We are driving along the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail in western Australia from outside Perth, where the water line starts, all the way to Kalgoorlie, where it went to meet the gold fields.
Along the way, colonists tortured Aboriginals to get them to show where the water sources were. That’s a story no one knows. So we are beginning to tell it.
I’m taking photos fo the Aboriginal heritage sites, which will become a database that shows where they are and explains why.
We stop at Wooroloo, a funny name like so many other western Australian towns because the colonists tried to make Aboriginal names into English without knowing what they meant.
At Wooroloo, there’s an old cemetery. It was the site of a tuberculosis sanitarium way back when and is now a low-security prison farm. There are old graves in the cemetery, from the early 1900s.
I wanted to see and we found some, along with rows and rows of oval, iron black markers — nameless acres of tuberculosis victims from the turn of the century.
Behind the big ficus I find this grave. Bart. I wish I could find his name, to see who he is, this man who was so loved.
Friends and family ladened his grave with … memories.
The times they spent with him; the moments they will live with day to day and never forget, despite any years. The paint on the rocks told me so. I believe them, these letters and ballads about how if they could just choose one wish to come true in life, it would be to have him back, but oh how he suffered, and how he fought to live. Memories of Alice Springs. Ayers Rock. There’s a little figurine of a VW bus with a surf board on top. Mugs with flowers. A Mardi Gras or Venice type mask. a horseshoe. A miner’s hardhat. A boonie hat. A cat metal figurine. A Thai statue like Buddha with “Never give up” plastic headband in electric blue.
His grave looks like a family room full of family photos, played out in knickknacks. There is a small wooden table with an old video camera below it. A broken chair. An iron chair beside it.
I see them talking to him and kneading their hands and looking up every once in a while to catch their breath as they feel his presence is not going to answer back. Someone tends to this grave. Often.
Another rock says Thea. Thank you for the best four years of my life. I wonder who Thea is. Then I see the grave is small, and there’s a photo.
Thea was his dog. He must have died first, and his friends and family buried his best friend beside him in the cemetery close to home, with mementos he’d closely safeguarded in life. A photo of them. A leash. Stones. A note about man’s best friend.
If ever you can feel good about death, I feel good here. I don’t know who Bart is. I wish I could. There is no traditional grave marker, no date of death. No one who visits may know what his name is, this everyday guy, but he must have been a helluva person.
He was loved.
— at Wooroloo Cemetery western Australia