Way to go Australia
DEATH IN THE AUSSIE FRONTIERS
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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, 1915 – died at training camp on his way to WWI.
Donahee, John, Blayney, NSW (1909) – railway fettler dismembered by a train when he mistook which line it was on.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Keys, Albert, Cue, WA (1906) – died as his mine shaft collapsed in his final few days of work there.
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.”
Mackay, Samuel Keith – Port Hedland, WA ( 1924) chartered a plan but died when it crashed soon after take off.
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.
Muir, Florence, WA (1926) was fatally burnt while going about her domestic duties.
Mulligan, Percy, Fremantle, WA (1929). The young daredevil was a promising motorbike racer, but his career was cut devastatingly short.
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.
Poyner, Edwin, Norseman, WA (1898) was a miner who fell victim to a bowel infection.
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.
From colonial time to much more recently, the graves of Aboriginal inhabitants showed much about the patriarchal attitude of the invaders.
Chinese, Arabic, Italians, the early melting pot showed in different methods of burial and commemoration.
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