By Rebecca Doughty, Graduate Diploma of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student
When among the graves of thy fellows, walk with circumspection; thine own is open at thy feet. –AMBROSE BIERCE, “Epigrams of a Cynic”, 1912.
My directed study project is to learn how Colonial and later burial practices, from 1830-1930, reflect attitudes towards death and the economic and social status of the settlers of the Toodyay region, Avon Valley, in Western Australia.
It was with great reverence and excitement that I took my first steps inside a graveyard. What would I discover? What would it all mean? And how would I decipher and interpret my results?
I started with a rigorous gathering and reading of resources: maps, tourist brochures and texts. This led me, in great anticipation, to identify and locate the four main cemeteries in Toodyay. I plotted each on my own map and set off to photograph and record the gravestones of location number one: Nardie Cemetery.
Nardie Cemetery is the original and first small cemetery in the area. It lines the bank of the Avon River and protects 40 burial plots dated to between 1830 and 1930. It is beautiful; large shady gum trees, a carpet of leaves on the floor, stately cast iron fencing and big, bold, strong headstones.
A bustle of organised recording ensued: photographs of each burial plot, recording the details of each headstone, taking compass points and documenting measurements. How exciting; I was on my way!
Katrine Cemetery is situated just 10km north east and so my journey continued. Burial plots of 21 individuals were recorded and photographed, measured and documented in the shade of large pine trees and St Saviour’s, a towering Gothic Church standing guard over the cemetery.
Gentle discoveries were made as I came across matching names, prominent members of the Toodyay district and family connections from times gone by. Not to mention the new and exciting realisation that many of the headstones I was recording and researching belonged to the ancestors of the people whom I live and work amongst today.
On completion of the recording of the two smaller Toodyay cemeteries, I reflected on the lives of the individuals who lie here, but also on those whose lives have been affected by their deaths.
Never before has such a true realisation of one’s own mortality been so clear and prominent as when once walks amongst the dead.
An exciting start to an enthralling directed study.
Next step: Continue my historical research and record and document Toodyay and Culham Cemeteries.