A grave dedicated to a cat, a headstone with a beer keg on top, one shaped like a castle – and, a very simple resting place for Coober Pedy’s most eccentric resident – a wander around Coober Pedy’s Boot Hill Cemetery was one of my favourite moments of my trip to this fascinating mining town in South Australia. Here’s why you should stop there too.
You can tell a lot about a place from its famous cemeteries. In New Orleans they come rich with ghost stories and spooky voodoo history, in London, the graves are ornate and often coated with a fine layer of moss that gives everything a Victorian vibe.
The Coober Pedy cemetery is called Boot Hill, the same name as the one in Tombstone, Arizona (and many other cowboy towns in the USA). It’s understated entry gate topped with a simple iron cross also wouldn’t look out of place in something starring Clint Eastwood in chaps, and the sign on the road leading up to it of an old shoe makes you laugh – it all pretty much sums up Coober Pedy – eccentric with a touch of the Wild West about it.
Boot Hill is the second cemetery in Coober Pedy and was first used in 1976. It’s still where people from the town are buried today and at the time of writing was the final resting place of over 200 people. It’s said to be named Boot Hill as most of the people in it died with their boots on!
I went there predominantly to see the grave of someone who didn’t – Tiger Jarvis – 1971-1989.
Tiger wasn’t a human.
Tiger was a 16 year-old-cat whose owner (legend has it), Lionel (Bob) Jarvis adored him/her so much that when Tiger died their body was frozen until Mr Jarvis was ready to be buried next to them.
Considering Mr Jarvis lived until 92 and died in, what looks like 2009, this was quite some time for Tiger to be on ice but still…
When his time came and the two were buried together, Mr Jarvis also dedicated the marker on the grave to Tiger ‘the most loyal, loving and brave one I have ever known’, his own headstone is just a wooden cross lying on the top of their grave.
Yes, yes, you do have something in your eye and it’s not just dirt from the cemetery.
However, Lionel and Tiger Jarvis is not the only intriguing grave in Boot Hill cemetery. There’s also the beer keg.
This is the grave of Karl Bratz who died at the sadly young age of 52. Karl was a bit of a fella back in the day and when he found out he didn’t have much longer to live he wanted to ensure everyone celebrated his life properly once he’d gone.
He bought a full 18-gallon beer keg for his funeral and asked everyone to have a drink on him.
The party went on for hours (whether or not it was actually at his graveside depends who in Coober Pedy you talk to) – and the keg and his last wish are now on his gravestone.
Apparently, his coffin is made of corrugated iron as he’d got kind of used to being surrounded by the stuff as a miner and so he decided he wanted to be buried in it too.
Karl’s death at a young age isn’t abnormal in Coober Pedy – in fact, it seemed more likely to find graves in Boot Hill of people who had died in their 30s, 40s and 50s than those who lived to a ripe old age.
One exception was Cliff Ferrall who lived until 102. The local paper reported his 100th birthday party in July 2009 telling of how his friends and family came from around the country and telegrams arrived from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the then Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull. Apparently, Mr Ferrall read them all without his glasses and had a beer!
It’s tricky to find anything about the owners of the other graves in the cemetery – Coober Pedy is pretty much off the grid at the best of times, but there does seem to be a theme for intriguing graves.
What made Josef Tokarz choose a castle-theme? Why does one of the other graves have spades on it?
I’d love to go back and find out more about the people behind the headstones.
Interestingly, while running around looking at cats and castles, I actually missed the grave of one of Coober Pedy’s other most eccentric characters, Crocodile Harry.
While in life he lived in a dugout just outside of town that’s now (in)famous for its quirky decoration – think walls covered in hubcabs, bras and statues of women with very large boobs – his grave is just a simple cross.
In fact, it’s so simple that it was only when I got down the road and chatted to one of the locals about the cemetery that I even found out he was buried there. So, keep your eyes peeled for it.
Where is Boot Hill Cemetery?
It’s at the end of Boot Hill Road in the South West of town – you can easily combine it with a trip to the Welcome to Coober Pedy sign or the Serbian Underground Church as it’s near both.
Boot Hill also isn’t Coober Pedy’s only cemetery – the original cemetery is located a bit behind the Tourist Information Centre in town. This doesn’t have so many ornate markers, in fact, many of the graves didn’t originally have markers and are only now being identified and marked. Another place with some amazing stories I imagine.