Roadside memorials and “new ways of grief and mourning”
This story by Ashley Hall on last night’s PM program on the ABC referred to a tragic confluence of events and, perhaps, poor road design at an intersection in suburban Melbourne, Victoria:
Roadside memorial sparks distraction debate
A fatal car accident that killed a 21-year-old woman driver in Melbourne’s outer suburbs has ignited a furious debate about the safety of floral roadside memorials.
Police say the driver may have been distracted by a roadside tribute erected to mark the deaths of four teenagers at the same intersection a couple of weeks ago.
…Acting Inspector Jeff Smith, from the Victoria Police’s major collision unit, says the intersection was covered in flowers and pictures.
“Right on the intersection to have photos and tributes and stories and the like, it distracts drivers from what they’re supposed to be doing, which is looking where they’re going,” he said.
This issue of the safety of roadside memorials has been around in Australia for some time.
AM spoke to Dr Jennifer Clark, an Associate Professor at the University of New England at Armidale, who has studied roadside tibutes for over 20 years and in 2004 organised a conference on roadside tributes:
Roadside Memorials: a multi-disciplinary approach:
Papers are invited that examine the phenomenon of roadside memorialisation from the perspective of any relevant discipline including, for example, death studies, history, studies in religion, psychology, sociology, roadside studies, road safety, popular culture, studies in grief and mourning and studies in memorial culture. Papers on related topics, especially other forms of public memorialisation, also will be considered. It is intended that the most relevant papers will be submitted for publication as an edited collection.
In 2006 Clark spoke to Geraldine Doogue at ABC Radio’s Compass program:
Roadside memorials are not new. They were there in the ancient world, they’re all through Europe, through South America, through the United States.
So the place itself becomes very important. It becomes sacred space, regardless of the fact that this is actually a public roadside. And so we have the appropriation of public space for private mourning. And there is a great debate about whether or not they should be allowed. Emergency service personnel for example or people who have been involved in the crash or people who live near the memorial site often find it very difficult to travel past these memorials constantly day after day and be reminded of the great tragedy.
The roadside memorial is particularly important because it indicates to us that there is a new way looking at grief and mourning.
I think the practice itself indicates that there is a movement away from the belief that the church and the state has control over grief and mourning and has control over the ceremonies and rituals associated with death.
I think what it really indicates is that people in grief believe that their grief gives them the authority to put up a memorial where they want it to be put. It suggests that there is a very strong sense of the spiritual out there in your community, even though we know that church attendance is declining and that we hear a lot of talk about Australia being a secular society.
And the interesting thing about it I think is that it indicates that in our society people …are looking to express spirituality in their own way and to engage with a spiritual life. And there is a strong sense at these memorials that people making them have a very strong sense that something spiritual is going on while they are there.
The photos are my contribution – in addition to the roadkills that I’ve been photographing over the past several years I’ve recently started shooting the many and varied tributes that I find on my travels.
I’ll put up a post of recent new finds from time to time.
And if you have any particular shots of roadside memorials in your area please feel free to send them on and I’ll post them here for you.
And the last word, well, several words really, goes to the US where the National Memorial Registry has been established to:
The National Memorial Registry, Inc. was created to provide a place for any person to register a memorial or tribute to or on behalf of a person. It is our hope that the amount of people registering their memorial or tribute will be such a substantial amount that we are able to use this membership to affect legislation toward open display of these tributes on public lands. While we do not condone obstruction or cluttering of public parks or scenic views, we would like to have each country recognize the importance of allowing each citizen the right to pay tribute to any person they choose.
The National Memorial Registry, Inc. will work with all jurisdictions that regulate the placement of memorials. We will attempt to gain some consistency in legislation by means of public pressure. We will not condone open contempt for the local customs or legislation but will encourage change by means of legal methods as much as allowed.
It is the intent of National Memorial Registry, Inc. to maintain this database for future generations to access and gain valuable information about their ancestors past.