Like Jessie, I, too, love to go walking around old graveyards, soaking up the atmosphere, the tranquil serenity, the feeling of being surrounded by history. I like to read the names and inscriptions on the old, weathered, lichen-encrusted gravestones. It is interesting to see the names that were popular in different eras, many of which are now forgotten.
The inspiration for Gum Tree Hill Cemetery in Where the Moths Dance came from two of our local cemeteries. One of them, like the one in the book, is surrounded by tall gum trees. After it’s been raining, the air is thick with the scent of eucalyptus. We used to see and hear crows flying between the upper branches of the trees, but sadly they are all gone now. My grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in this cemetery.
The other cemetery is on top of a hill. People were buried there between 1855 and 1917. My great-great-grandparents are buried there. The old graveyard lies in a beautiful natural setting on four and a half acres. The graves are surrounded by masses of old trees providing shade and a haven for the many birds that bring life to the graveyard. It is very atmospheric, and the old gravestones, many with barely legible inscriptions, relay tragic tales of soldiers who died in battle, lives lost in the storm of 1887, and the flood of 1897, stories of brave men who lost their lives at sea, and of the many young children who succumbed to illness and disease.
During the spring and summer, the graveyard comes to life with wildflowers and perennials.
Most of the headstones were carved by local stone masons. Some of the more elaborate headstones, such as the marble angels, were imported from Italy. While many of the tombstones hint at the lives of the people buried beneath, others, whose families were unable to afford a headstone, lie forgotten in unmarked graves at the back of the cemetery.
Several people have seen a man, dressed in a Victorian suit and bowler hat, roaming the graveyard. He is believed to be the ghost of somebody buried there. When walking through the graveyard, it is easy to believe that there could be lingering spirits hiding in the shadows of the trees and the gravestones.