Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Visiting my grandfather

I’m currently on holidays, waiting for my wife to give birth, and I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. For the greater part, my time is being spent in entertaining my folks, who are visiting from interstate, waiting for their grandchild to be born. Monday was a special part of that time spent with my folks, as the three of us, and my very heavily pregnant and lovely wife Lucy, all ventured together to Fawkner cemetery, where we visited my grandfather’s resting place (my dad’s dad).

I never had the pleasure of meeting my grandfather (he died decades before I was born), but when I moved to Melbourne last year, his grave was one of the first places I visited. I don’t know what I expected, but it was a little upsetting to find it as a bare patch of earth, with the grave marked only by a small, broken piece of marble, which had my grandfather’s name faintly etched into it, and probably only legible to someone like myself, familiar with his name.

This time around was my dad’s first opportunity to see his father in some form, since grandad passed away in 1957. A very emotional day, and one that we’re going to make an effort to revisit on a more regular basis, now that I live closer than 24hrs travel by car, as I did when growing up, and that my father now has more reasons to venture south by 12 hours from the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.

It was a surprise that recently I found out the identity of the person who had etched my grandfather’s name into the small strip of marble lying upon his grave. It turns out that my dad’s younger brother (now deceased) had visited the grave site in the 1980’s, in the company of his cousin Herb.

It was also surprising to find just how many hoops I’m going to have to go through in order to have a plaque placed on my grandfather’s grave. In all I’m required to order two birth certificates, two death certificates, a statutory declaration of a death and two copies of people’s drivers licenses. I asked that I might plant some flowers on my grandfather’s grave, red, black and yellow (the colours of the Aboriginal flag), and it was stated that the flowers would be pulled out if planted. Flowers in a vase are OK, but I’ve never believed that giving a person a dead plant is a good idea, preferring instead a plant with its roots still firmly attached.

I also asked if I might be able to place a bush rock from my grandfather’s tribal country there, complete with one of the cemetery’s own plaques, and this was also frowned upon. Basically, nothing is allowed unless it contributes entirely to the cemetery’s coffers. If anything, I’m sorry that my grandfather has been interred at what amounts to merely a business without heart or appreciation of those they are supposed to serve. Even worse, that he is buried in the same cemetery as John Batman (1801-1839), the criminal who robbed the Wirundjuri Nation of Melbourne of their tribal lands, in what is still rudely called a treaty.

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