Walhalla is an old and remote C19th gold mining town north of Moe in Victoria. This is not the majestic hall of the slain at Asgard in Norse mythology. However, many, many people have died here – young and old. More precisely, the very young and middle aged. In, what is now, a collection of a few houses and tourist stores, there was once a mad scrabbling, digging and tunnelling for gold in a busy narrow valley that would have rung with voices and machines. The valley is silent. Now the forlorn cemetery on a hill overlooking the valley, attests that for many of the people who arrived from a variety of countries to find their fortune, ultimately, only placed loved ones in the ground.
Now that is not exactly true. Technically the graves are more like filing cabinet drawers slid into the steep hillside. There are about about 1300 burials here. Many extant graves are dug into the hillside at one end and 1 or 2 metres out of the ground at the other as the hillside side is very steep – quite an unusual arrangement. Visiting the cemetery is an arduous climb!
Reading the headstones is a very sobering exercise:
There is one poignant grave where it seems that a whole young family has died within a little more than a year. However at the bottom of the headstone the inscription reads that it was erected by a surviving son.
The two over represented groups are young children and young men. The first succumbing to the many diseases in this pre penicillin era and the second were often victims of mining disasters.
It is impossible to walk through this cemetery and not be deeply moved. One wonders of the hopes and dreams the people had. One wonders how they coped with this very present spectre of death. And the survivors, the successful and unsuccessful, one wonders whether they thought, in the end, it was worth the toil and heartache.
Overall, there is one striking truth that resounds from many of the headstones and that is, there is a merciful God, who loves His children, not just for a moment but into eternity. Beyond this life there is a better life where the streets are paved with gold.
One final observation: Sometimes in our desire to do good, we wreak havoc. When the cemetery was first established a well meaning person planted cypress pines. Over the years these have grown into giants, destroying everything around them. Graves have been pushed aside and in one or two places the pines grow directly out of a grave. In recent years many the trees have been cut down, but the consequences survive.