Recently reclaimed from overgrown bushland, Walhalla was once a thriving gold-rush town situated 180 kilometres east of Melbourne. While driving nearby one Sunday, I took a detour and checked out the cemetery there I had heard about.
The road winds around the lush ancient eucalypt forest, ending in a steep gorge where Walhalla is tucked away. Gold was discovered here in 1863, and in its heyday Walhalla had a population of approximately 5000 people. When the gold ran out in 1914 everyone left. Buildings were dismantled and moved to other towns on the narrow-gauge Walhalla Goldfields Railway. The left-overs were left in disrepair or burnt.
In the 1990s, heritage lovers took interest in this forgotten town and rebuilt replicas of numerous original buildings. Nowadays, 20 people live in the town with 80,000 visitors per year.
The old Walhalla Cemetery sits above the road into town on a 45 degree slope amongst native bushland and introduced pine trees.
It’s a rather strenuous climb up the path up to the cemetery, which is surrounded by a white picket fence. It had been raining heavily before I arrived therefore difficult to sit down on the wet ferny grass and pine needles next to graves and reflect. Many of the graves are surrounded by pointy cast-iron fences. Apart from the wind blowing noisily through the pines, it felt like a peaceful place to sleep forever, yet lonely. But I tuned into native birds singing in the surrounding trees, and there must be plenty of animal company around due to the abundance of kangaroo and rabbit droppings.
Looking down on road below, a horse and cart clip-clops slowly by. I decide this graveyard would be a perfect place to have a family picnic. It seems appropriate here to spend some time with the dead, even if it is eating while introducing kids to history and reality.
Some restoration work has been carried out around the place with re-enforced retaining walls. New timber markers have been erected on unmarked graves, perhaps temporary memorials until the next once-in-a-century, massive bushfire sweeps through. Some of the grey slate headstones have soot stains from previous fires. They are weathered and steel supports have been placed behind to brace against the ground movement and gravity.
The cemetery reportedly has over 1100 people buried here, although less than 200 plots have been located. The cemetery is so steep that some of the dead are believed to be buried in tunnels instead of conventional graves.
The 80,000 visitors mostly don’t come for the cemetery. There are other attractions in Walhalla such as gold mine tours, a tourist railway, a Chinese garden, historic buildings and hiking trails. I stick to my cemetery-tourist trail and suspect no other graveyard will look like Walhalla’s.
Accomodation: STRINGERS COTTAGE is a 1-bedroom original miners cottage $A140 per night with a 2-night minimum.
Getting there: 3 hours drive from Melbourne MAP