Writing for pleasure to showcase the best Australia has on offer.
Published September 12th 2014
Life is eternal in the minds of the inquisitive researcher
I love walking through cemeteries and there certainly are enough of them that you needn't go to the same one all the time. Not only is the excursion a history buff's delight once a headstone is found, it is also an excellent source of information for family history enthusiasts. The older style cemeteries have tall headstones and vaults, sometimes with several members of the one family buried within.
Whereas today's lawn cemeteries consist of plaques placed in the ground like stepping stones on a footpath yet each unique to the deceased. Larger sized towns and cities have two cemeteries, one with the older pomp style of headstones and one lawn style. Of course there is also space for those who wish to be cremated. I actually prefer the more grand style although this is not always one's cup of tea.
It's not uncommon on a road trip to pass many historic burial sites and it's quite educational to take the time to stop and read about the pioneers of the area and the town you are about to enter. Many streets in the local towns are named after the pioneers who are at rest in the cemetery. On my travels I have come across some interesting cemeteries, headstones and vaults resting behind the wall of the gates accompanied by detailed history, which I have found in research.
Rusted wrought iron around the lonely grave at Comet, Central Queensland
Approximately 40 kilometres south east of Emerald is the small town of Comet and a quaint cemetery. It was great to see the lawn was mowed and the only deterioration was from rust and headstones cracking from the age of the mortar. A lot of the graves were not marked; however a plaque with about 150 names of the buried was displayed at the front gate. The deceased included residents from Comet, Cometville, Comet Downs and Comet River.
Last year I visited Clermont and of course their cemetery as part of my ancestry stems from there. Family tales of how the new town was built from the older one after the Great Flood of 1916, have been passed down through generations. Clermont was originally established on a low lying area which adjoined Sandy Creek. The region often flooded and the local aborigines told the white man not to build there; however no one listened. The worst natural disaster in Australia's history in terms of loss of life eventuated from the flood of 1916 when 63 people died from a population of 1,500.
This is where my family history story originated. My great-great-grandfather William Henry McKean who also owned The Grand Hotel, used his powerful steam driven traction engine to move the buildings from the old town site by day and at night when they stopped, he would open the bar for business as usual. McKean was a bit of a rogue although the community held him in great stead. He and some members of his family are buried in one plot in the Clermont Cemetery.
Sadly no plaque; however records state Elizabeth Timms rests here at Mt Perry
Not all graves have a plaque and this is where searching for the family plots can be disappointing. You can travel miles to take a photograph yet find nothing but bare grass, a sunken grave where a headstone may once have stood or a small indicator plate depicting the number of the grave. These days, many Councils list on their website names of people buried in their cemetery with a number, row and map for you to ascertain where you need to start.
In the old part of the Maryborough Cemetery stands a vault of the Blue, Irwin and Gregory Families. Eighteen members of the family are together in this vault. It is quite a grand structure and I was drawn to its magnitude before I realised the significance of the family in the growth of Maryborough's history. Sarah and Neil Blue owned and ran the former Melbourne Hotel in Wharf Street, (now known as The Criterion Hotel) for approximately 19 years before Neil died and Sarah continued on for another five years. Neil's name is stated in an article on the Trove website for an invention of a type of raft that was to save lives at sea. He was a tireless local community member, also assisting flood victims of the 1893 flood, which ultimately resulted in him contracting hepatitis and dying of jaundice.
Neil and Sarah Blue in the Blue, Irwin & Gregory Vault, Maryborough
So whether you are a family history trail buster like myself, a historian marrying up the facts or just a tourist to the area, cemeteries are a great way to learn interesting and sometimes a quite tragic past of a community's beginnings. It can also be a very peaceful afternoon adventure.
Hello Susan, fantastic article. I've been a mad (and I do mean MAD!) family historian for years and I loved the vibe of your article. Many an interesting time I've spent in a cemetery somewhere and I know exactly what you're saying. Thanks for such a great piece. Regards, Tony