When contemplating public green space to explore, I tend to overlook the large tract of land that cemeteries occupy. Often leafy, quiet and full curiously engraved stones, there is much of interest on offer for the wanderer.
When I took a thermos of tea down to Paterson recently for some quiet time though, I didn’t anticipate ending up in the village burial ground.
Packed with picnickers on the weekends, on amid-week afternoon I had the grassy lawn of John Tucker Park virtually to myself. With its rows of soft poplars in full green leaf, and the gentle hug of the river, I could have happily lost a few hours sprawled out on a blanket in the dappled sun.
My itchy feet desired otherwise though. Crossing the road, I found an enticing lagoon at the start of a guided historical walk of the village.
The information signs reminded me that the area was once occupied by theGringgai clan of the Wonnarua people. The first settlers did a good job of thoroughly Anglicising the landscape. Originally known as Cedar Arm, with a pang of sadness I looked around in vain for a remaining cedar.
The first known European in the area was the man whose name the town was to eventually adopt, Colonel William Paterson, who, in 1801, surveyed the area beside the river for its settlement potential. The first land grant was made to Captain William Dunn in 1821, on land across the river from where I grew up(apparently no relation).
As the village of my childhood, a sweet nostalgia lingers, its beautiful stone buildings and proud Courthouse nestled snugly at the base of the hills. Rather than sleepy though, the village seemed lively, a small art gallery hopping with an after school creative program. I could imagine growing food and children here.
Looping back to the riverside, I duck behind St Paul’s church and into the cemetery. Immediately I feel like I’ve stepped back in time, the small amount of traffic noise disappearing. Threading my way through the headstones, I try to make out the weathered words carved on the sandstone, fast losing count of the Marys, Williams, Elizabeths and Thomases.
Lying down upon a grassy slope between graves I watch the sun dance between clouds, as fleeting as some of the lives that rest here.
Next to me lies Robert, who died by an ‘accident fall of his horse’ in 1865, aged 21 years. ‘In the midst of life we are in death,’ the calligraphy at the base of the stone advises.
The fig birds in the Moreton Bays chirrup noisily, as I reflect upon the fact that one day, that will be me.
What will be my legacy, I wander, and stand up to leave with renewed energy to be fully alive on a beautiful spring day in Paterson.