Death in the Desert

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.

We saw a low structure at some distance from the track, and decided to stop and investigate. This is what we found:

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.


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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9 Responses to Death in the Desert

  1. KB says:

    Rest well John William

  2. Ros B says:

    It looks like a new grave – hard to believe their little boy died in 1958. I found the words on the headstone to be very moving. The idea of flowers coming up every now and then reminding us of John William were strangely comforting even though I know nothing about the family.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Yes, the white edge around the grave may have been painted in recent times. But in other respects, it looked as if it could have been there for more than 50 years. The fence is presumably to keep cattle from trampling on it. (Yes, there are some cattle in that part of the world. How they survive I don’t know.)

  3. Lavinia Ross says:

    Those are beautiful words on that gravesite stone. Thanks for sharing this piece of the Outback’s landscape and its history.

  4. Judith Kohlhagen says:

    Hi Rob, This photo and the accompanying verse is enough to break anyone’s heart. I felt like crying just looking at it. Judith

  5. Rose Edington says:

    Thanks Rob — a beautiful and thoughtful sharing.


  6. dazzlerplus says:

    My friend Jacquie has drawn my attention to a web site which indicates that John William drowned — see — at a place called San Marino. That tallies with my sighting of the grave. Presumably the nearby Evelyn Creek was where it happened. Note that this is not the same as the Evelyn Creek near Milparinka in north-west NSW.

  7. Sue Emeleus says:

    Hi Rob, Thanks for the entry about John Williams’ grave. It took me back to my chaplain days at the Children’s Hospital. I’m looking forward to August. I already know Gillian Hint well. Love from Sue

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