In a country pub a few weeks ago, a chance conversation sent us off on a little adventure. Aren’t the best experiences the ones that most often happen because of a passing conversation, or some momentary decision you didn’t know you were going to make?
We were in the Braidwood Hotel on Saturday afternoon. A few locals were leaning against the bar. Sean and I sat by a window with bottles of beer, me knitting and both of us enjoying the warmth and ambience of the fire.
We struck up a conversation with the small group by the bar – the usual questions followed. Where were we from, what brought us to Braidwood and so on. I told how we love the history of Braidwood and how I enjoyed in particular the cemetery last time we were there.
Well if you like cemeteries, one of the locals said, you ought to go out to Majors Creek. A flurry of directions were given and we knew we’d head there the next days. I’ve heard of Majors Creek from time to time over the twenty odd years I’ve lived in and around Canberra but I’ve never been. I’m not sure I thought there was actually anything there. Turns out I was wrong.
The day we went there – a mere twenty minutes or so out of Braidwood – we took the photos of Sean’s Dashing mitts and my half finished Honey cardigan. I fell in love with the little gold mining town which seems to somehow still support some locals, a pub and a beautiful old church. All the best things about small towns the world over, I think!
Visitors enter the town across an old stone bridge.
A sign describing the town’s history explains that in the earliest days, Italian stonemasons settled and built many of the town’s most striking constructions including this bridge, the church and many of the headstones in the cemetery.
To one side of the bridge, the valley spreads out with the tiny trickle of a creek curving through it.
Soon after, you hit the town, passing by small, mostly twentieth century homes built close to the street. Small cottages on a quiet road. The only person we saw on the road was a mother pushing a pram. Sunday morning is very sleepy in the village it seems.
It was around 11am and yet the pub was the most lively place in town with about ten locals gathered around the fireplace, or asleep on the couch as one guy was. We said hi, bought a bottle of soft drink and asked an elderly bloke the way to the cemetery. Directions secured, we left and took the photos of knitwear.
Right in the middle of the village is a grassed area with an old, disused well. Oddly this is the only photo I got, with Sean posing his dashing mitts on it.
Nearby, on the other side of the small green that marks the centre of town is an old stone chimney. I’ve written before of my love of old chimneys. They haunt me. They’re such a strong symbol of what was once someone’s home.
This one is hard to get close to. The back of it is overgrown with ivy and the front is an area of boggy, overgrown grass.
A little further up the road is the beautiful church.
There’s that gorgeous Italian stonemasonry mentioned on the sign coming into town. That’s been lovingly maintained. What a pity the same can’t be said for the Major’s Creek Cemetery. Parts of it were very run down, which is sad for a heritage listed site. But as we’re learning by looking at small town cemeteries, their upkeep is often managed by volunteers. There isn’t always funding or capacity to do the kind of work those who value cemeteries would like to do.
We drove a dirt track through several country gates to the fenced off cemetery on the outskirts of town. We were alone there and spent a pleasant hour traipsing through the long, brittle grass to learn a little of town’s ghosts. There were the usual family crypts, fenced off plots and headstones so sunken with age and disrepair as to be almost returned to the earth.
It’s not a large cemetery, but as the town dates back to 1827, there are some quite old headstones there.
I’m always drawn to small headstones like the one below.
No name. No indication if it is a child’s grave or just this small because it was all the family could afford. But there are flowers there, so somebody, somewhere knows whose life is commemorated here.
This one I feel certain is a child’s grave. There isn’t anything sadder than a child’s grave, is what I think when I see them.
As always, we wandered among them, piecing together family stories, real or imagined, building a flickering understanding of the town. In the photo above, you can just see Sean in the background. He was coming then from a couple of headstones that were away from all the others, behind some trees on the very edge of the site. I don’t know why but I didn’t feel brave enough to go and find see them. For all my love of cemeteries, there’s not a small amount of spookiness I feel when I’m there. I think it’s part of the appeal.
Our trip to Majors Creek showed us that there are still more undiscovered, for us, treasures just a short drive from home. Lovely outings to find out more about our region and how it came to be.
As a side note, the gold rush history of the town looks worth exploring more. I was fascinated to learn that the first gold in the area was found by a woman. How did that happen? Was she washing clothes in the creek and found something gleaming in the water? Or was she a prospector herself – forging the way for women in a hard, masculine world? I don’t know but I want to find out.