Saturday, 1 December 2007

Bride of Sorrow


The concept of love is infinity in its purest form of memory such as the example of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations partly based on the life of Eliza Emily Donnithorne. There is in the Camperdown Cemetery a feeling of detachment, of an unhurried time from the past, hidden away from the bustling vibrant life-force of King Street, Newtown. The Cemetery Lodge is positioned like an after-thought, protected by the sun-dappled shade of the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig which was planted in 1848. The moist air is overpowering with the scents of the earth and the decomposing multi-coloured leaf litter. Enormous canes of bamboo are spreading upwards to the opaque sky as long shadows of the afternoon overwhelm the sense of light.

The inscription at the base of this marble cross on her father’s grave is “and also Eliza Emily last surviving daughter” who died 20th May 1886. Eliza Emily Donnithorne is one of the most famous inhabitants of this final resting-place. The reason for my visit is a long-held interest in the past life of this tragic lady. In the twentieth century when I was a child there was a female Chinese relative, aged one hundred and ten years whose appearance was akin to having been dipped in formaldehyde because of her fondness for opium. I was led to believe by Jasmine that Charles Dickens once stayed in Newtown and he was intrigued by this reclusive lady of independent means. I am overwhelmed by the sense of the sadness of her life and yet I feel honoured to be able to pay my respects to a lady always remembered in the text of Dicken’s Great Expectations.

The mopoke is hooting a sinister tone of dread hidden within the leaves of a ghost gum tree by the St Stephen’s Anglican Church. This omen of death is like the distant echoes of this tragic love affair of Eliza Emily Donnithorne and George Cuthbertson. The ghosts of these two lovers consumed in their passion appear so vividly against the backdrop of this neglected remnant of Turpentine-Ironbark Forest. The imagery of a genteel time, hour-glass corseted lace wedding-dress scented with dried lavender and a cameo on a swan-like pale neck of Eliza Emily. This bride spent the next forty years waiting for George, who had abandoned her at the altar. The eight-tier wedding cake was subject to the mercy of the rodents and cockroaches in the decaying ruin of the Camperdown Lodge. This lady lived in her brittle eggshell skin of haunted nightmares of the ghosts within her shattered fragments of self.

The dark shadows of the late afternoon lengthen into the reflections on how love can be reduced to a handful of ashes. There is at this moment the clarity of insight on how most people are made of straw, coloured with Midas gold. The vibes of these places recall the notion of dumb spaces wishing to be heard and remembered by anyone who has fire in the blood. This tragic experience of love long abandoned in the yellowing crumbling pages of the past would also hold a fascination for anyone who bears the scars of a broken heart. The definition of self is a ongoing quest as I wear the autumn chaperon-like hues of my life. I walk through the church gates and step forward into the landscape of the bleak expectations of the twenty-first century, in this the millennium of Ra.

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