Once you find Siberia*, you will find a solitary bougainvillea, out of place amidst the scrub and scrap of the former townsite. Nearby is a small pit in the ground with some rusty tin which may have once lined it. At the base of the bush is an assortment of vessels: tins, cans, 20 litre water containers.
The pit is all that remains of the Reward Hotel, one of two hotels built in the wake of the fatal goldrush of October 1898. The Reward was owned by James and Mabel Kirkham, whose fourth child, a boy, was stillborn or died soon after birth. His little body was buried in the garden of the hotel and the bougainvillea planted to mark his grave. The Kirkhams left Siberia for South Australia in about 1919 taking their hotel with them, but many years later Mabel returned to Siberia and the bougainvillea. She is reported to have said, while standing by the purple bush: “That bougainvillea will never die - my heart is buried under it.”
Mabel died in 1965.
Fifty years later the bougainvillea was not doing so well. All that now marked the grave, thanks to a severe drought, was a bunch of dry sticks poking out of he ground. Local passers-by started to water the twigs until eventually a green shoot appeared. The bush is not doing so badly now, standing at 2 metres tall, its similar diameter supported by an arch. A tradition has now developed: visitors are asked to pour a few drops of water from the containers left there onto the bush to help keep it going. A small history and visitors’ book is there for well-wishers to sign before heading on their way.
Mabel Kirkham would surely be pleased with that.
*Siberia is best found by following the Golden Quest Trail from Ora Banda. Full details are given in the Golden Quest Guide Book or app.