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Published March 15th 2015
Escape the city bustle
Cemeteries in Adelaide may be unusual places to take a walk, but the West Terrace cemetery is a tranquil haven to escape the bustle of the city. You don't need to walk far to lose the constant noise of traffic on the busy roads nearby, and you can talk to the inhabitants without any risk of them answering back.
More importantly West Terrace cemetery gives you a sense of South Australia's history and cultural origins, an awareness of how many young people died during the hard times of the colony's early days. A pang of sorrow for the terrible waste of so many lives during the world wars becomes apparent. A touching understanding of the deep bonds of love broken with the passing of a life partner can be experienced. And peace in the quiet environment, with only a low rumble of traffic in the distance can be felt.
One thing that struck me was the disparity in memorials - they ranged from a simple heart shaped gravestone to magnificent edifices of black granite with gold inscriptions. Rich or poor, death is a great leveller.
I was also surprised at the diversity of cultures who have their own niche areas in the cemetery. There are Jewish gravestone inscriptions not far from graves of Muslim pioneers - Afghan cameleers who helped to open up the outback in the later 1800's.
Jewish Gravestone Inscriptions at West Terrace Cemetery
Not far away a tombstone epitaph is written in German, while a group of Russians are buried a few steps further along. It's a reminder that people from all over the world have come to South Australia in search of a better life.
One of the saddest things for me was the deliberate vandalism that has occurred, damaging tombs without regard for the feelings of the living. Fortunately a number of local stonemasons recently donated their time to repair some of the damage, and the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority has improved security at night.
Damaged Graves Are Repaired by Adelaide Cemeteries Authority if Possible
On the northern side of the cemetery is the Gothic revival styled Smyth Memorial Chapel built in 1871, a rare example of a mortuary chapel resplendent with gargoyles atop buttresses. It's a State Heritage listed place dedicated to the Vicar General who lies buried in the crypt.
Smyth Memorial Chapel - a Rare Funerary Chapel in Adelaide
West Terrace cemetery has even been the subject of a thesis by Flinders University archaeology student Stephen Muller. After extensive research he produced a number of fascinating statistical analyses, one for example showing how tombstone heights have changed over time while others compare tombstone keywords, motifs, and construction material.
The Adelaide Cemeteries Authority hold regular guided West Terrace Cemetery tours for a small charge. The West Terrace Cemetery tours have a number of different themes and are suitable for people of all ages. You can also pick up free maps of self guided walking tours at the entrance to explore the cemetery yourself.
For more information about cemeteries in Adelaide see the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority website.
One of the most intriguing graves I saw had a simple tubular metal marker in the shape of a cross. I wasn't able to fully decipher the inscription - perhaps someone knows the story and could tell us? And post a comment if you have seen anything else here that was quirky, unusual, or brought a smile to you. Because a cemetery is for the living just as much as for the dead.
I attended a guided tour at West Tce Cemetery celebrating International Women's Day. We learnt about 'the historic graves of women who have made a significant contribution to the lives of others.' The volunteer tour guides really bring the cemetery to life (just the history, not the occupants).