A Grave Discovery

On November 14, 2017 I attended a book talk at Nedlands by Leigh Straw. Leigh is an author and historian and her book ‘After the War’ looks at returned servicemen from WW1 and the mental and physical trauma they brought home with them to Australia. As she so poignantly says, for some of them, the war never really ended.

The talk finished earlier than I expected, so I finally did something I had intended to do for years. I visited Doris Turpin’s grave at Karrakatta Cemetery. It is easy to find the details of gravesites using the Metropolitan Cemeteries website, and I saw that she was buried in one of the Presbyterian plots that back onto Smyth Road, which I would have to drive down on my way home. It seemed fortuitous timing, so I parked my car and began the walk into the cemetery.

I easily found the section she was buried in, but I did not know how to find her specific grave in amongst the hundreds of headstones. This older section of the graveyard was deserted, it felt like it was just me and hundreds of birds singing from the tall trees that are dotted throughout the enormous cemetery, but after a while a worker came past on his little golf cart. He pointed out the metal gravemarkers that showed the numbers of each site, and together we walked to the middle of the section where he pointed out Doris’s grave, situated under a small tree.

Doris had died at the age of 75 but I had never paid much attention to the specific date of her death. It was 14th November, 1968, meaning I was visiting her grave on the exact 49th anniversary of her death. It felt like fate and I wish I’d had the foresight to bring some flowers to decorate her grave.

What I was not expecting, was such a large and modern headstone, made from polished marble in a wave-like shape. I was also not expecting the fact that she shared her plot with other family members.

Gwenyth (Doris’ niece) had mentioned to me over the phone, that her sister Jennifer had died quite young, but had not mentioned that Jenny had been laid to rest with her aunt Doris in 1978, a decade after Doris had passed. In 2005, Jenny’s husband Clive passed away and was buried with Jenny and Doris. The current headstone would have been made in 2005, and there is no way of really knowing what Doris’s original 1968 headstone looked like.

The etching on the stone for Doris reads: In loving memory of my beloved sister Doris I. Turpin. Died 14.11.1968 aged 75 years. This would have been from her younger brother Walter, who as became apparent, preferred to be known by his middle name, Leslie (probably to avoid confusion with his father, also Walter).

I then went to look for Isabella’s grave (Doris’ mother), and found her in an older section of the Presbyterian sector. When I found her grave, I discovered she had been buried with Walter her husband who had died 8 years previously. The original gravesite and headstone for Walter who died in 1920 is very humble compared to some of the nearby graves. His marker reads: In loving memory of Walter, beloved husband of Isabella Turpin. Died 25th July 1920 aged 55 years. Ever remembered.

A marker at the foot of the grave is dedicated to Isabella, a smoother, more polished stone which reads: ‘Also Isabella beloved wife of Walter Turpin. Died 13th May 1928 aged 59 years.’  This sits on a stone plinth of rough grey stone, which matches a row of stones that run around the edge of the gravesite. At the time of her mother’s death, Doris would only have been 34 years, and Walter Jr 27 years old.

I wonder if Doris stood at the end of her parents’ shared gravesite and pondered her future. Would she have considered that she would one day purchase a block of land only four kilometres away, or whether building a house in Daglish was even on her radar.

I learned so much about this loving family, simply by visiting the cemetery in person, and taking the time to see where they rested. There is an incredible amount of history recorded on the gravestones throughout our cities, and for researchers, writers and family historians alike, it is worth taking the time to visit the cemeteries and walk through the stories of the people who came before us, as recorded in stone, for us all to witness.

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