mines.

Bothwell, Broken Hill, NSW (1903) drowned while testing a home-made boat on its maiden voyage. He couldn’t swim.

Bowler, John, Darradup, WA (1904) – the engaged schoolteacher died taking a racehorse for a run.

Brennan, James, Cunnamulla, QLD (1911). A workman hit him over the head with a shovel as they argued about wages owed.

Brown, William, Charters Towers, QLD (1880) was a boxer who died after an illegal fight.

Cavanaugh, Mark, Tambo, Qld (1891) died fighting bushfires which were soon after put out by rain. It was assumed he had come off his horse.

Clarkson, Henry and William, near Hooleys Well, WA (1874-5). Taking part in a great cattle drive, they died/were killed while searching for water.

Cook, Millicent, Mudgee, NSW, 1901 – the toddler “got in a scot” and ran away from her siblings. She was found drowned.

Corse, Charles Ophir, NSW 1872. Shoot you bastard, shoot – were the last words he said to his murderer. He had just put his head between his legs – assumedly to present his rear.

Cuper, Mary, New Norcia, WA, 1877 – proved her worth in the strange colonial world.

Curran, Frank, Coonabarabran, NSW, 1915 – died at training camp on his way to WWI.

Currie, Marion, Townsville, QLD 1903 died during Cyclone Leonta when her house fell down around her.

Denovan, Duncan, Stuart Town, NSW (1904). A good deed went fatally wrong for the rabbit hunter.

Donahee, John, Blayney, NSW (1909) – railway fettler dismembered by a train when he mistook which line it was on.

Douglas, John, Thursday Island, QLD was the seventh premier of Queensland.

Dunbar, Charles, Yalgoo, WA, 1928 – One of three men hit by lightning but the other two survived.

Eager, Samuel, Peterborough, SA (1901) When a cattle train and a goods train collided in the early hours of a Saturday morning near Orroroo, the driver of the train responsible blamed dew on the rails. But there was conflict about the true cause.

Earl, Mary, Thursday Island, QLD (1927), was a missionary who died of tetanus.

Ellis, Leslie, Thevenard/Willowie, SA (1928) swam into the ocean to inspect a boat he wanted to buy, but never made it.

embellishments and oddities. Graves are sometimes embellished in intensely personal ways, which tell a bit about the person and the times in which they lived. Here are some of the meaningful, poignant or sometimes plain strange things I have seen decorating graves.

Evans, John, Coolgardie, WA (1901) had a premonition that he would not make it through the day of racing. He was right.

Ezzy, Benjamin, Bathurst, NSW (1889) was a teetotaller railway porter, who refused to take a sip of brandy even as he lay horribly mangled and dying after an unfortunate work accident.

Flynn, Eileen, Peterborough, SA. The 17-years-old’s body was found on a rough track after her borrowed horse bolted while she was on a Christmas road trip to see her father.

Fox, Ambrose Cobar, NSW, (1909) was burnt to death by molten metal as he worked at a copper mine.

Fullerton, Menindee, George, NSW (1882) ”Was brought back a corpse” is how the papers reported the death of the popular travelling magistrate

Gibson, Colin, Coolgardie, WA (1897) – gold fever led to typhoid fever…

Glasson, William, Cobar, NSW (1905). There are a few differing accounts of why 11-year-old William Glasson ended up drowned in the Cobar Gold Mines reservoir.

Gray, James, Kalgoorlie, WA. The 23-year-old’s fallen-down headstone is slowly being buried by the red dust of the Coolgardie cemetery. He died of pneumonia.

Harcourt, Lilian, Kalgoorlie, WA was a barmaid who was touted by the newspapers after her death (1906) as a member of the first London Gaiety Burlesque company. She obviously still had one fan, who paid for her impressive memorial.

Harris, Hannah and William, Cobar NSW (1909). Hannah was taking a swimming lesson from her brother-in-law when they both drowned.

Harrison, Ida, Hughenden, Qld (1926) died when her brother’s bicycle case became entangled in the wheel of the bicycle they were riding.

Herbert, Victoria, Mt Isa, QLD (1948) was a victim of negligence, according to her gravestone. She died after a bus and train collided at a level crossing. Was the bus driver found negligent by the court?

Hockey, Alfred, Orange, NSW (1921) usually took a shortcut across the railway tracks to meet the mail train, until one fateful day.

Hood, Thomas, Gulgong, NSW (1912) – No-one saw the driver of the mail coach from  Mudgee to Wellington get kicked in the face by a horse, but the mark of the shoe was plainly visible on his face.

Huxley, Charles, Cunnamulla, NSW died on Christmas day, 1888.

Jackson, Ruby, Southern Cross, WA, 19-years-old died after a knife was plunged into her breast. Was it deliberate or an accident?

Johnson, Leonard, Kalgoorlie, WA (1915) The explosion which killed the 19-year-old Leonard Johnson was heard two miles away.

Keys, Albert, Cue, WA (1906) – died as his mine shaft collapsed in his final few days of work there.

Kerr, William, Coonabarabran, NSW – was dragged over 100 yards of rough ground by the young horse he was catching.

Khan, Bye, Bourke, NSW (1948), died aged 107, living much longer than the camel transport industry he helped develop.

Kimmorley, Norman, Goondiwindi, QLD (1829). A run of bad luck at the races finished for Norman when his horse took exception to the race.

Kirkup, John, Parkes, NSW “John Kirkup born at Healthpool, Northumberland, England, died 23rd July 1883 in his 50th year, and was buried here far from all his relatives, by whom this stone has been erected.”

Knight, Lucy and Ted Cobar, NSW (1917) Swimming carnival day ends in tragedy when siblings drown.

Leatherbarrow, Alice, Strahan, TAS (1892) and her friends learnt the hard way that train turntables are not playground equipment.

Mackay, Samuel Keith – Port Hedland, WA ( 1924) chartered a plan but died when it crashed soon after take off.

Mack, John, Wilcannia, NSW and his father (suicide) Moses Mercer Mack. The two-year-old died on his father’s paddle boat, beginning a trail of tragedy for his father.

McKay, Alexander Gulgong, NSW (1900). One of nine people murdered by the Jimmy Governor gang, touted as Australia’s last outlaws.

Michael, Charles, SA (1890) had a broken leg, which would not have been fatal but for the contrary winds which delayed his medical treatment.

McCarthy, Annie, Bourke, NSW, aged 4, was one of three children who died on the way to the town’s annual children’s picnic in 1888.

Moore, James, Kalgoorlie, WA was suspected of absconding with the keys to his employer’s safe when he disappeared one morning in 1896. Did he commit the crime or had he suffered a horrible demise?

Morris, Edward, Orange, NSW (1890) stepped off the train at the station where he worked – into a newly erected light post.

Muir, Florence, WA (1926) was fatally burnt while going about her domestic duties.

Muldoon, Bernard, Ilfracombe, QLD (1906). The hotel licencee sacked his yardman William Sheehan. The next day, Sheehan killed him.

Mulligan, Percy, Fremantle, WA (1929). The young daredevil was a promising motorbike racer, but his career was cut devastatingly short.

Oliver, William, Tambaroora, NSW (1873) was killed by a blast charge he had set, and which he erroneously thought had already gone off.

Oxlade, Robert, Goondiwindi, Qld (1897) – It is bad enough to lose a child to drowning, without the press reporting the wrong child had died.

Pedley, John, Bathurst, WA (1901). The old man’s character was forged in the flames of transportation as a convict as a teenager, the harshness of frontier life, Aboriginal massacres and being kidnapped by bushrangers.

Perkins, Arthur, Boulder, WA. His badly cracked headstone has been jigsaw-puzzled together as it lies on the ground at the historic cemetery – and is one of the better preserved markers. He was “torn to pieces” in a mine shaft.

Pitcher, Henry, Bourke, NSW (1870) The 28-year-old’s leg was caught into the cogwheels of a paddle steamer and was crushed to pieces.

Pines, Rosie, Nyngan, NSW (1931) drowned while bathing in a flooded river.

Price, James, Badu Island, QLD (1878) was killed by blackbirded workers while setting up a pearl fishery in the Torres Strat.

Poyner, Edwin, Norseman, WA (1898) was a miner who fell victim to a bowel infection.

Price, Walter Kalgoorlie, WA – accidentally inhaled the fumes of the cyanide plant at the gold mine he worked at.

Quinn, Sophia and children, Parkes, NSW (1895). Newly widowed Sophia, her five children and her sister did not have long to mourn their father before a fire consumed their house.

Richards, Nellie, Charters Towers, QLD (1885) – her drowning death led for calls for the town’s dams to be fenced before any more children were lost.

Rhodes, John Otley, Bathurst, NSW Rev John Otley Rhodes, missionary in Ceylon who died in Bathurst, March 21, 1881 on his way to England in search of health, aged 36 years.

Robinson, Henry, Sofala, NSW (1851) The state’s first payable gold had been found. Henry Robinson was part of the resulting gold rush, until a flash flood came roaring towards him.

Rutter, Fred, Molong, NSW (1899) – was trying to wheel a cow, but his horse collided with it.

Savery, Henry, Port Arthur’s Isle of the Dead, Tasmania, (1842) was Australia’s first novelist. He died after multiple suicide attempts, probably from a stroke.

Scott, John, Tambaroora, NSW( 1874). The scourge of typhoid showed no respect for this gold mine manager.

Stamp, William, Merridin, WA (1928) “I have just taken a dose of strychnine. I also jumped into the dam, but could not stand it any longer, so got out again.”

Scobie, Robert and Elizabeth, Merindee, NSW were new immigrants in 1883. They drowned when sent to fetch water from the river.

Sim, Joseph, Parkes, NSW (1888) fell off his horse while competing in a hurdle even on Boxing Day.

Smith, Leo, Gulgong, NSW 1900 The 13-year-old schoolboy was considered a good rider for his age.

Thompson, David, Coonabarabran, NSW – the mounted policeman took a month to die after his horse dashed him against a tree.

Tindall, Kalgoorlie, Edwin, WA (1900). This policeman found that his ‘fine physique’ could not resist typhoid.

Tolley, Sydney, Norseman, WA (1896) fell victim to a simple infection.

Webster, Robert and John, Bathurst, NSW (1883) – to have one son killed while working in a railway yard is unfortunate, but to have a second son die almost the same way three years later is beyond words.

Wheeler, John George, Springsure, QLD (1867) – a public servant with a mountain named after him – perhaps.

Wilson, William, Epping, Tasmania (1883) was the first victim of two aspiring Ned Kelly admirers.

Yelverton, Henry, Busselton, WA (1880) – Henry Yelverton was considered the most experienced timber merchant in the colony of Western Australia – but it was that industry that killed him.

First Nations
From colonial time to much more recently, the graves of Aboriginal inhabitants showed much about the patriarchal attitude of the invaders.


White range, Arltunga

Chinese, Arabic, Italians, the early melting pot showed in different methods of burial and commemoration.
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