On a quiet country lane, on the crest of a hill overlooking Daylesford, is a small stone memorial enshrined with flowers and toys.

It marks the final chapter of a 150 year old saga of three little boys lost. It started on Sunday June 30 in the cold and wet winter of 1867. Brothers William and Thomas Graham, aged just six and four, went looking for wild goats by the banks of Wombat Creek with neighbour Alfred Burman, aged five. Daylesford at the time was a mix of timber huts and grand edifices built on the back of the gold rush. The boys were seen that afternoon on the outskirts of town and were told by a storekeeper to follow the recently erected telegraph lines back into town. When the three failed to return home that evening their parents raised the alarm. A search began but as darkness fell, the rescue party returned to town without the boys.

The 30th had been a clear and sunny winter’s day, and the three boys had been warmly dressed. But that night one of the worst frosts since white settlement hit the Central Highlands covering the ground with a crisp harr. The following weeks saw the fledgling community come together as one, with lowly woodcutters and hard rock miners joining landed squattocracy and mounted police in the search.

Winter gave way to spring with no sign of the missing boys. Then one day a local timber cutter’s dog brought a small boot complete with foot into his camp. In a hollow tree, just 200 metres from the woodman’s hut, the two smaller boy’s bodies were found, huddled together as if protecting each other from the cold. William’s remains were found scattered nearby. It was assumed he had been outside, waiting for help. Thousands attended the service and burial of the boys and a memorial was built at the Daylesford Cemetery. William and Thomas’s father donated a sum of money to the local school and to this day a student at Daylesford Primary receives the Graham Dux award.

The tree in which they died survived for another 80 years until it blew down in a storm in 1950. The remaining stump was burned in a bushfire in 2009. A century and a half since Wilfred, Thomas and Alfred died cold and alone, the memorial is now a place where people still bring tributes and where others come to keep the memory of the boys alive.

Wheelers Hill Road, Musk

About the author

Cornish Richard
Richard Cornish
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Richard Cornish is an award winning food writer whose love of the land lead him to explore the issues around food, where it comes from, how it gets to us and why some foods taste better than others. He writes for The Age, SMH, DMT Life and has written eight cook books including co-writing the Movida series with Frank Camorra.