Murphy's Luck of the Irish Cemetary Walk. Photo Christopher Chan / The Observer
Murphy's Luck of the Irish Cemetary Walk. Photo Christopher Chan / The Observer Christopher Chan GLA190412WALK

Finding a town's history

THE sky is now dark over the old Gladstone Cemetery, apart from a red glow on the western horizon. The sun went down half an hour ago and the faint sound of traffic on the Dawson Hwy is mostly drowned out by the singing of birds in the dark trees overhead.
A group of about 20 people has gathered at the cemetery for a different kind of tour.
They wield torches and miners lights, but they are not searching for ghosts or grave robbers.
They are searching for history, and tonight they have come to the right place.
The Gladstone Genealogical Society organises walks around the old cemetery about twice a year. Each tour follows a different theme and this time the crowd is listening to stories about Gladstone's Irish ancestors.
Guides from the society are walking the group around the cemetery to the graves of eight Irish people from Gladstone's past.
At each grave they stop and present the story of that Irish ancestor, describing the person as well as the historical context of their lives. Each of the eight Irish ancestors has been researched by the society and the account of their lives before and after arriving in Gladstone helps weave a fuller tapestry of the region's history.
The guides recount stories of immigrants from the horrific days during Ireland's Potato Famine, right up to the 1960s.
Of course, you could study all of this in a library or online, but where is the fun in that?
"These graves are really old and they've got the lovely big old headstones," says the Society's president Paulette Flint.
The Genealogical Society is about much more than creeping around cemeteries under the cover of darkness.
Mrs Flint said most members joined to learn more about their own family trees.
"Most of us research our family history," she said. "But along the way, some of us who have local ties have gotten interested in the local history."
She said researching the region's history was about searching for "our roots". In a town that has gone through extraordinary recent development, it is easy to disconnect from its heritage.
"We want to preserve that," Mrs Flint said.
"The cemetery is one place where it is all here. The buildings might have gone, but the memories of all the people that lived here are in this cemetery.
"All those people who helped build this town (are buried here). So many mayors of Gladstone are buried in this cemetery."
"You realise the journey that Gladstone has taken through those people's stories."

AS THE Luck o' the Irish Walk winds its way through the cemetery, the red glow on the horizon gradually dims into darkness and you must tread carefully while negotiating the dark ground around the graves.
Everyone is listening intently, captivated by the life stories of ancestors buried in the ground beneath them.
"I love looking through cemeteries," says society member Di Honan. "There is so much history. You get an atmosphere this way that you can't get out of a book. It's a feeling of being part of their life."
Many Irish folk came to Gladstone to avoid starvation in their homeland. All came here with a common purpose - to work and build a better life.
The Gladstone Genealogical Society conducts cemetery walks about twice a year, as well as other activities.
Research on Irish ancestors was done by the Society's members.

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