Across the River | Share an obituary with the community

Before talking about more serious business, I must share a lovely story heard while travelling in Austria the other week.

You see there was a lady from Vienna who noticed her pet schnauzer could hardly hear, so took him to see her friendly veterinarian, who examined the dog and found his hearing to be perfect. The problem was hair in his ears. So he sent her off to the chemist with a prescription for hair removal cream to rub on his ears once a week.  

When she was getting the prescription filled the chemist advised her not to use deodorant for a few days if she was going to use this under her arms.

“I am not using it under my arms,” she said sternly.

“Well if it is for your legs, don’t use body lotion for a few days.  There may be a reaction.”

“I have no intention of using it on my legs either,” snapped the Austrian lady.

“If you must know, I’m using it on my schnauzer.”

“Well then,” said the chemist, “you’d better stay off your bicycle for at least a week.”

Now where were we?.. That more serious business.

DEAR-O-DEER: Why not share the story of your dear-departed with the community in which they lived, loved and worked? Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

DEAR-O-DEER: Why not share the story of your dear-departed with the community in which they lived, loved and worked? Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

Last week this newspaper launched a dedicated page on its website inviting you to submit news and other information, as well as social, baby, wedding and birthday photos. This is a great idea, but could I add obituaries to this list?

I do love a good obituary. 

I have been to so many funeral services where a member of the family or a friend has delivered a fine eulogy that deserved to be shared with the wider community. A story told from the heart, yet sadly the only people who get to hear that story are the people in the church at the time. What’s more, those heartfelt words are lost in the mists of time, often not long after the coffin is lowered into the ground.  

But an obituary is different. An obituary records a bit of local history forever.  

I reckon everybody deserves an obituary. They are far more informative than headstones. Obituaries reveal and record personal stories, not just bland dates and a motherhood statement etched into a lump of stone in an often neglected cemetery. You get a feel for life during earlier times – the hardships, working conditions, funny anecdotes, how people lived and how they died.

In 2008 Carol Nolan and Carolyn Dougherty put together a book called Digging up the Past, which was a collection of obituaries extracted from local newspapers in the Berrima District before 1900. It is a terrific read.

On the very first page in this alphabetical collection we learn about the death of Ah Kin, son of Lip Dick, a Chinese market gardener who was burned to death at Mittagong in 1898. The story - under the headline of Chinaman Literally Roasted - tells in graphic detail the events of the night that led to Ah Kin’s death and in so doing painted a graphic picture of the hardships endured in the 1800s, not forgetting the state of medical treatment back in the day when burns were managed by “anointing him liberally with mashed pumpkin.” 

Great stuff and in the next 383 pages follow hundreds of other obituaries telling the reader so much about life and death in the Berrima District during those early colonial pioneering days. You rarely learn that from reading headstones.

So if you have a story to tell about a dearly departed friend or relative, don’t just deliver a moving eulogy at the church service, but pass those words on to this newspaper with a photograph and let the community share that story of a life well lived. 

Like the yarn about a poor old parking officer whose coffin was being lowered into the ground when the congregation heard a voice yell out; "I'm not dead, I'm not dead. Let me out!" 

The vicar smiled, leaned forward and quietly muttered; "Too late mate, I've already done the paperwork."

  • Ah Kin’s story was part of the Highlands History series on the Chinese in the Southern Highlands in the 1800s, published in the Southern Highland News on October 30 and November 6, 2017.

To submit an obituary click here.