Feeling nostalgic, Fritz decided to have a little wander through West Terrace Cemetery in order to uncover its secrets.
Hanging out in cemeteries might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Do you still get the willies up your spine when you pass a graveyard? Look the other way and cross the street, all the while telling yourself that you meant to go that way? If you run screaming at the sight of a black cat, then maybe you need to take some time out and re-assess. Belief is a choice.
Australia once had a pretty open door when it came to refugees and immigration. You just need to have a wander in the cemetery to see the proof in the ground, so to speak. A smorgasbord of multiculturalism awaits.
All kinds of religions, cultures, faiths and creeds nestle in together, from Afghan cameleers to the tiny Druze (a Syrian religion). Catholics next to Protestants interspersed with mildly religious Quakers. Different nationalities, dogmas and denominations can be found jostling side by side.
There are reams of Italians, with their grandiose monuments spread out in an imitation of early Roman glory. Meanwhile, in the Greek section, there are mini acropolises, with Corinthian columns and odes to old-school mythology, offerings for gods and items for the deceased to take into their next life. Like the thoughtful half bottle of goon provided below.
Scottish, Dutch, German, Ukrainian, Jewish, Syrian, Islamic (a religion not a country of origin, we know), Afghan, Chinese, Polish, English, Irish… these and much more are buried at West Terrace Cemetery. South Australia was multicultural from the earliest roots of European settlement.
Seeing the grave of Fanny Ware, we’d love to have a beloved Fanny in our lives. It’s easy for us now to snigger at old fashioned names, such as the aforementioned Fanny. Yet wandering around the cemetery, gazing at the arcane names that spring out, you can’t help but think: what will future amateur historians make of our own trend for ludicrous namesakes? What will our gravestones look like in the future? RIP Mystique, Commodore and Obelix? Here lies Blaze, Kiedes or Choise? These are all actual names by the way. We researched.
So while the Wolfgang, Doris, Dick or Adolph of old might earn a derisive snort now, they are the ones getting the last laugh. Metaphorically, not literally. They’re dead.
Fanny not so funny now, huh?
Women Doing It for Themselves
It ain’t easy being a woman. Even less so back in the wild old colonial frontier days. Marriage was not so much a choice as a case of survival. But due to the nature of medicine and the remoteness of the colony, many people died relatively young. For the men, the loss was a case of sadness. But for women and children? The death of their husband often meant the difference between life and death. Few women had the means or energy to establish their own business, particularly when widowed. Not so for our famous Fanny.
Fearless Fanny, perhaps a more
Fanny Ware was the proprietress of a popular Adelaide pub. After the death of her husband, Charles Ware, in 1871, Fanny took over management of the couple’s hotel in Hindley Street, then called The Exchange Hotel. Luckily for her, the suffrage movement proved successful in South Australia – ‘propertied’ women were allowed the local vote in 1861. According to historical records, The Exchange Hotel was one of the most popular hotels and an established haunt of notable businessmen. Fanny was reputedly an excellent manager and her business flourished and became fondly known as Mrs Ware’s Exchange. If only Hindley Street still had the same kind of genteel charm today.
Many of the single grave demarcations actually house multiple family members, sometimes with their deaths decades apart. There are several factors in this, both sentimental and fiscal hand-in-hand.
Space was at a premium.
Headstones were costly.
Walking the paths, you are likely to find one single grave space with many additions and addendum over the years. The saddest are separated by months – tiny infants, laying on top of barely older siblings, finally joined in eternity by despairing parents. Reading some of these can be heartbreaking. But also leave an odd sort of condolence, to know they are at last, together.
Suffer the Little Children
How peculiar and wrong a tiny little grave looks, set alongside adult sized neighbours. Among the colourful inscriptions and descriptions of hard-lived lives and lives well lived, lie these reminders of human fragility. It is sobering to stumble across them. So much of European settlement was beset with daily tragedy in the form of infant mortality. The children’s memorial garden is a place for quiet contemplation, moving in its stillness and the tangible air of wounded grief.
Death by Misadventure
One of the more interesting deaths in the cemetery belongs to a young circus performer by the name of John Isaacs. A tiger tamer, his stage name was Senor Gomez. His life was cut short at the tender age of 25. Death by misadventure sounds rather bland, so we’ll defer to the poetically named ‘death by Striped Beauty’ as ascribed by Carol Lefevre in her book Quiet City: Walking in West Terrace Cemetery.
According to Lefevre’s account, Isaacs was potentially antagonising his tiger partner, Duke, on the fateful eve. Instead of lighting the ring of fire for Duke to jump through, Isaacs whacked him on the legs and set him to jumping. As Isaacs was supposedly a ladies man, Lefevre speculates that Isaacs may have caught the eye of a pretty girl in front. Showing off, Isaacs partially turned his back on the tiger, gesturing wide armed to the crowd.
Never turn your back
on a caged tiger.
Life skills 101. Duke sprung and took him by the neck, dragging him through the hoop as he did so. Duke was a very well trained tiger.
Walking through the cemetery is an exercise in time-travel. The names of so many of our streets, towns and landmarks pop out. Light, Hurtle, Coglin, Gouger, Morphett, Hindmarsh, Gawler, just to name a few. It is fascinating to see the geographical history of our city carved into a headstone. These were the men (and often unnamed and unremarked women) who founded the Adelaide of today.
Walking towards the exit, the muted sounds of traffic becoming clearer, a rustling in the bushes recalls us to the demise of Senor Gomez. It’s unlikely the ghost of Duke the circus tiger roams the cemetery. The roaring traffic bursts the surreal bubble, and modern life seeps in.
If you’re feeling inspired to visit West Terrace Cemetery, we recommend a self-guided ramble but history buffs will love the guided walks.
What’s your favourite cemetery walk in South Australia? Let us know in the comment section below.