On the drive to Jacksons Bay near Haast we came a cross a sign for historic cemetery – we need no further encouragement to stop and explore.
Pioneer Cemetery is almost lost in the bush and easy to bypass. It is the final resting place for some of the first European settlers to come to Jackson Bay as part of a settlement programme in 1875. It is quite overgrown but thankfully some of the faithful locals do their best to ensure mother nature doesn’t take it over completely.
Neroli from Collyer House who we were staying with shared this poem written by her grandfather after a visit she remembers from when she was just a very small girl. One of the only recollections she actually has of her grandfather.
The Graveyard in the Bush by Dinny Nolan
The place is a wayback countryside, just after the golden rush,
the scene is a little graveyard, a clearing in the bush.
The settlers they attended there on sad and mournful days,
I attended on those solemn days, then a little child I’d be,
it was sad to view bereaved ones, but the sympathy was kind,
and it left a great impression on my little childish mind.
Each time a soul departed the settlers felt they must,
assemble there, one and all, that graveyard in the bush.
The widower he’s standing there, his little babe’s at home,
It shall never know mother’s care, for the mother she has gone.
With grief he’s quite distracted, I heard him cry and rave,
I saw stout men lays hands on him, and drag him from the grave.
Another time a mother, she lost a loving son,
the rest had gone and left her, he was then the only one.
I don’t like to tell the story, it might make you sad and fret,
but the passing at that graveside I shall never more forget.
Many more were buried there in those pioneering days,
I recall the lovely flowers that flourished near the graves.
All enclosed with wooden railings as neat as it could be,
seemed like a little paradise in its plain simplicity.
I returned there long years after, I was then an aged man,
the place was quite deserted, all settlement was gone.
There in my seclusion old memories on me rushed,
and my first impulse it was to seek that graveyard in the bush.
I feel I should tell you what I gazed upon,
the tangled scrub it towered above, and the clearing all was gone.
And those crude wooden crosses which as a child I’d seen,
were buried ‘neath the tangled mass, and oblivion reigned supreme.
I tried to force an entrance to locate the place,
but blackberry it barred the way, and tore my hands and face.
I sat there sad and lonely, and I could not help reflect,
Is this remembrance after life, is this what we might expect.
When our span of life and ended, our voice forever hushed,
will be lapse into oblivion in some graveyard in the bush?
The past in vision came to me, my childhood days returned,
my soul cried out resentment, while my heart with pity mourned.
I ceased my wanderings round the place for in fancy I could see,
those sorrowing relations who once appealed to me.
I could see them in their motor cars, all dressed in raiment gay,
and their laughter falling softly in such a pleasant way.
They seemed to want for nothing, seemed to have the best,
heedless of their poor relation in this wilderness to rest.
We mourn our dear departed ones, and our sorrow it is real,
that they cannot live without them, the bereaved ones truly feel.
But old King Time comes to the rescue, and our grief will pass away,
When out of night that seemed so hopeless, will dawn again the day.
There’s One on High who loves us, if Christian faith we keep,
and He cares for us tenderly, no matter where we sleep.
When we rise up eternal, when sin and strife on earth are hushed,
None will be forgotten in the graveyard in the bush.
Thanks Neroli for allowing me to reproduce and share your grandfather’s poem.
Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation on the Great Coast Road north of Greymouth. They enjoy getting out and about exploring the West Coast and sharing their discoveries.