Just as the Outback can be expansive and generous to a fault, with the Big Sky, the carpets of wildflowers, the majestic rock formations, the enormous flocks of birds, the magnificent sunsets ……. so too it can be cruelly demanding of those who choose to live or work there.
Recently I was travelling on the lonely track between Cadney Park Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway, and Arckaringa Station near the Painted Desert, in the north of South Australia. It’s an area where gibber plains are the order of the day, and the stone-covered ground extends as far as the eye can see.
There was no house or building of any kind to be seen, just this lonely testimony to the life of John William Davis that ended in 1958 after only four years, and the poignant words:
If no gentle hands have fashioned
Snow white wreaths above,
God has laid his own wild flowers
On the lonely graves out west.
As I look forward eagerly to the imminent birth of my third grandchild – and hopefully a life which will be lived long and well – I cannot imagine the grief of parents Margaret and Don as they laid their little one to rest in this lonely, windswept place, and their inevitable thoughts of how things might have been different if they’d lived somewhere else.
One can only hope that there are occasions when the rains come, and some wildflowers spring up on little John William’s grave.