Thursday, 17th April, 2014
By Darrin Manuel
In an old section of the Wilcannia cemetery lies the six children of John and Ellen Ortloff.
Three sons, three daughters, one burial plot, no names, and no date.
The mystery surrounding their lives and untimely deaths is typical of much of the cemetery, which is littered with unmarked graves and crumbling headstones with indecipherable markings.
Many of the historic graves have recently been uncovered by the tireless workers on the Wilcannia Cemetery Steering Committee, who used Clean Up Australia Day over the last two years to remove dense scrub that had overgrown the oldest sections of the cemetery.
The clean up revealed several fascinating grave sites featuring intricate carvings, ornamental wrought iron and old family inscriptions.
During a brief tour of the cemetery on Tuesday, committee members Chris Elliott and Shirley Evans outlined the rich history contained within the site.
The resting places of reputed light horse brigade member James Parr and John “Jack” Quayle, Wilcannia’s only indigenous serviceman in World War 2, are easily recognisable.
In the south corner lies the town’s once thriving Chinese community, the founding Sisters of Mercy nuns who worked in the town’s convent are further north, and descendants of celebrated English writer Charles Dickens are also nearby.
One of the more interesting characters interred is former bank manager William Inglis, who is believed to have lost his life due to a combination of extreme heat and an extreme sense of propriety.
Rather than suffer the indignity of a man of his position removing his coat on a sweltering day, Mr Inglis succumbed to heatstroke and died in the summer of 1888.
“These graves have so many stories, and so many of them are just unmarked,” said Mrs Elliott.
She lamented that many of the grave sites were beginning to crumble, taking pieces of the town’s history with them.
But the committee and the Central Darling Shire simply don’t have the funding or the manpower to preserve the hundreds of graves.
Even if they did, the cemetery’s heritage listing and restrictions due to ownership of burial rights would be difficult barriers to overcome.
However Ms Elliott encouraged anybody in the region who has a relative buried in Wilcannia to drop into the cemetery and tend to their relatives’ grave.
“There would be a lot of families in Broken Hill with relatives that are buried here; Wilcannia is actually older than Broken Hill.”
“Any assistance people can give just cleaning up graves would be greatly appreciated.”
The Shire recently resolved to extend the cemetery onto new ground to ensure new graves would not disturb existing unmarked plots.
People wanting more information on the cemetery, or information on relatives, can contact the Shire’s Environmental Services Department on 8083 8900.