Going around cemeteries in Australia may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for those who don’t work in the industry. If you’ve tried it once, you’ll find that cemeteries are teeming with historical information about the local community situated in a specific era—especially if you’re in the right place, reading the proper monumental gravestones.
For instance, amid the modern cemetery headstone photos and engravings in most Australian graveyards lie some epitaphs that illustrate the difficult situations in those times. Others, like the 2 cemetery road Ipswich in Queensland and the Old Sydney Burial Ground, had been obscured by community developments.
Changes and closures aside, have you ever asked yourself, ‘what is the oldest cemetery in Australia?’ Read this blog to find out the answers.
St. John’s Cemetery (1790 – present)
The city of Parramatta lies on the outskirts of Sydney—home to the country’s oldest surviving European burial grounds. St. John’s Cemetery was established in 1790 and houses both unmarked and marked headstones and monumental gravestones. One of the first marked and most notable memorial headstones is owned by Henry Dodd, who served as the Superintendent of Convicts at the Government Farm. Dodd is credited for growing wheat in the country. His funeral was also the first public funeral in the territory. (1)
While Australia’s oldest cemetery is more popularly known as the graveyard for several British immigrants, European settlers of various nationalities are buried in St. John’s. Among them are Danish, German, Scottish, and Irish. Some Chinese and Indians also chose the historic cemetery as their final destination. These residents come from different backgrounds: doctors, shop attendants, and convicts. (1)
Perhaps one of the significant structures in St John’s is the brick wall that was supposed to keep animals out of the property. Built in the 1820s, the division deteriorated alongside the entire grave site. In the 1970s, a restoration committee was organized to rehabilitate the cemetery. Several other attempts have been initiated over the years to fully develop the area, study how to clean cemetery monuments, and conduct an inventory of cemetery occupants. (1)
Old Sydney Burial Ground (1793-1820)
A few years following the opening of St. John’s Cemetery, another burial ground was opened, this time in Sydney. The Old Sydney Burial Ground is known by many names, such as the George Street Burial Ground, the Town Hall Cemetery, and the Cathedral Close Cemetery. The site, which was located outside the town capital, was chosen by the founding Governor of New South Wales and former Navy officer Arthur Phillip in 1792. (2)
Soon, the then secluded burial place became teeming with occupants. In 1820, a new graveyard was established on Brickway Hill or Sandhills Cemetery—which has since turned into the Central railway station. With this, the Old Sydney Burial Ground was permanently closed, not only because of overcrowding but because officials deemed the area a public health threat.
Over 2,000 people were buried, but there isn’t a registry of occupants or cemetery headstone photos to help identify those buried there. Sydney authorities sought several historical sources to create an inventory that can be downloaded from the city’s website. (2)
Port Macquarie Historic Cemetery (1821- 1824)
Port Macquarie Historic Cemetery is one of Australia’s earliest cemeteries, also known as Old Port Macquarie Cemetery, Allman Hill Burying Ground, and Port Macquarie Burying Ground. This short-lived burial ground has now been turned into the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park and is owned by the local council. (3)
Monumental gravestones and other inscriptions have made creating an inventory challenging but not impossible. Home to several individuals—including one who claimed to be Napoleon Bonaparte’s illegitimate son, a military officer who served in the Battle of Waterloo, and a relative of the only known Jewish bushranger in Australian history—the cemetery was declared part of the NSW State Heritage Register in 2005. (3)
Ipswich Cemetery, Queensland (1842- present)
In Queensland, 2 Cemetery Road Ipswich may be more known as a real estate haven. But a few kilometres away, you’ll find the Ipswich General Cemetery. There rest several occupants, following the first on the record: that of John Carr, who died in 1868. The four-year-old’s burial was recorded as the first even if the cemetery has been operating since 1842. (4)
While not entertaining fresh burials, this historic cemetery features monumental gravestones
and symbols such as crosses, angels, and cemetery headstone photos. As these structures are
exposed to elements such as rain, wind, snow, and extreme temperatures, they may become
brittle or worn out. To retain a headstone or memorial gravestone’s beauty, one must learn how
to clean cemetery monuments. (4)
Cemeteries are more than just where bodies are kept. It’s also where memories come alive, taking visitors back to a specific era. As rich historical sites, the Australian government must continue its efforts to restore and preserve its existing burial grounds and create an inventory of all buried individuals in its graveyards.