Stone Angels

As the car engine grew louder, the sound of raised voices echoed across the graveyard and I realized it was too late to make it over to the gum trees. So, grabbing my iPod, I headed for the grave of Charlotte Pyke, who had passed away in 1876. Although the weathered stone angel on top of her headstone had lost one of its wings long ago, the stone statue was the tallest in the graveyard and I figured it would be plenty tall enough to keep me hidden from view. Sinking down onto the cold concrete, I turned up the collar of my coat and prayed that my black hair and dark clothes would help me blend into the night.

From Where the Moths Dance

There is something about angel headstones that draw me to them when wandering around old graveyards.

In the nineteenth century, when elaborate headstones became popular, beautiful angels were carved by skilled, local stonemasons. By the late nineteenth century, however, headstones were being mass-produced and, sadly, the services of the local stonemasons were no longer required.

With their heads bowed, these stone angels portray a strong sense of loss and sorrow,

While angels looking skyward are seen to be guiding the deceased to heaven.

The most elaborately carved angels that we see are very old, covered with moss and cobwebs, some with broken wings

It is amazing how these carved pieces of gray stone can evoke such strong feelings, especially when they mark the burial place of a young child.




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Old Graveyards

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.

Park Island 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.


Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

During the spring and summer, the graveyard comes to life with wildflowers and perennials.

Napier Cemetery

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.

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Napier Cemetery

Old headstone

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.