A few weeks ago I had to drive my car from one side of Australia to the other, after recently deciding to move back to my hometown of Perth, Western Australia.
Although I was living in a remote area of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory at the time, my car was in Melbourne, Victoria, having been looked after by my friend for the past two years. But now it was time for the two of us to head home!
Australia is a pretty vast land, being around 4000kms (2480mi) wide at its horizontal extremities. Melbourne to Perth is 3400km (same distance from Tennessee to LA) and would definitely be the longest drive I’ve had to undertake in my lil, black Toyota Yaris, whom I affectionately call Bruce.
Making the most of it, I decided to drive down the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, through Mount Gambier in South Australia to Adelaide and then cross the Nullarbor into Western Australia, stopping in Kalgoorlie to visit some family.
Driving all this distance by myself didn’t seem appealing so I picked up a German backpacker from Gumtree.com.au and we set off, hoping to make it to Perth within a week.
While a great holiday, the opportunity also allowed me to get in some genealogy research!
My maternal grandmothers side all originated in South Australia, from an interesting mix of families such as the Fergusons of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland; the Prussian Patzels & Vorwerks who came to Australia in the mid 1800’s to escape persecution for being Lutherans in current day Poland; the Morton’s (London) and Roads (Buckinghamshire) who seemingly met aboard the ship Trafalgar which left Plymouth, England in 1849; and the Humphrey’s, who arrived 6 years later from Kent, England.
All of these families were pioneers in South Australian history and helped forge the fledgling colony to success through farming, education and masonry.
The Fergusons, Patzels & Vorwerks all settled in Mount Gambier, a then-new town south-east of Adelaide near the Victorian border. All three families went into farming and lived in the German majority area of Yahl and Square Mile, to the east of the township.
I was able to find the online burial records for my GG-Grandmother Patzel who were buried at the Lake Terrace Cemetery.
Once we made it to Mount Gambier, I found the cemetery on the slopes of the now extinct volcano that housed the bluest lake I’d ever seen!
So after a quick look at that and multiple exclaimations of ‘It’s just so blue!’, my German backpacker friend and I went headstone hunting.
Actually they were quite easy to find as the website gave the plot location for each person buried, which was a lot easier than searching the multitude of headstones.
I was looking for a Patzel member, but when I came to the plot, I found it was also home to my Ferguson GGG-Grandparents. A nice surprise, but where was Hermine!? A quick check on my smartphone revealed that they had all been buried next to each other, along with one of Hermine’s children who had died young. A vacant plot sat to the left of the Fergusons and I wondered if that had been Hermine and her son’s?
I always feel a little sad when I see an unmarked grave with no headstone or anything to identify its occupants. So I found some little wildflowers nearby and put them on each of the graves. Nice to meet you ancestors!
From here we continued on to Adelaide. I’d wanted to stop in at Yankalilla for more history searching, but we didn’t have time. The next day I did stop at Mitcham Cemetery in the Adelaide burbs to check up on my GGreat Grandfather, William Morton. Unfortunately, there were no plot references and after scouring the Anglican section of the cemetery for about 2 hours in the rain, I gave up and assumed he must have an unmarked grave.
The Nullarbor was calling and with no family to search for in the land of no trees, it wasn’t until we got to Kalgoorlie in WA before I could pick up on the trail again.
Here I searched census addresses I’d found for my Great Grandparents who had moved to WA from New Zealand to cash in on the gold boom.
This turned out to be a bust as it seemed the area in which they’d lived had been turned into an industrial area.
Next, I checked out a lead from my mother who gave me the old address of my great-aunt. Fortunately, this house was still standing so I snapped a quick driveby shot.
On the 9 hour drive to Perth a few days later I stopped in Coolgardie to find my GG Grandparents, the Wheatley’s who were buried there somewhere. I could only find the pioneer cemetery and so had to squeeze under a fence to get in as it had been locked, but this cemetery looked more like a place of rest for the very first people who actually arrived in Coolgardie, with it’s myriad of red dirt mounds, so no luck here.
With hindsight poking me in the back after arriving in Perth, I do wish I’d planned it all ahead. I soon after found out I’d missed seeing my GGGG Grandfathers headstone at a church in Mount Gambier, and if I’d had a proper look at a map prior, I probably could have found the right Coolgardie cemetery.
It’s a great trip though, I think I’ll just have to drive back across Australia again!