Who doesn’t love a graveyard? All of life is laid there before you.
The Ridge doesn’t have a graveyard. I think I kind of knew the difference between a graveyard and cemetery but I still Googled, because that’s what we do these days. We used to know stuff but nowadays we’re not quite sure until Google’s said it’s ok. So, yeah, a graveyard’s a burial place attached to a church and a cemetery isn’t. The Ridge has a cemetry. It would be churlish of me to point out the typo, but sometimes we have to embrace our inner churl.
I went in the afternoon when the sun was setting and so there was a bit of glare. I thought, I should come back in the morning when the light’s pointing in the right direction. But I know myself, and I knew I wouldn’t, so I stuck my hand up to block the sun a bit.
The most striking aspect of this cemetery is the large number of graves marked “Unknown”. So many of them: people (mostly men, I’m guessing) from Australia and from every corner of the earth, who found themselves washed up in the Ridge.
Clever journalist Michelle Innis published an article in the New York Times (yes, the NYT) about the Lightning Ridge Funeral Advisory Service, the volunteer undertaking that has laid many knowns and unknowns to rest.
There are few ostentatious graves here. The simple logistics of carting marble angels up the dirt track in the old days would be enough to put anyone off.
The more modern graves are often decorated in the style of those roadside memorials that have become a feature of Australian highways in the last few decades. They’re very personalised, often bright and lively and not at all like the morose statuary that I think of when I remember the little graveyard next to Saint Peter’s, the church in the village where I grew up.
I like that people feel free to decorate their loved one’s grave with the things that meant so much to them in life. There’s a person in there: a real person who lived and loved, and who is still loved.
Not all the decoration is super-glam. A simple handbag can mean as much as a whole wall of flowers and cherubs. Was this a favourite item? Or is it a private joke? (“For goodness sake, mum, let me buy you a new bag!” “Nothing wrong with this one. It’ll outlast me – and you!”)
Being the Ridge there are of course many, many graves from people who came from Mittel Europa, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Aegean. It’s nice to know that someone took the time to sit with Jozo and finish off a couple of coldies with him.
Often the plastic flowers are the colours of national flags. What’s this: Croatia? Who knows.
That’s the thing about graveyards: our most private relationships are set out on public display for gawkers like me stop at and wonder about.
The dead have no privacy, that’s a fact, but the Lightning Ridge Cemetry is a quiet and respectful place where it’s possible to meet real people, people who just happen to be dead.