Walhalla Gravestone

Walhalla Grave

Patrick died October 17 1886 – aged 46 years

Alice died June 28 1887 – aged 41 years

Their children

John died January 3 1886 – aged 14 years

Ellen died April 25 1886 – aged 12 years

Gerald died November 3 1887 – aged 13 months

Erected by their son and brother Richard


It was John that went first, in the middle of that long hot summer. In life he was their bold young man with a job in town, bringing in that little bit extra to help make ends meet. But death revealed him to be just a boy, forevermore.

Was it a random accident – an ill-fated kick from a runaway horse, or a misstep that sent him tumbling down the hillside to the deep gully below?

‘As the Lord wills’, said the priest, and they buried him in the cemetery on the hill. Life went on. Come April, Alice realised she was pregnant again. She’d thought – hoped – that Matthew would be her last.

‘Life in death’, said the neighbours, but their well-meant words brought no comfort with Ellen now taken ill. And was that the fever that was spreading through town? God knows, it was hard to keep clean and you couldn’t trust the water, even after boiling, what with the shit and rubbish of 4000 bodies all ending up in the creek that was the only source of water for the town.

By the end of April, Ellen was gone too, and did Richard watch his grieving parents, not coping, as Alice’s belly swelled again? And what of Young Patrick, with a brother on one side and a sister on the other – both gone? Did he feel the weight of responsibility rest heavy on his 13-year-old shoulders?

That winter was long and harsh, like the summer before it, bitter cold of grief replacing the life-sapping heat. Paddy worked the mine; he had a good job there, he was manager now. But his days were long, and little of the wealth he saw dragged from that hard ground came his way.

Did he dream of finding that one lucky nugget, secreting it away from his boss? Did he dream of taking his remaining children, his pregnant wife, and leaving this cold remote valley? Did he dream of buying some land in the broad fertile plains of Latrobe? Buy some cows, buy some chickens, till the soil, plant and grow; not dig through it in desperate hope and fear.

The child within his wife grew large, taking all the sustenance Alice’s grieving body could give. Her pale face and sad eyes belied the health of the life inside.

And what was it that took her husband, her precious Paddy? Did he start coming home late from the mine, lingering in town, finding ease for his sorrow at the bottom of a bottle? Was it an October storm and the spring thaw from the mountains turning Stringers Creek into a raging torrent that caught him out, swept him away, with his body only found days later, far downstream?

Did Paddy ever see his last child, or was baby Gerald born in that same storm? Did the midwife attend Alice as 11-year-old Margaret watched on, or was Margaret sent from the room with instructions to attend to little William and Matthew? And what of Richard and Young Patrick? Were they sent out into that dark night to find their father – and failing – coming home to the wails of a newborn?

Or was Patrick Walsh Gilsenan a stoic man: dutiful, attentive and loving, doting on his wife and many children? Was it an accident in the mines – no fault of Paddy’s – that snuffed out his life?

‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’, said the priest, but that was cold comfort for Alice. The warmth of a suckling babe couldn’t take the chill from her bed as Paddy had done.

She named the babe Gerald John, after his lost brother.

Now Richard was the head of the family, and Patrick his only lieutenant. How did they cope, at 17 and 15, with a nursing mother lost in grief and four younger siblings? Did they remain in the town or strike out to find work, sending what they could home to their family?

Was their absence the last straw for Alice, with a suckling babe drawing all strength from her ailing body? Did she grow thin and then thinner, as she tried to care for her brood? Desperate, did she wean baby Gerald too early, and too late, as the cold settled in her chest and the hacking cough turned to pneumonia?

She died in the depths of yet another dreary winter, and really, what hope was there for baby Gerald after that?

And what of the children left behind, both fatherless and motherless now. Did the neighbours take pity, show compassion, take the little ones in? Did they grow up hale and hearty, despite that terrible two years of loss? Did they stay in that cold narrow valley where the sun only shines for a few short hours, even in the height of summer? Or did they venture out, find enough love and fortune to outweigh their sorrow, leaving their lost loved ones to weather as names etched on a headstone on a steep hillside of a valley that remains remote and lonely to this day?

Walhalla cemetery

NB My respect and apologies to the descendants of Patrick Walsh Gilsenan and Alice Marion (nee Quinn) for my musings on the lives of their forebears, but coming across their ancestors’ gravestone in the old cemetery at Walhalla moved me to imagine their lives during those two tragic years.

My research uncovered the names and birth-dates of their eight children – the close dates of the births juxtaposing against significant gaps between the 5th and 6th child and the 7th and 8th child leads me to suspect that Alice had more pregnancies but suffered several miscarriages.

Interestingly, historical records show Gerald John as being born in 1887, which doesn’t fit with the record of his age-at-death as shown on the gravestone. I suppose that Gerald’s birth wasn’t officially recorded until some months after – not surprising considering the close proximity of his birth to his father’s death.

The Victorian Police Gazette for the quarter ending March 1886 lists ‘Gilsenan, Patrick Walshe, larceny as a bailee from 93, 101,109’ – I’m not sure what the numbers mean but the listing certainly adds to the drama of the Gilsenan family’s life at that time.

Records from the Walhalla Heritage and Development League reveal that Margaret Kathleen Gilsenan (b. 1875) married William Keirnan and the couple had two children. I presume they remained in Walhalla.

Other research revealed that on the 8th of May 1894, Richard Gilsenan (son of  the late Patrick Walsh Gilsenan, miner and mine manager, of Walhalla) married Kate Edwards, the daughter of  Charles Edwards (manager of ‘Fortune’s Hustler’, a goldmine in Bendigo). Richard obviously struck out from Walhalla at some stage, but remained on the hunt for gold…


a brief glimpse into someone’s brain

I found it on the ground by the side of the footpath
wet and fragile after overnight rain
carefully picked it up, read it
as I hurried to make the tram
two pages, stuck together
neat dot-points, all caps

it read:

  • LOST


(the other side) (different pen)

  • External HARD DRIVE:—    32GB
  • Photo Print Ruby
  • Dee Books – Photos, cup, flowers, card,etc, MORNING TEA?
  • Lilly BALL + Tissue Paper
  • $ Toni
  • Photo Ruby

A lost list, work in progress

Did they remember?

Have the kids still got lice?
Was the lawyer’s advice good or just  blowin’ in the wind?
Did Mat get leave or was the glass ceiling too wide?
What’s lost? (apart from the list) and what’s a ‘utope sexist’??
Were the oranges cut right at footy training and who got the prize for growing?
Did they go to Officeworks, get the right hard drive, remember the photo for Ruby?
Dee’s morning tea?
Is Lilly a person or a cat? and did Toni get the money?

I sure hope Ruby got her photo

and Mum was remembered on the day


we’re cookin’ in the kitchen
and we’re stirring up the words
and the rebellion of the moment
disappears beneath the herbs

and we’re spicing up our living
with the fire on our tongues
and the manifesto menu
will explode from out our bums

and the pot that over-boiled
and was spattered on the stove
gives a picture of the moment
of politicos that pose

and they give us words of sugar
that they cover under treacle
and the food of thought is nothing
like the stuff they feed the people

So we’re cookin’ in the kitchen
and the coffee’s black and strong
and the cake that we are baking
we’ll distribute for a song

and the song will be a rally
that will draw them from the telly
and replace the crap from Maccas
that is stuffing up their belly

Then we’ll lead them to our kitchen
and we’ll teach ’em how to cook

Needles and Pins


The Angel wasn’t dancing.
It was sitting, arms wrapped around knees, the head of the pin cool and smooth under its bottom, as it stared out over the desert. Contemplating wasn’t the word. Angels don’t tend toward contemplation; their nature isn’t so much to contemplate as to observe then act. Or just to be sent, the un-killable messenger, armed with symbolic accoutrements: Divine Light, trumpets, flaming swords – that sort of thing.

The light in the desert wasn’t divine but it was beautiful. Soft, like water gently flowing; clear, like a cleanly struck bell. Grains of sand stood out in the Angel’s vision; small sounds, the movements of small animals, whispered in the Angel’s ears. It sighed, its breath merging with the air.

“In vino veritas,” it said, without really knowing why, other than the wine being more significant than the truth.

“Drinking won’t change anything you know. Not beyond the momentary. One shouldn’t pin one’s hopes on wine,” said the camel, correctly divining the Angel’s barely formed thought.

The Angel looked at the camel, briefly wondering how the desert appeared when seen through the eye of a needle. Or how an Angel appeared to the eyes of a camel. The camel’s eyes were large and brown and kind. It looked like the sort of camel that wouldn’t be bothered by the physical complications of metaphysical conundrums. The moment lingered, and the world was still.

Then the camel blinked, long curled lashes falling and rising.

“I was in a dream once you know,” he said. “I was blue, not sure why, and I was being helpful. Offering to carry things, but really, just being there. You know, present.”

He paused, considering the effects of his words, the gender that had come upon him. He wondered if that happened to angels too, if gender was assigned by the observer, the dreamer, the beseecher and receiver of messages. Divine intervention. It seemed a bit arbitrary. He toed the sand, suddenly restless.

“It’s this thing with being allegorical,” said the Angel, then stopped.

It didn’t really know where to go from there, wasn’t even sure if the camel–needle–rich man–heaven thing was even, in fact, an allegory. Maybe it was a simile, or a metaphor, or both, or neither. But the camel in the dream was an allegory, definitely, and the angel on the pin, or the needle or whatever. The pointy thing with not much room.

The dancing, however, was just for laughs. A flippant remark. A joke to be snorted at, with accompanying nudgings of elbows and wagglings of eyebrows and “gotcha there, didn’t I?”s. The Angel wasn’t sure how it felt about being the butt of… whatever it was. It wiggled a bit on the head of the pin, feeling, for a moment, frictionless. The danger of sliding. Falling, even. And that would never do. Or would it?

The Angel took a healthy slug of the wine. It rasped a little on the back of the throat, leaving a lingering flavour of diesel and dark plum on the upper palate and a slight fizz on the end of the tongue.

“It didn’t matter who I was, in the dream I mean,” said the camel. “It wasn’t my dream. I was just a guest. Passing through. I didn’t have to do anything. No special attributes, no purpose. Sure, I offered my services to carry some stuff, but that’s what I do. Not every camel would’ve done that, I know. As a species we can be recalcitrant. But I’m generally considered to be on the easy-going side. I don’t spit, not unless someone really deserves it. No point in making life hard, just for kicks.”

“‘Kicking against the pricks’, is that what I’m doing?” wondered the Angel aloud. “At least I’m on a pin, not a needle. I have that much control.”

“Control,” said the camel, “is ephemeral.” He stamped once or twice on the sand, wishing he had hands to just grab the bottle from the Angel, wishing for… What?

“It wasn’t my dream and it didn’t matter that I was blue. It wasn’t real to me, just to the dreamer. I was there, I looked her in the eyes, I was gone. A one night stand. Sure, she saw something that gave her comfort; sure, I lingered in her memory. Okay, so later, yes, I could feel her thinking of me, turning my existence over in her mind, puzzling away at some meaning. But it wasn’t my meaning. It was hers. I was done; I was outa there. Finito. End of dream.”

The Angel smiled. Reached over and tilted the bottle towards the camel’s lips. Tilted some more. The stretch was a little too far, and the Angel felt itself slide, felt itself fall, then land with a soft whumph on the sand. The camel had reared back at the sudden slosh of red wine down his gullet, but now stood complacent, licking his lips.

“You know, it doesn’t really matter either way,” he said.

“I know,” said the Angel. “Shall we dance?”


Cold snap & 15cm of snow on Lake Mountain


Lake Mountain Louis2

We stop for ski gear in Marysville. It’s 2°C.
Driving up the mountain, mist shrouds the valleys, floats around hills.
We wind slowly upwards, negotiating switchbacks, temperature dropping,
snow in the trees and on the roadside.

Emerge from the mist to a clear blue sky.

At the top of the mountain, the temperature drops below zero.
In the carpark, we add more layers, make sandwiches, rearrange the backpack,
grab our gear, make our way past the families playing on toboggans
and head for the ski trails.

Clip on skis, arrange poles, make our first sliding moves.
Muscle memory takes over.

We are gliding along bush tracks, smiling at strangers.
The snow is thick, fresh and powdery.

Laughter when we crash on the first downhill run, soft snow face-plant.
Get up, brush off snow before it melts into our clothes, try again.

We watch our fellow-skiers, picking up tips, experimenting with
the quick-step jog as an alternative to
the herringbone technique on steep uphills,
gain confidence,
successfully take the sweeping bends on a downhill run.

Stop and eat. Drink hot coffee from the Thermos.
Check the trail map and plan our next moves.

It’s afternoon now. Mist creeps over the mountain,
turning the world white and silver: monochrome.
Sound seeps away with the colour.

We are somewhere we haven’t explored before, muffled
in the silence of snow, for all we know,
alone in this landscape.

Lake Mountain branches

When the wind blows, snow on skeleton branches
crackles like the sound of scrunching cellophane,
but the rime falls silently from the trees.

We have our rhythm now, take the Panorama Trail twice because
the bumpy downhill run is so much fun.
Stack it at the end both times.

The trails are empty. Now, seeing others is a peaceful surprise.

We ski until we’re wet and cold, then retreat to the shelter of
the human world: heated building,
bathrooms with hot running water for cold hands,
chairs and tables.

Eat the last of our picnic in comfort.

The crowd has thinned, carpark emptying, but it’s still daylight so
we stash our pack in the car, go out for one last run, unencumbered.

The temperature has dropped again.

Heeding messages from tired muscles; we resist the temptation of
revisiting outlying runs. Do a short loop and
triumphantly – gracefully – fly down the Taggerty Return,
taking the last bend with a flourish, stopping where we intended.

It’s dusk as we drive back into Marysville and return our boots, poles and skis.
Very cold now.
We buy hot chocolates, milky and warm,
eat cake in the car with the heater on.

Driving through the dark down the Black Spur, more switchbacks,
towering regnans, giant treeferns,
The Necks play ‘Townsville’, our soundtrack, aural landscape.
Join the highway in Healesville; it takes us home to Preston where
there’s a hot curry for dinner, a hot shower for after, and a soft bed.

I dream in monochrome, of snow.

Lake Mountain 1 Louis