for almost as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by cemeteries. I can hear the tut tut's and see the shaking of the heads from here! Wow, we knew he was a morbid bastard and here he is confirming it.
Well no, actually. I can't deny that, by it's very nature, a cemetery is a place full of dead people. But that doesn't mean that a cemetery is dead.
My grandmother took me to cemeteries when I was very young. I can't remember if it was before or after my father died but it would be a crap shoot either way. My grandmother was a christian and she tried to imbue me with christian values as she saw them. One of the things she told me was that the body stayed on earth without elaborating much further. This led me, as a 5 or 6 year old to ask her one day, at Footscray Cemetery, the following question.
'if the body stays here what happens to the head'.
A completely reasonable question for a 6 year old wouldn't you agree? I never did get a satisfactory answer. I think it wasn't so much that there was no satisfactory answer; merely that the question was so far outside my grandmothers expectations that she couldn't understand where I was coming from.
My grandmother died in 1966; years passed and I found myself seeking out her grave (and my fathers) in 1972. I was lucky that I made the search then; by 1979 all traces that would have allowed me to match an entry in the records of the cemetery with physical evidence had been erased. You'll have to go searching back issues of the Footscray Mail for the details but there was a scam running through the 1970's to destroy those records so that grave plots could be sold a second time. A part of the scam was that the grave markers (cast iron stakes with numbers on them) were plucked out of the ground and piled up by the hundreds. A grave with a tombstone was safe; but our family grave lacks a tombstone.
I'd found the grave in 1972 and to this day I remember the adjacent graves; Jackson on the right, an unmarked plot to the left and to the left of that Medway. On the same row about a hundred metres east, Jecholiah F Kingsbury, who died on March 8 1879. The only occurence of the name Jecholiah I've ever seen!
And therein lies the appeal of the cemetery. All these people who've lived, breathed, loved, sweated, drank, laughed, smoked, enjoyed life, faced their mortality and gone under the ground. They existed once and when I or anyone else walks past their graves they exist again; if only for the briefest moment as I think of them. They are our history. And one day I shall be as dead as they are; I can only hope that someone will walk past my grave and see
'Robert Clyde Manderson'
Born June 21 1954
and think, wow, 1954. That was soooo long ago. I wonder what he was like! Well that won't do me a lot of good; I'll be already dead. But maybe they'll look up the history of my times and think 'we can do better'. Wouldn't that be a good legacy?