Our cemeteries bring life to the dead
When we think about the story of our nation and the way in which it is preserved and recorded, we rarely give a thought to the rich resource in our cemeteries.
In my home town of Geelong the Geelong CemeteriesTrust manages 13 cemeteries in Geelong and the Surf Coast and each are special and significant, not just as places of burial and solemnity, but as places to remember those who came before us and helped make our city what it is today.
For instance, the Eastern Cemetery is, in fact, Victoria’s oldest working cemetery. Its earliest burials date from 1839 when Geelong was barely a town.
Some of our city’s and, indeed, Victoria’s oldest families are buried here. The stories of their lives, their successes and their failures are our stories, of our city and our region.
Sir Charles Sladen, one of Geelong’s earliest settlers and a former Victorian Premier, is buried at Eastern Cemetery.
As is James Harrison, who founded the Geelong Advertiser in 1840 and was famous for pioneering refrigeration technology through the first use of a compressed ether machine in 1844. One of Geelong’s most important pieces of road infrastructure bears his name – the James Harrison Bridge.
Thomas Austin is widely blamed for introducing rabbits into Australia. His gravesite is now surrounded by those furry pests at Eastern Cemetery where a resilient population continue to create a nuisance burrowing around trees and digging holes in footpaths.
And there is the Armytage family, who owned Melbourne’s Como House. In their superbly crafted family vault, 13 family members are at rest in lead lined coffins.
Charles Brownlow, the Geelong captain whose legend lives on through the AFL’s greatest individual accolade, is also buried in Eastern Cemetery.
We can trace our multicultural history through our cemeteries. Not only has Eastern Cemetery many early Chinese graves but it also has a Jewish section of historic note. When the land was granted in 1849 it became the only Jewish cemetery in Victoria, outside Melbourne.
In Grovedale, the graves of the early German settlers remind us why Grovedale was once called Germantown.
King Billy, known to us as the Last of the Barrabool Tribe, is buried in the Western Cemetery. During his lifetime he defended his right to live on the land of his people - the Wautharong – and saw Geelong grow from little more than a camp to a major agricultural centre.
And at Mt Duneed Cemetery, is the grave of Lt Rupert Vance Moon, the only one of Geelong’s Victoria Cross winners to be buried locally. In his honour a special memorial garden has been created.
The cemeteries of Geelong richly capture, in a unique way, the history of Geelong. And the same is true for cemeteries all over Australia.
In the Melbourne General Cemetery – one of the most historic in the country – there are graves or memorials of four prime ministers: Scullin, Menzies, Holt and and Gorton. Other notables who are buried or remembered there include a rebellion leader (Peter Lalor) a billiards champion (Walter Lindrum) and a pair of explorers (Burke and Wills).
The Geelong Cemeteries trust reminds us that cemeteries are places of remembrance, for many people they are places of grief, for all they are solemn places.
But with this in mind the Trust encourages us to respectfully visit its cemeteries and pay tribute to those who have gone before us.
I am sure these sentiments reflect those who are responsible for cemeteries across our nation. And all of us can put ourselves in touch with our history and honour our past by seeing these extraordinary places.
On beautifully worked headstones we read the stories of love and loss, of children mourned and parents missed, that bring alive our history, reminding us of those fundamental things we share as a community, no matter what the century.
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