Thursday 22nd November, 2012Printable Version
Sydney, NOV. 22 (dpa/GNA) - Some Australians see roadside memorials to traffic accident victims as tacky encroachments on public space that impertinently parade a grief best kept private.
To others, the assemblies of photos, flowers, trinkets and testimonials are to be celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit over a senseless death.
They see in the flourishing makeshift shrines, sacred, secular and sometimes profane, a refreshing cultural shift in the way we mourn.
"It's what has been called the disenfranchised grief - people who don't feel they belong to the rules and regulations of the state or the rules and regulations of the church," University of New England historian Jennifer Clark said.
"It's a post-1960s view that people respond to their own conscience. They decide what is right and wrong and good for them. There's a lot of autonomy being practised in this exercise."
The collapse of protocols that kept shows of grief to black outfits at funerals and bunches of flowers in the graveyard is proving a challenge to authorities.
They have to set new rules, limit the infringement of private demands on common land and either turn a blind eye to the modern practice or codify it.
The state government in New South Wales, which has responsibility for highways, insists shrines be no more than the size of a suitcase but sets no time limit, saying "roadside tributes should be removed after an appropriate period of mourning."
In contrast, Queensland state officials are more accommodating, allowing memorials to be "in place indefinitely, provided they are regularly maintained by family and friends and do not become a road safety hazard."
Town councils, which maintain local roads, vary in their approach. Mark Gardiner, of Sydney's Marrickville Council, said there was no set policy and officials "let things take their course."
In Rockingham, a Perth suburb, the bereaved are limited to small white, wooden crosses and informed that "one roadside memorial shall be allowed per life lost for a period of up to 14 months only."
The state of South Australia is even more prescriptive, insisting that roadside shrines be gone in "a maximum of six weeks from the date of the accident."
Just as the bereaved are now taking more liberties with the common land, those against what they see as personal grief intruding into public space are rising up to keep memorials within bounds.
In Bendigo, a town in Victoria, when an aggrieved mourner offered a reward for the names of those who defaced a roadside memorial, the local paper erupted in a war of words.
One anonymous letter-writer complained that while "knick-knacks like teddy bears, skateboards and other memorabilia might be special to the person who put it there, it's all rubbish to the rest of us!"
At a busy Sydney road junction a bicycle sprayed white and chained to a traffic light is being colonized by the undergrowth. A white cross nailed to a nearby power pole suggests the deceased was called Konrad.
A dip into police records notes that a cyclist died at that spot at approximately 3:30 pm on November 16, 2010.
"Police have conducted extensive inquiries at the scene and spoken with a number of witnesses," the archive entry reads. "No charges are expected to be laid."
According to Clark, a world authority on roadside memorials, the ghost bike serves to shift awareness from a statistic in a ledger to a morgue near you.
"One thing it's done is made a difference to the way we look at road trauma," she said. "It's been a hidden form of death, a statistic at the end of the year. But there was never much attention paid to the individualism of those people."