Having started the intriguing journey of exploring my family's ancestry, my research led me to visit Brisbane's Toowong Cemetery. With relatives resting in the burial ground, it was time for me to stop by and put some pieces together of those in my family who had come before me as well as understanding the unique place that the cemetery holds in Brisbane's history.
Toowong Cemetery, a heritage-listed site, also known as Brisbane General Cemetery, is located on the corner of Frederick Street and Mt Coot-tha Road, Toowong (neighbouring the Botanic Gardens and beside the Toowong roundabout). Set over 44 hectares and opened in 1875, the cemetery contains over 120 000 graves and Brisbane's largest burial ground. Relocated from where Suncorp Stadium now resides.
My first stop was to drop by the Office just behind the main entry gate. The Office is open from Monday to Sunday: 9am-1pm (it is closed most public holidays) and is a useful starting point to find your bearings before exploring this massive space.
From here, I was able to collect a free map of the site from the helpful staff member. I'm glad I did because it can be easy to underestimate the sheer scale of the land size from the road.
The staff member assisted me to narrow my ancestral search by sharing a large bound reference book (which looked like it belonged in Harry Potter) with handwritten entries of tomb sites. Seeing the age of the book, and the exquisite penmanship of the entries was a great insight in itself.
Once you are ready to explore the grounds, here are some points of interest to look out for.
1. The Cemetery Museum Behind the Office is a historical cemetery museum, housed in a small brown wooden cottage. The Museum is open between 9:15 – 1:00pm except on public holidays. A member of the "Friends of the Toowong Cemetery" group explained that the Museum includes a framed photo display of service personnel including details of Canon Garland, the Anglican parish priest who is the architect of ANZAC Day.
He determined, from Brisbane, how ANZAC Day should be observed throughout the world. Canon Garland Place is located beside the amenities block built in 1924.
Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland
In the Museum's Cabinet is a display of some of the small fragile grave ornaments that survived the bulldozers in the 1974 destruction of many graves in Toowong plus a few of the headstones that have been recovered in the archaeology digs in the cemetery.
Also, look out for photos of early images of parts of Toowong cemetery plus a replica of what Elizabeth Dale would have been wearing when she drowned and was found floating in a dam at the Toowong Cemetery on 1 February 1905. Elizabeth had been visiting the graves of her husband and relatives when she drowned after slipping into the dam. 2. Military Section
Portion 10 of the site had been a place of burial for military service personnel. On 28 November 1942, the Council announced that military burials would cease at Toowong and that a new, official Commonwealth War Graves Section would be opened at Lutwyche Cemetery.
Since 1915, a total of 1,836 soldiers had been buried at Toowong Cemetery. Most of these graves are located in private plots elsewhere from Portion 10. The last wartime military burial in Portion 10 was Stoker 2nd Class Victor Cyril Button (RANVR). who was 18 years old when he died on Christmas Day 1942.
3. Jewish Heritage Trail
The original Brisbane Jewish cemetery at Lang Park site, now Suncorp Stadium on Caxton Street in Paddington, was deconsecrated In 1921. Some graves were relocated to the Jewish section at Toowong Cemetery established in 1878, two years after the opening of the general cemetery in which it stands. Toowong Jewish Cemetery has approximately 800 Jewish graves and about twenty unused spaces, most of which are reserved
4.Notable persons who are buried in the grounds
The Cemetery is the resting grounds for some influential political, social and business figures including:
- Samuel Griffith, the principal author of the Australian Constitution;
- Francis Forde, who, for eight days in 1945, was Australia's shortest-serving Prime Minister.
- Queensland's second governor, Colonel Samuel Blackall.
While the gravesites and stone masonry can be elaborate and the names which they reflect significant, it is the thousands of lesser-known citizens that I think are most intriguing. Those who migrated to Australia to start a new and prosperous life, those who are in unmarked graves, who could be easily overlooked for their more famous neighbours.
Toowong Cemetery is expansive, sloping and very hilly in some places. Make sure you take your comfy walking shoes, a hat and a refreshing bottle of water. Oh and the map. Don't forget the map. Cars can drive through the narrow pathways but it is by walking that you can get a real sense of the vastness and difference.
I left feeling like I had visited a peaceful but also intriguing space, loaded with history and personal and collective stories. Toowong Cemetery is open Monday to Sunday: 6am to 6pm (gates are unlocked and locked each day). Whether you are interested in history, family genealogy or just want to explore something different, why not add Toowong Cemetery to your list.
Toowong Cemetery is part of the Brisbane Open House event over the weekend of 12-13 October 2019 and guided walking tours of the site will be available.