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Published July 24th 2011
Down a little alley just off Newtown's main King St is St Stephen's Anglican Church. The main entrance is small and enclosed by a tall rusty fence and most people would walk straight past it and never know it was there. All they need to do is look up at the bell tower of the church towering above the shops and houses to know that it is there, and has been there longer than anyone else that still remains.
Visiting a cemetery might sound a little creepy, like something you may have considered doing during your awkward phase of high school when. St Stephen's is a history lesson. The cemetery is in the church grounds and is overgrown with huge trees that bend down and around as if to protect the raised graves and broken headstones around their roots. A sandstone wall marks the boundary between the cemetery and the memorial park on the other side but this was not always there.
The cemetery buried its last inmate in 1867. By this time its walls held close to 18,000 graves. During the time it had been open infant mortality was very high and it was not uncommon for single graves to house the souls of entire families with half a dozen children included. The cemetery also buried paupers on top of one another and these graves were not marked with headstones as they were too expensive. St Stephens also has a large amount of Navy personnel buried in its grounds, and of bodies that had drowned or memorials for those lost at sea. A piece of a ship's propeller is mounted there today in memory of those fallen at sea.
The cemetery used to span the entirety of the block where the park now sits- almost 12 1/2 acres of land. Because such a large expanse was so difficult to monitor, several incidents occurred after the cemetery had closed and fallen into disrepair during the Great Depression. The discovery of a young girl murdered in the grounds eventually led to the council insisting that the headstones be moved and the cemetery enclosed in a more manageable space.
Many of the sandstone headstones today are unreadable, or have been damaged. The church holds tours of the cemetery on the first Sunday of every month at 11.30am. The tour is $10. The cemetery is open 7 days a week before sunset for a self-guided tour, or it is a quiet place to stop and relax away from the hustle and bustle of Newtown.