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Cemetery Tours in Melbourne

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle is an accountant. Shh – don’t tell. She thinks she’s a writer.
Published October 10th 2016
Connect with History Through The People Who Made It

Visiting a cemetery is not something most people will have on their list of leisure time activities, particularly as graveyards tend to have spooky connotations. These often overlooked final resting places are historic markers to our past. Many of Melbourne's cemeteries, some of which date back to the mid-1800s, offer public tours where knowledgeable guides point out notable interments and tell the stories behind them.

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Dr Singleton's gravesite at Melbourne General Cemetery (Image by D. Wolfe - Own work - CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

When my husband and I toured the cemetery in Bourke in outback New South Wales we realised it isn't just the famous people that tell a tale. Early graves of infant children, of which there were tragically far too many, attested to the high infant mortality rates at the time. Headstones relating workplace accidents highlighted the dangers of everyday life in Australia's early history.

Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery

The Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery was established in 1856. Records, which do not exist prior to 1875, indicate an excess of 52,000 interments at the cemetery. The cemetery reached capacity in 1971 and the only burials conducted there since have been additional internments in existing graves.

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A Past Tour at Coburg Cemetery (Image from Friends of Coburg Cemetery Inc. Facebook Page).

Notable people at rest here include Collingwood footballers Walter Henry (Dick) Lee who played between 1882 and 1888 and James Francis (Jock) McHale who coached 714 games over 38 seasons and led the team to seven premierships between 1912 and 1949.

Artists too were laid to rest in the cemetery. Charles Webb Gilbert who died in 1925 was a sculptor who following WWI specialised in memorials. Captain William Ambrose Cull was the ANZAC and an author who wrote 'At All Costs' an account of a WWI POW in Germany.

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At Coburg Cemetery (Image from Friends of Coburg Cemetery Inc. Facebook Page).

Some of the headstones will attest to tragedies like that of mother and daughter Maggie and Annie Tucker. They were among the 44 people who met their death on Easter Monday 1908 when at Sunshine Station a train from Bendigo crashed into the back of a train from Ballarat. Then there is Friend Holness, a firefighter who met his death in 1925 when the brick wall of a burning building collapsed on him.

In addition to guided tours a comprehensive self-guided tour brochure for The Coburg Cemetery Heritage Walk is available for download. The brochure contains a map of notable interments and a detailed history of the cemetery. Throughout the walk information boards at the grave sites provide biographical details.

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At Coburg Cemetery (Image from Friends of Coburg Cemetery Inc. Facebook Page)

Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery is at the corner of Bell and Elizabeth Street, Preston. Further information can be obtained by visiting the website or by telephoning 1300 022 298. The Coburg Cemetery Walk brochure and map can be downloaded here. Entry to the cemetery is free of charge. The cemetery is open to visitors from 7.00am to 5.30pm or from 7.00am to 7.30pm during daylight savings.

Melbourne General Cemetery

The Melbourne General Cemetery which was established in 1852 and received its first burial the following year, was the first of Victoria's cemeteries to be designed like a public park. Paths curve and transverse separate religious areas, gate lodges, rotundas, chapels, and landscaped areas with trees and shrubbery.

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Melbourne General Cemetery (Image Licenced under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Over 300,000 burials have been made on the 43-hectare site. Amongst those interred here are explorers Burke and Wills, Prime Ministers Sir Robert Menzies, Sir John Gorton and James Scullin, Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, Governor Sir Charles Hotham, Bunurung Aboriginal Tribal Leader, Derrimut, author Marcus Clarke and Frederick Blake the opera singer known as Federici whose ghost is said to haunt the Princess Theatre.

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Melbourne General Cemetery Chapel (Image by Biatch - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Night tours of the Melbourne General Cemetery are conducted throughout the year on Fridays in Spring, Summer and Autumn. Specific occasion tours include a Midsummer Tour in late February, a Full Moon Tour in April/May and a Halloween Tour on 31st October. Additional tours can be arranged for groups.

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Melbourne General Cemetery Gatehouse (Image by Biatch - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Your tour guide will point out the Who's Who of the cemetery, a significant list of high achieving Melburnians and will explain the historic and cultural significance of the site.

The Melbourne General Cemetery is at College Crescent, Parkville. For more details visit the website, telephone (03) 8558 8210 or email celestina.sagazio@smct.org.au Tour costs (Oct. 2016) are Adult $25.00, Concession $20.00 and Family (2 Adults, up to 3 children under 16) $80.00.

Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery

The first burial in Kew Cemetery took place in 1859, four years after the 12.5-hectare site had been set aside for the purpose. It would be five more years before the garden ornamentation and landscaping came to the fore with the appointment of Albert Purchas to the Board. Today the gardens form a significant part of the cemetery.

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A view of Kew Cemetery circa 1908 (Photo in the Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria)

The Friends of Booroondara (Kew) Cemetery is a volunteer group which strives to maintain the cemetery and to preserve and promote its historic significance. The group runs themed tours from time to time. Requests for private group tours will also be considered.

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Mature trees at Kew Cemetery (Photo from Friends of Boroondara- Kew Cemetery Facebook Page)

The following tour choices are available:

Best of the Best,
Ned Kelly,
Explosive Characters,
Murder, Mayhem and Madness,
Untimely Ends,
Crime and Punishment,
Ripping Yarns,
Ladies in Residence, and
Our Military Heritage.

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Syme Memorial Kew (Image by Melburnian - Own work. Licenced under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the most notable internment at Kew Cemetery is that of David Syme, the joint proprietor of "The Age' newspaper. David Syme died in 1908. His substantial memorial has a temple-like appearance and features Egyptian motifs.

Also at rest here is Henry Colden Antill Harrison who died in 1929. Mr Harrison was a footballer who drafted the 1866 rules from which the Victorian football clubs evolved and which earned him the title 'The Father of Australian Rules Football.'

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Cussen Memorial Kew (Image by Melburnian - Own work. Licenced under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery tours depart from the cemetery gates at the corner of High Street and Parkhill Road, Kew. Details of current tours can be found on the Friends of Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery website or by telephoning 0438 120 846. Costs (Oct 2016) are Adults $15.00, Seniors $10.00 and Members $8.00. Enquiries for private group tours can be made by emailing info@fobkc.org

Cheltenham and Regional Cemeteries

In 1864, The Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, then called Mordialloc and South Moorabbin General Cemetery, was established. In the 1880's part of the cemetery was excised to make way for a railway line to Mordialloc. Come the late 1920's the cemetery had reached capacity and by 1933 the Cheltenham Memorial Park was established.

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At Cheltenham Memorial Park (Image from Friends of Cheltenham and Regional Cemeteries Facebook Page)

Friends of Cheltenham Regional Cemeteries Inc. conducts regular guided walking tours of both cemeteries. Private group tours can also be organised. The tours usually run for 90 minutes and include a short break for refreshments. Past tours have included:

Mostly Murders,
Convicts and Felons,
Best of the Best Tragic Tales,
The Tragic 20's,
The Tragic 30's,
75 Years On,
Ladies of the Cemetery,
Hidden Gems, Odds and Ends, and
History in the Making

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Past tour (Image from Friends of Cheltenham and Regional Cemetery Facebook Page)

Many people of note are buried at the cemeteries. They include the actor and comedian, Leo "Lucky" Grills, television personality Mary Hardy, a victim of the Westgate Bridge disaster, Robert Charles West and the first Chairman of the Country Roads Board (VicRoads), William Calder.

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Past Tours at Cheltenham Memorial Park (Image from Friends of Cheltenham and Regional Cemeteries Facebook Page).

The Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery is at Charman Rd, Cheltenham. The Cheltenham Memorial Park is at Wangara Rd, Cheltenham. Details of current tours can be found on the website. Costs (Oct 2016) are $12.00 for adults ($10.00 for members) and children (under 18 years) are free. Price includes refreshments and a tour guide pamphlet.

Springvale Botanical Cemetery Tours

The Springvale Botanical Cemetery was established in 1901. There are around 169 hectares of established gardens at the site amongst which some 29,000 rose bushes have been planted. For this reason, both historical and horticultural tours are offered.

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The military graves section of the Cemetery (Photo from Springvale Botanical Cemetery Facebook Page)

Notable interments include Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen, Prime Minister Sir John McEwan, actor Charles (Bud) Tingwell, football legend Jack Dyer, Phar Lap's strapper Tommy Woodcock, and eight recipients of the Victoria Cross.

The Cemetery has its own eatery, Café Vita et flores. This licensed café is open seven days a week and offers drinks, snacks and light lunches.

The Springvale Botanical Cemetery is at 600 Princes Highway, Springvale. Details of the current tours can be found on the website or by telephoning (03) 8558 8210. There is no cost for the tours.

St Kilda Cemetery Tours

The St Kilda Cemetery was opened in 1855. At only around 9 hectares this is a comparatively small Melbourne cemetery.

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Albert Jacka VC grave at St Kilda Cemetery (Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Tours are run by the not-for-profit group, Friends of the St. Kilda Cemetery. Tours, which run for around 90 minutes, can be chosen from over 20 themes which include:

Alfred Deakin, Prime Minister and his colleagues,
Artists and photographers,
Barristers, bobbies and beaks,
Epitaphs and Oddities,
Eureka and Gold,
Knights of the British Empire,
Madame Brussels' Melbourne,
Monuments and Monumental Masons,
Murder Most Foul and Other Tragic Tales,
Parliament, Premiers and Politicians,
Shipwrecks, sailors and the sea,
Sporting St Kilda, and
Steeplechases, Stallions and Steeds.

Tours depart from the main entrance gates on Dandenong Road, St. Kilda East. Details of current tours can be found on the website or by telephoning (03) 9531 6832. Costs (Oct 2016) are $15.00 or free for members of the Friends of St Kilda Cemetery.
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Why? To make a real connection with Melbourne’s history through its peoples.
When: At the scheduled times detailed on the websites.
Phone: On the numbers noted above
Where: At the addresses shown above
Cost: Some are free but all are reasonable priced. These tours are a cheap outing.
Your Comment
It would be good to tour the older cemeteries. So much history there. It would be a good trip for school children to actually see the graves of our great people in history as it makes it more real than just a bland history lesson.
by betty (score: 2|486) 980 days ago
Cemeteries are very interesting places to visit in many towns. There is a lot of history to discover.
by Roger (score: 2|601) 980 days ago
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