Roadside memorials: ugly eyesores or acceptable tributes? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself when driving past faded flowers, bleached notes and weathered mementos (usually gathered around implacable old gumtrees in the Adelaide Hills).

Sometimes people just need a place to go…

Call me callous, but in the past I’ve always viewed them as just plain maudlin – especially as the months drag by and they become increasingly bedraggled and forlorn. Then on Thursday I read about Eric O’Neil, a heartbroken dad grieving the loss of his 31-year-old son Allen, who died three years ago in a workplace accident.

Since early 2010, Eric has maintained a small beachside memorial to his son near the Christies Beach Surf Lifesaving Club. He leaves a beer at Christmas and other special occasions, symbolically sharing a drink with a son he loves and misses so much.

Allen had been a member of the lifesaving club since he was seven, and his ashes were scattered offshore, not far from the memorial.

But after three years – and reportedly following a single complaint – Onkaparinga Council has deemed the memorial an “unauthorised structure” requiring official council approval.

Lousy timing. Precious people are never missed more than at this time of year, so you’d think after all this time the council could have been a bit more sensitive.

But here’s where I get conflicted.

I don’t particularly like these memorials, but I can’t believe anyone would make a complaint about a little monument that’s obviously well cared for – and therefore clearly essential to the grieving process of a shattered family.

Plenty of people on AdelaideNow back the complainant though – and just to add to my own confusion I can appreciate where they’re coming from, too.

“Memorials belong at the cemetery,” wrote one reader. “Everywhere else is for the living. Grief is a private thing, and please don’t make it public.”

“Why would anyone do this in a public space!” wrote another. “If it was for his own benefit he should have a memorial in his back yard so he can sit in a chair and have a drink and remembrance to his son he loved.”

I get all that. As a society we need to maintain the integrity and aesthetics of our public places, and State Government rules (enforced by councils) are there to prevent every man and his dog from placing memorials on foreshores and roadsides.

After all, how many is too many? Is it OK to put a memorial outside someone else’s house? Should memorials be removed if they’re not maintained? And who judges what’s “maintained”?

But ultimately, a single response on AdelaideNow cemented my support for Neil and others like him.

It read: “You don’t need a memorial in a public place to grieve.”

Who says?

Who knows what might help to ease the pain of suddenly losing a loved one in a tragic accident?

If a family needs a small roadside (or beachside) memorial to get through the first weeks, or months, or years, the rest of us should respect that need and cut them some slack.

Memorialising people is important and cathartic – look at the tributes that flowed this week for cricketer and commentator Tony Greig.

But not all of us will have cricket stands, statues or scholarships unveiled after our passing. Simpler tributes have to suffice: Allen O’Neil might not have been as famous as Tony Grieg, but he was clearly no less loved.

A number of clever AdelaideNow readers came up with compromise suggestions such as a small plaque or public bench to mark Allen’s life and love of surf lifesaving. (And I’d like to think councils would make this easy for families to achieve.)

In the meantime, let Neil keep his memorial: it’s not hurting anyone, but it’s helping him.

Comments on this post will close at 6pm AEDT.

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    • acotrel says:

      05:36am | 06/01/13

      I road raced motorcycles for several years , and a few of my friends have been killed while pusuing their passion.  The only place where I’ve ever heard of memorials being placed on a race circuit is on the Isle of Man TT circuit. If you are operating a motor vehicle anywhere, you should be concentrating on being competent , not looking at roadside memorials and becoming afraid. Fear won’t improve your driving, and keep you alive.

    • Gratuitous Adviser says:

      05:51am | 06/01/13

      Bouquets to Onkaparinga Council.  I do not like these memorials as they are intimidating, selfish and usually left bedraggled as time goes on and the pain dims.  Tragedy is everywhere and very few people and families go through life without it so why should one group have a special right to impose their particular tragedy on others.

      Also, I do not understand why a mourning family would not have something special in their own back-yard or home if they thought it would relieve their pain of loss.  Surely the happy home is the appropriate place to remember, not some tree in front of a strangers home.

    • TChong says:

      08:06am | 06/01/13

      How could one of these memorials be considered “ïntimadating”?
      Would you agree with many Balinese who oppose a memorial to the Aussie ( and other) victims - no reason that all the 88s families cant just mourn at home, is there?

    • Gratuitous Adviser says:

      09:01am | 06/01/13

      I was thinking more along the lines of the cross, plastic flowers and a snapshot on an electric pole, outside some innocents’ suburban house that had taken his working life to pay off. 

      The suburban house owner is a decent enough fellow who does not know what to do because the front of his property has now become a shrine for a loving family who he does not know, as well as a deterrent and depreciator of value of his property, hence the intimidation.

    • Kim says:

      09:32am | 06/01/13

      Gratuitous Adviser - what is there to be concerned about? What harm does it cause? You say “a deterrent and depreciator of value of his property, hence the intimidation” Try “compassion”. Stop thinking only about yourself and your material value. No one wants to think about going through grief and yet it is a natural process most of us will have to deal with at some stage in our lives. We all deal with it differently. You don’t often see shrines erected outside strangers homes for long anyway.
      Let these people display their grief and love. It may happen to you one day and then you will understand.
      Don’t panic, allowing someone to display their love while going through grief by a tribute will not ruin the value of your house.

    • David says:

      11:11am | 06/01/13

      The pain dims? Selfish?  Appropriate place to remember? Shows how much you understand about Greif. What would you do to help relieve the pain of loss? Have you actually experienced losing your loved one?

    • iansand says:

      06:58am | 06/01/13

      The answer is obviously “It depends on the memorial”.  I know of several discreet brass plaques in the backs of seats in parks, on rock faces and other places.  These are unobjectionable.  A garish concrete monolith with added seashell detail is not.

    • Schmavo says:

      07:19am | 06/01/13

      The roadside ones are often a gentle reminder that things can go wrong whilst driving. Almost as effective as the revival stops. Jill Meagher’s memorial roadside clutter was perhaps removed a bit too hastily. So yeah, where should the line be drawn?

    • Callen says:

      07:42am | 06/01/13

      From someone who has experienced the sudden death of a spouse.
      The pain and disbelief that they have gone forever will never be understood by those lucky enough not to have yet experienced it. Let people deal with their grief however they like. Greif is the most unimaginable pain and torutre anyone will ever endure. Stop for 1 minute and try to imagine. Think about it. Let people express their grief in public memorials if it gives them comfort.
      Intense greif is like hell on earth. It’s also natural.

    • Mouse says:

      10:08am | 06/01/13

      This topic is a pet grieve of mine, so I apologise before I start my diatribe.

      People, generally, just shit me at times!  Yes, there are lots of these little memorials on country roads and in inconvenient places, yes some are a bit bedraggled, yes they remind us that someone that was loved by others has died… what, how does that destroy anyone’s day?  How dare people be offended at someone else’s grief and how they cope with it.  The complaints are usually from people who generally couldn’t give two hoots about anyone or anything else and are just so miserable in themselves that they hate others having emotion.
      Are we becoming so self involved that we no longer have any tolerance or giving for anyone else? Are we so cold and impersonal we no longer understand that humans are emotional beings and grief is a necessary process that we will all go through. Are we such a community that we now no longer support anyone that doesn’t live at our address?  Next thing you know is that we will have new laws made up to dictate how and where we can grieve and how long is appropriate for that process to continue.
      So, to all the people who have decided that they will not put up with these tacky little emotional displays any longer and want to write letters of complaint to councils and newspapers, here is my reply to you…... if it’s not on your front garden, in your driveway or on your roof, STFU and mind your own business.  Indulge in the couple of seconds it may take you to realise that the person making this little memorial has lost a loved one, is in pain and this is how they are getting through it. Then move along, you don’t have to worry yourself about it ever again.
      It almost, makes me wonder if there would ever be someone being sad at your passing.  I hope there is, because everyone should have someone miss them when they are gone.    :o)

    • Anjuli says:

      10:57am | 06/01/13

      I am sure I read in Perth they will remove the shrines after a certain length of time . I am with you lainie , it is awful to have some one taken out of the family in such a way but I feel people are going way over the top . The money would help more by giving it to the charities which helps trauma victims .The family could remember the victim by donating on the anniversary of the persons death.
      I thought this when Diana was killed all those flowers would end up in compost at the best or the tip at the worst.
      Do people know, when a person is cremated all those lovely flowers and tributes are just thrown into the corner to be put on the heap later. It sure keeps the flower people happy.

    • yeah-no says:

      02:44pm | 06/01/13

      All those flowers would have ended up as compost anyway, as they’d been growing g before Diana died.

    • Bulldog says:

      11:08am | 06/01/13

      I think one of the problems with this beachside memorial is that the grieving father and possibly others are leaving alcohol in a public space. This really cant happen in any circumstance, no excuses.

    • jaki says:

      11:10am | 06/01/13

      There’s one roadside memorial I’ll always remember. The white cross with a young guys name and a large sticker of the Ford logo on it.

    • Carz says:

      11:49am | 06/01/13

      I think that people’s negative reactions (overreactions) to such memorials says a lot more about our discomfort with strong emotions than it does about the unsightliness of the memorials themselves. While we obviously do not need to be emoting about every tiny things in our lives publicly I think its awful that we want to shut down others from showing how they feel when facing such a loss.

    • Josh says:

      12:13pm | 06/01/13

      Flowers? Wither and die, waste of money.
      Cans/bottles of alcohol? Real classy. Not.

      Get rid of them.

    • Paul M says:

      01:25pm | 06/01/13

      Well, on the one hand - a grieving parent.
      On the other - dude: we can’t just let people plonk stuff all over the shop on public land.

      Compromise: authorize the memorial for now, set a time limit.

    • stephen says:

      01:53pm | 06/01/13

      On Brown’s Plains road there’s about 3 of those things.
      And they remind me of my own mortality or someone else’s accident ; either way, they should be banned from public display, and if people want to be remembering of their loved ones they can drive carefully and save others the possibility of going to all the same trouble of public wailings.

    • Bho Ghan-Pryde says:

      02:18pm | 06/01/13

      Why would anyone object to them? Sure it is a tad maudlin and sentimental and pointless but they are an improvement on the memorials to politicians that dot our cities and towns that more often than not just reflect self-important egotism and the lust for power. As for poor old Stephen and others who find it uncomfortable to be reminded of their own mortality – get over it. You can follow the prescriptions and advice of the government health department and minister till you are blue in the face and you are still going to die. Suck it up.

    • difficult lemon says:

      02:24pm | 06/01/13

      I thought we had cemetaries for this sort of thing.

      And what makes road accident victims so special? I mean you don’t see memorials set up saying “Here marks the spot where Joe Blow had a stroke (may he rest in peace)”.

    • Charles Harris says:

      02:57pm | 06/01/13

      Roadside memorials - great distractions from the task at hand! Nearly as bad as the plethora of roadside signs many of which are Vic road inspired with vary dubious placements!

    • marley says:

      03:32pm | 06/01/13

      There’s a memorial of sorts just outside a nearby town - flowers, photos, a football shirt, all stuck to the side of a cutting by the road.  It’s a reminder that a young man was killed walking along that road from a party, and that the driver left him to die in the road.  The driver’s never been caught, but most likely lives somewhere in the area - and someone probably knows something.  The memorial acts as a kind of conscience to those who go past it.

    • chris says:

      03:57pm | 06/01/13

      I think that these public roadside displays and the family’s belief that the ground upon which their loved one / ones came to grief is now hallowed stems from our culture’s loss of religiosity. 
      Before the naysayers bite off my head, let me assure you that I am not suggesting a return to the past when religion dictated the daily routine of everyone’s lives.  It is just that as our society has secularised most of the rites that were once within the realms of the churches; we have failed to provide a secular ritual that deals with death and is able to provide the same level of comfort that was once delivered by religious rituals. 
      So now instead of grieving privately, in church, at the cemetery etc, we have parents (and others) taking their grief out on to the streets.  Not saying this is wrong, this is simply my own observations over the past years.

    • Nev says:

      04:04pm | 06/01/13

      I think roadside memorials are a good thing, they remind us just how quickly things can turn to shit on the roads, and that drivers need to be on the ball, if it doesn’t then your part of the problem, clearly that bell hasn’t been rung in many minds. A distraction, what a load of crap, how many of you talk on your phones or text while driving, thats a distraction.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      04:29pm | 06/01/13

      I’m in two minds on this issue….
      If these memorials are to be placed then they should be a simple white cross, not bunches of plastic flowers that fade and look tacky after three months.
      To maintain and/or visit these memorials generally requires…..
      1. Pulling up and parking in the breakdown lane of major freeways or motorways..
      2. Trying to park and then walking along narrow road edges to get to the memorial..
      In queensland recently there have been several deaths of people broken down on the motorways, from being hit by other vehicles.
      Why would you risk it??


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