Cemetery's custodians preserve path to the Dreamtime

In The Standard's new weekly series exploring the south-west's indigenous heritage and culture, MATT NEAL visits the Framlingham cemetery.

THERE’S no sign directing you to the Framlingham cemetery.

It lies down an un-named track on the edge of the forest, sitting perched above a valley where the Hopkins River winds on its way to the sea.

For a century-and-a-half, this has been the picturesque place where residents of the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve bury their dead.

The last burial here was just nine months ago. Family members gathered and dug the grave with shovels instead of a backhoe or machinery.

Possum Clark-Ugle, chairman of the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust, said that was the custom.

“You’ve got to dig by hand,” he explained.

“A bit of blood, sweat and tears is the least you can do for your family on their last journey into the Dreamtime.” 

He said Aboriginal beliefs regarding the afterlife weren’t that dissimilar from a “heaven and hell sort of thing”.

“You go back into the Dreamtime, where we come from,” he said, describing a place before the Framlingham Mission was set up on the reserve, before white settlement, even before the first Aborigines made the journey here more than 50,000 years ago — a spirit realm where both the world was created and continues to exist on another plane today.

It’s a place where animals abound, food is plentiful and where the elders of the past reside.

Some of those elders are buried at Framlingham cemetery, but finding out exactly where is just one of the problems facing the current residents of the reserve.

“When we dug the last grave over here we nearly hit another grave,” Mr Clark-Ugle said. “It’s important we start mapping it and archiving.

“History dies with the people if it’s not written down.”

This was one of the problems arising from an oral culture, Mr Clark-Ugle said. 

He said there could be dozens of unmarked graves in the cemetery and the undulating ground of the yard backs that up. 

The trust is hoping to find and mark the graves by bringing in a ground-penetrating radar similar to that used to find the final resting places of soldiers at Gallipoli.

It’s just one of the many items on the list of things to do for the new trust committee, which took over last year. 

A repatriation section of the cemetery was introduced in 2003, where remains of Aborigines could be buried and “returned to country” after spending a century or more as a museum display. A new toilet block has been built nearby and a tree doctor recently assessed the state of the cemetery’s lone pine.

Mr Clark-Ugle said there was no formal process for burials — everything had been carried out on an ad hoc basis in the past. The same went for maintenance, and it was likely the cemetery would need to be expanded in the near future. 

“We haven’t even got a sign for the cemetery,” Mr Clark-Ugle said. “We need community input and to talk about those issues.

“If we’re looking at expanding the cemetery we have to talk about that. We need to understand what the process is.

“People not living on the reserve will want to come back and be buried on Aboriginal land. That’s very important to us

“We’ve all got the right to be buried in the cemetery and make our journey into the Dreamtime.

“We’ve got a lot of elders there and we don’t want the graves to be disturbed.

“It will be nice when I pass away to know I’m in the same place as my family.”

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