Rookwood Cemetery Tour

On Friday 2nd October, 9 members attended the above tour convened by Judy Mitchell.

The tour had to be done slightly differently to comply with COVID19 restrictions but this in no way took away from the tour.  We had great weather, perfect for such a tour which lasted three hours… just not enough time to absorb the surroundings.

Our tour guide, Mark, was a wealth of information.  He has been employed at Rookwood for 28 years so his knowledge of the history, the workings of the cemetery, the many burial practices, the monuments, chapels and the many tales made for an interesting tour with some funny anecdotes thrown in.

Our group being shown a point of interest by our guide Mark

We learnt that Rookwood, established in 1868, is the largest necropolis and most multicultural working cemetery in the southern hemisphere.  It is heritage listed and has 1 million interments within its 286 hectares. Each year over 1,900 interments and commemorations are performed, representing over 90 different religious and cultural groups such as Anglican, Catholics, Orthodox, Jewish, Chinese, Islamic, Independent and many others.           

At the start of our tour, Mark showed three training graves in which apprentice grave diggers or ‘underground technicians’ can practise lowering different size coffins without any mishaps.

Our group in front of the training graves
Chinese urn to burn incense
Chinese urn to burn incense

In the early days, mourners and the coffins were transported by train from the Mortuary Station at Central to Rookwood. The funeral train operated twice a day and tickets were one shilling each way. Corpses travelled free. This train service ceased in 1947 when cars became more popular.  The old Cemetery Station No.1 was sold to Reverend Buckle for 100 pounds in 1951 and was transported brick by brick to Canberra by 83 semi-trailers in 1957 to become the All Saints Church Canberra.

The footings are all what remains of the Cemetery Station No. 1.

Mark showed us graves of some of Rookwood’s famous residents including John Fairfax, John Frazer, David Jones, WC Penfold, David Mitchell (Mitchell’s Library) and Bea “Bee” Miles.  There are many more… some famous and some infamous.

The many interesting and varied monuments.
Bee Miles’ headstone

The Circle of Love is an area set aside with a beautiful monument honouring and remembering some 30 thousand unknown babies buried in the area… babies who did not survive childbirth and were taken from their mothers under extremely sad circumstances and buried at Rookwood without recognition.

The Circle of Love – a beautiful area that honours stillborn or dead new born children.

I think everyone on the tour found the history, its peaceful setting, the many monuments and Mark, as our tour guide, an interesting place to visit. Some of the group finished off the tour by having lunch and a coffee at the Café on the grounds.

A visit to Rookwood is a great destination anytime but particularly during COVID when many of us are wanting a safe outing.

Sue Colubriale