Some people wouldn't be seen dead in a cemetery (pardon the pun) but I love to stroll among the graves of picturesque St Kilda General Cemetery, and I'm not the only one. Friends of St Kilda Cemetery, FOSKC, offer regular tours that will enthral and enlighten you with their stories of several well-known and infamous citizens of Victoria who are buried here. (See details below.)
For me, each visit to this cemetery brings new rewards - the discovery of a touching epitaph, an inscription of a distinguished resident, or an exquisitely carved headstone.
Alfred Deakin, second Prime Minister of Australia, is said to be buried here as well as an infamous brothel owner, but I'm yet to find them. I do know however, where the first Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, Albert Jacka, is buried as well as the former Harbour Master of the Port of Melbourne, Captain John Laidlaw, whose tomb features a relief of a ship and an anchor.
Cemeteries can reflect important historical events and highlight the personalities of the deceased and St Kilda Cemetery is no exception. Concrete headstones from the 1800s with rusty wrought iron railings are common here and some are a testament to the fatal epidemics that cut a swathe through the infant population. Monolithic granite pillars topped with urns, drapery or both, say much about the occupants' wealth or social status while quirky monuments like the taps and pipes around the tomb of a Melbourne Fire Brigade Chief, convey the former occupations of the deceased.
Trends in art and design are represented in many graves here like the streamlined art deco styles of the 1920s and 1930s in all their gleaming granite glory. You'll also find multi-coloured brick-lined graves from the 1970s, Grecian columns and urns, stone bee hive-shaped graves and even glossy bathroom tiled tombs that are easy-to-clean but not so easy on the eye.
During my wanderings I like to seek out popular names of yesteryear such as Mavis, Violet or Percy on headstones, or natural attractions like plants, fruit and nut trees that provide beautiful backdrops to some of the starker or sinister-looking damaged tombs. And at night if I pass by the perimeter wall I can hear noisy fruit bats in the trees and have even spied a fox entering the grounds.
Themed cemetery tours:
For details on upcoming tours visit the website. All tours meet at the main gates in Dandenong Road (Mel Ref 58/F9).
Halloween Tour, photo courtesy of Friends of St Kilda Cemetery