Birth of the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery
|Marilyn, Roma and Tracey, 2006.|
For over 20 years I had visited hundreds of cemeteries in New South Wales, but I had never come across one that made me want to cry until I visited the South Brisbane Cemetery.
I was shocked by the deplorable condition of this heritage-listed cemetery. Many graves were covered in leaf litter and tree branches, and large roots were causing some to collapse. Some graves and pathways had trees growing in them. Although the cemetery is only five minutes from the centre of Brisbane it looked like it could have been in the middle of the bush.
The work begins
Tracey Olivieri and I knew something had to be done to bring this cemetery to some decent standard. Over the next few weeks we visited the cemetery almost daily and recorded the sad state it was in. As we walked through the grassy areas, we would sometimes spot a small piece of stone and, with a little bit of digging another buried headstone would be discovered. I was particularly upset to find some belonging to servicemen who had fought in the world wars or the Boer War.
Meeting the BCC
I visited the Mount Gravatt cemetery office of the Brisbane City Council to see if I could get a listing of everyone buried in South Brisbane but was told that it was against the privacy laws. I could even get sued for taking photos. This surprised me as I had done similar work in NSW with the cooperation of every local council I had approached, and had received computer printouts of cemetery burials.
We believed that the BCC had to be reminded to do their maintenance job. There was much more to be done than mowing lawns and whipper-snippering a few times a year. Paths were broken and needed fixing, and many trees needed either trimming or removing.
Getting our hands dirty
In 2005 we started the all-volunteer ‘Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery’ and with the help of friends Marilyn and Annie we started the massive cleanup. We gathered our brooms, rakes, brushes, buckets and shovels and set off, determined to make this cemetery a place to be proud of. We would go four days a week, starting at 9am and many times not leaving until 4pm. We raked and swept graves and pathways, carefully cleaned headstones, and moved heavy tree branches. Before long the cemetery started to look better. It was tiring, but we knew we were achieving something worthwhile.
We bought hundreds of bunches of artificial flowers for the graves. We also wanted to take photos of every headstone for a cemetery website. We took many photos of ‘before and after’ and the difference was magic. We also noted all the problems and kept the BCC informed.
Four months after we started we had taken photos of every headstone, including every unmarked grave. There was still a lot of work to be done as we had only just scratched the surface, and we would need a lot of help. We contacted Community Services and received the assistance of six young people every week for quite a while.
The work pays off
Before long we noticed more people coming into the cemetery in their cars, where before we had hardly seen any. At first it was a couple then the numbers increased. More flowers were appearing on the graves, and some headstones were being painted. We also helped people who were having trouble locating family graves.
After a while the city council supplied us with brooms, rakes and two wheelbarrows which we really appreciated. The council and FOSBC worked together and we kept them informed of any problems
It has been several years now since we first went to the cemetery and drove out crying. Many visitors say it is a credit to us and we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. The work still goes on, but today the South Brisbane Cemetery is very different and is now a place to be proud of.
(Roma passed away in late 2014. You can read about her work here.)