Mary Watters looked across the table to her friend Susan, who was running her fingers over the crisp, white sheet wrapping the wooden crate. A few days before, that long box bumped its way by packhorse over dusty roads to the small mining town of Limestone, protecting a consignment for the local store. Now the improvised coffin enclosed Esther Gallagher, Susan’s sister.
Mary’s three-year-old brother, John, squirmed from his mother’s arms to come and stand beside his older sister. Esther had been the same age. Sorrow grasped Mary’s shoulders and shook out the sobs.
Without warning, a wind gust dislodged the stick propping open the galvanised iron window shutter. A blast of hot air entered the split-log shack as it did from Mrs Gallagher’s colonial oven when the bread came out. And the children clamoured for a crust from the steaming loaves.
In Limestone, there was no baker for bread, no doctor for Esther, no priest for the funeral.
In Limestone, vessels for water from the creek were kerosine tins. The ore bucket was a stitched bullock hide. A mattress was grass-filled calico.
Gentle hands on Mary’s shoulders guided her away from the tiny coffin. She and her mother joined the others, ready for the long, dusty walk to the cemetery.
Author’s note: This is a piece of flash fiction. Not fiction because the funeral didn’t happen (it took place in 1897) but because it is unlikely Mary Watters was there. However, the Watters family was in the Limestone area for 3 to 5 years before about 1896, and I wanted the story to represent conditions the family faced. You can read more about life in the Limestone and Maytown mining areas online in the book Barefoot Through the Bindies referenced in the Bibliography.
Houldsworth, Marion, and Susan Gallagher. “Maytown Girl.” In Barefoot Through the Bindies, 37–51. Brisbane, Queensland: Boolarong Press, 2012. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=IEgexYAnkFAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=barefoot through the bindis&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwigldjRvZHnAhWaV30KHc2xCYYQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
‘Reverend Frederic Charles Hall Photographic Collection’. n.d. Accessed at https://nqheritage.jcu.edu.au/view/collections/rfc=5Fhpc.html.
‘Rockhampton Heritage Village – Posts’. Accessed at https://www.facebook.com/RockhamptonHeritageVillage/photos/a.828428230544165/927150837338570/.