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The perpetual graveyard

By Darlene Taylor - posted Wednesday, 1 February 2006

During the Christmas holidays, a motorist was caught driving dangerously at the same place in Victoria where a 19-year-old lost his life the previous year.

Television coverage about the offence showed a plastic wrapper containing a dead flower stuck in a fence at the site. Presumably it had been put there by friends or family of the deceased person in the first stages of grief with the aim of acknowledging the spot where his and their lives changed irreparably.

Roadside memorials for victims of car accidents differ considerably, although most of us have seen crosses or roses adorning streets.


After a crash in the northern suburbs of Brisbane claimed my nephew’s life on December 18, his mates came together to reflect, talk and compose messages about him at the location of the tragedy. Some of the inscriptions on the power pole were touching affirmations of his goodness and spirit, while others were worrying romanticisms such as the declaration in large script that, “Only the good die young”.

Undoubtedly, that sentiment is often expressed when someone barely out of their teens dies, but coming from a group known for risky behaviour it is hoped it was not intended to mean some situations are preordained.

The Transport Accident Commission’s (TAC) website informs us that 348 people lost their lives in car accidents in Victoria in 2005, with differences between the number of men and women killed substantial enough - 261 to 87 - to wonder if it was just because more men were driving or whether other factors were at work.

Incidentally, 106 individuals between the ages of 16 and 25 became statistics for the state’s road toll last year. Given the gender divide in the total figures, we can assume most of the fatalities among youngsters were males.

A study conducted by Kate Hartig and Kevin Dunn in Newcastle in the late 1990s spoke some truth when it suggested, “(roadside memorials) function as conservative memorials of youth machismo; of heroic aggression, disregard for safety and egocentrism”.

Of course, this argument does not address the reasons memorials are constructed for females and older victims, nor does it confront the issue of whether boys on the cusp of adulthood feel free to mourn in other ways.


In any instance, a couple of the qualities Hartig and Dunn condemn are not intrinsically bad: they just need to be directed into areas like work and sport.

The young men encountered at the scene of my nephew’s accident and at his funeral seemed far sadder and more bewildered than any stereotype of unfettered masculinity allows.

By attaching the hats he used to wear to his job as an apprentice builder to the post and remarking on his work ethic and “battler” characteristics in an article in The Courier-Mail, they proved there is more to their worldview than recklessness. Unfortunately, it is true that there are times when the positive aspects of mateship are undermined by a belief in each other’s indestructibility.

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For Jason (November 26, 1986 - December 18, 2005)

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About the Author

Darlene Taylor writes for the popular group blog, Larvatus Prodeo.

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