If by chance you are travelling through the Flinders Ranges, in South Australia. Keep an eye open for a sign post that says, ‘Emma Smith’s grave.’ Another lonely grave in a desolate part of the outback you might think, it is but this one’s special. Emma was only two years old when she met her tragic end, a tiny life cut short. Her parents were carters, taking copper from Blinman to Port Augusta, South Australia in the early 1860’s.
A tourist information plaque can only say so much, it can’t speak about a mother’s grief over the loss, or a father’s guilt after his little girl was crushed under the steel bound wheels of his ore cart. But they are long gone now and it is only the inquisitive that stop by to mourn Emma. I can only imagine what she looked like or, what she thought as she sat high on the seat of her daddy’s cart. Dressed in a calico shift with a big bonnet to keep the glaring sun off her tender face. Watching the miles slowly pass, did she gaze into the hazy distance and wonder at the mirages that danced in the heat? Showing vast pools of water that they never quite reached, or laughed with delight at the sturdy brown rock wallabies as they bounded from the path of the wagons. Perhaps she was too young to appreciate the vast alien landscape that surrounded her. The cracked, jagged hills that show in vivid detail what nature can do, as they struggle to stay in one piece. The metal that is in the ground pokes through in orange, red and yellow, rusting and splitting as if mighty hammers have been wielded against them in ages past. The trees cling to the slopes of these hills like frightened climbers, hanging on to any crack or crevice. Yet against all odds they survive.
When they would stop to rest and eat in the heat of the day, along the banks of creeks that sometimes flowed. Would she have seen the beauty in the gnarled, twisted eucalypt trees that crowded the creek bank. As if they were jostling for a better position to drink up the precious water that may still be there? Did she play amongst the carpet of wild flowers that would cover this hard, cruel landscape like a patchwork quilt? Did her mother find the time to make little daisy chains for her hair? I would like to think so.
How would she have felt at night, sleeping in a swag next to her parents, the fire glowing softly as the hardwood gave up it’s heat? The smoke drifting up in the night sky like a swirling finger of mist disappearing into the curtain of stars. Stars, that if she were taller she might be able to reach up and pluck from the heavens. They were that close. As the dingoes whined and circled the camp, not daring to come too close. Would she whimper, then stir and snuggle closer to her daddy’s strong back, smelling the comforting odours of tobacco, wood smoke and sweat. Then, drifting back to sleep as the bullocks lowed softly, dreaming her little girl dreams of dolls and sweets that might come at the end of the journey. Emma’s journey ended far away from dolls and sweets, I don’t know what day it was but her parents would never forget it. Where she is buried looks like it was a camp ground often used by travellers in those days. It hasn’t changed, it is still a flat piece of wasteland, dotted with broken, twisted, stunted trees. Enough grass growing in the good times to feed the livestock but the desert sand shows through like an old man’s balding scalp.
I don’t know what happened, perhaps she was running beside the wagon as they drove into the scarce shade, after the bullocks were watered at a nearby creek. Her father probably didn’t see her as he concentrated on wheeling his bullock team into place. Oh the heartbreak as they realised what had happened, the anguish as they would have screamed out to the uncaring wilderness, their deep unending sorrow as they realised their Emma was no more. How could they have left that tiny grave, their little Emma, alone, asleep in the hard desert ground? They must have come back, for a headstone is there. The passage of time has erased the loving words. Did her mother stand there again and gaze at this lonely grave, wondering if the prowling dingoes still made her precious girl fret in her eternal sleep? Did her father still torment himself for what had taken place? We’ll never know.
Emma rests beneath this stony ground next to a shady tree, the headstone leans a little and has lichens growing on top. Someone has placed a circle of white quartz stones to outline the grave. A barrier has been placed around this, four sturdy posts and rails from nearby trees makes it look like a child’s cot. A piece of paper with a handwritten message, was carefully folded and placed amongst the quartz by a recent visitor. At least someone else cares, I thought. The grave has been maintained by the National Parks Service and I think by some who pause to wonder at this tragedy. My wife and I paid homage to Emma, we found some little yellow flowers to put by the headstone. I hoped she would like them, I know she would.
We continued on our journey, a little sadder but still marvelling at the wonders of nature that surrounded us. A realisation came to me as I drove back out along the rutted track, Emma isn’t alone. When the day cools down the rock wallabies come out to graze around her. The night birds will swoop after prey that dares to show itself. Then, when it rains the patchwork quilt of flowers will cover her lonely bed.
R.I.P. Emma SMITH
Link to Google map for Blinman to Port Augusta route. http://tinyurl.com/d72bz97
http://tinyurl.com/d8ks6xo Link to picture of ore cart of the period.
http://tinyurl.com/c37s7hp Link to a short history of Blinman.
A note here for anyone who has read a traveller’s blog stating that I made up the circumstances surrounding Emma’s death. I was told about it by tourist officials at Willpena Pound. I would never create a tragedy to promote my blog.