Lost Children

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“The light of a distant star continues to reach the Earth long after
the star itself is gone.”~Author Unknown

Yesterday I drove over to Daylesford to visit the Primary School. I’m sort of job hunting, you see. I thought I would visit both the Primary and Secondary schools, introduce myself and leave my contact details in hope of emergency teacher work.

I hadn’t been back to the historic Primary school building in 20 years. Directly inside the main entrance, the walls are covered in honour boards and  the one that caught my eye in particular was the Graham Dux award. I had won that in 1991. There is a story behind the award which has been given to a girl and a boy each year (or in my year, 2 girls and a boy) since 1888.

It is a sad story. A tragedy. But a triumph, also, in town comraddery. A story I grew up hearing from my grandmother as a warning about the perils of winter in Daylesford. It is the story of the Lost Children.

On June 3oth, 1867, four young children set out to look for wild goats on an old bush trail. After a while, one headed home, but the other three continued on looking for adventure. The children were William Graham (7) Thomas Graham (4) and Arthur Burman (5). They were spotted by a couple of people throughout the day, but come dinnertime they had not returned home.

Families began a search and were joined by hundreds of townsfolk. Shops remained closed that week as everyone was out looking. At the end of July, tired and disheartened town folk searching with trackers in the wet, miserable conditions, finally gave up the search.

Three months later on September 13th Michael McKay, who lived in the Wombat Forest, saw his dog playing with a child’s boot. Inside it he found the remains of a foot. Eventually, after an intense search of the area, McKay made the heartbreaking discovery of the children’s remains. They had taken shelter in a hollow tree and died of exposure.

From Table Hill, where the children set off, to where their remains were found on Wheeler’s Hill is 15.5km. That is an amazing distance for small children to walk.

Having one or both of my children die is really my worst nightmare these days. The sensation I get when I suddenly can’t find one in the supermarket stops my heart. When I lose sight of them in the playground I get a sense of dread deep in my stomach.

The Graham family set up a scholarship to be awarded to a grade 6 girl and boy at Daylesford Primary School in 1888 as a mark of appreciation for the generosity and hard work of Daylesford in searching for their children.

There are several reminders of the boys in town. They have a large monument in their honour in the Daylesford cemetery. A cairn and small garden mark the spot where they were found. At the roundabout in the middle of town is a bronze horse carrying three small children.  Artists have painted about the story. Orienteers have laid out a course which they think the children likely followed.

There is an official walking trail in town from Table Hill to Wheeler’s Hill that can be followed. I recommend taking the walk in the middle of winter to get a sense of what it really might have been like for 3 boys alone and lost in the woods.

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