Last drinks: Strange tales of beer barrel grave memorials

beer keg grave
Karl Bratz’s “Beer Keg Tombstone” in Coober Pedy, South Australia. Picture: Supplied

THE South Australian mining town of Coober Pedy is known for its colourful characters. One of these legends was a bloke by the name of Karl Bratz.

Karl, a miner who died in 1992 of cancer at the age of 52, has an 18-gallon keg of beer as his grave memorial.

At Karl’s funeral, in the Boot Hill Cemetery, mourners celebrated his life graveside over a keg, with the minister said to have been pulling the beers.

Once emptied, the keg became Karl’s tombstone, suitably inscribed with “have a drink on me”.

Karl never lost his sense of humour and designed his own coffin of corrugated iron.

The “beer keg tombstone” has become a tourist attraction in the mining town.

Tales from the Top Rail Facebook Group member, Ash Gibson, tells the story about Karl Bratz’s corrugated iron coffin. She posted:

“There is a prelude to Karl’s story ……. one day I was leaving work at the local hospital and I always drove home past the sheet metal worker and gave him a wave. This particular day, I almost ran off the road because outside his shed was a really strange object. A quick U turn and back into the yard and sure enough it was a galvanised coffin, ordered by Karl for his eventual demise. Well made by Clem.”

Australian Pub Project Facebook Group, member, Shane Parry also posted about Karl:

“He made the corrugated iron coffin well before he died stating that he lived and worked in corrugated iron sheds all his life so he wanted a coffin made out of the same stuff. Allegedly had it in his lounge room standing up with shelves in it before he died – legendary stuff!!”

Karl, though, wasn’t the first to use a beer barrel as a tombstone. The Gilgrandra Weekly reported on August 31, 1933:


Beer Barrel First Favourite

A Perth message states that one of the queerest memorials in the world is at Hamlin Pool, a settlement in the far north-west, which boasts of three houses and four inhabitants. Standing above the grave of a man, it consists of a pole surmounted by a beer barrel, according to Mr. L. C. Bolt, a postal engineer, who has just returned from a visit to the settlement.

Another example of a beer barrel as a memorial is recorded in 1934. A teetotalling woman had a beer barrel and a white dove carved in marble onto her tombstone in Heidelberg, near Melbourne.

The story goes that many years ago there lived in the district an elderly woman who used to pray devoutly that she might have strength to abstain from liquor.

On one occasion, just after her prayer, a white dove flew into the room.

The World News reported in August 1934 that she accepted this as an answer to her prayer and became a teetotaller.

“She lived a frugal life, would not eat meat, use tallow candles, or wear leather shoes. She endeavoured to leave behind her a warning, hence the combination of marble dove and beer barrels, besides numerous inscriptions directed in the cause of abstinence.”

Smith Weekly reported on December 21, 1946 that in a Melbourne cemetery there were a pair of beer barrels, said to have been placed by a woman as a reminder of the fact that drink had ruined her husband. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported a similar story on November 8, 1947. There’s a grave in Melbourne’s Heidelberg Cemetery with beer barrels as a memorial.

The good lady who is buried there had a passion for the cup that cheers. According to her own evidence she indulged exceedingly in her thirstiness, but eventually overcame her wicked ways, and on departing from this planet endeavoured to leave behind a warning.

However, when it comes to death, beer and grave stones, Bill Peaty’s story published in the SMH on November 8, 1947, tops the lot.

The spirit of a departed prospector in the Northern Territory must be a little perplexed as to where his mortal remains are located.

In the past the Northern Territory has been the Mecca of hundreds of gold seekers, and in attempts to extract wealth from this tough country many have lost their lives.

Some years ago a group of prospectors found alluvial gold in hilly country about 130 miles from Darwin. So confident were they of the prospects in this area that they decided to establish a ‘town’. The settlement was called Shakle, after one of their leaders, who was also elected ‘mayor’.

Tragedy soon came to the camp, for the ‘mayor’ died.

The men, deciding that his worship should be given a proper farewell, first of all ordered a tombstone from Darwin. However, as the wet season was beginning, they buried their comrade as quickly as possible. Then they started on a grand ‘wake’ with a goodly supply of potent liquor.

The celebrations lasted several days, and the boys gradually recovered from the after-effects, to find that the tombstone had arrived from Darwin. They scratched their heads, but not one of them could remember where they had buried the body. Because of ‘The Wet’ the grass had grown so high that all marks on the ground were obliterated, and it was impossible to find a clue.

The tombstone was accordingly dumped on the side of the track, and there it remains today – a tombstone without a grave.

Do you know of any other stories where beer barrels or similar was left as a memorial? Scroll down to the comments section.

Subscribe to the latest Time Gents stories


If you would like to support my work, you can leave a small ‘bar tip’ here of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.



Don’t have PayPal? Instead, you can support my work by leaving a secure $2 donation here, or you can increase the amount after clicking or tapping into the icon below. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs and research.


For as little as $1 you can subscribe for access to Time Gents’ exclusive content. Here’s a list of stories available by subscribing to Time Gents’ premium content:

Categories: Temperance

Tags: , , , , ,

What's Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: