Headstone Damage

There are two immediate threats to the survival of the headstones at South Brisbane Cemetery, and these can be classed as criminal and natural.

Cemetery vandalism provokes strong community outrage, and rightly so, but there is a sense that this is a crime associated with modern society. Sadly, the truth is that there has been a long history of such attacks in South Brisbane Cemetery. Back in December 1938, vandals caused extensive damage there by breaking, overturning or ‘removing’ 30 headstones, and also smashing expensive vases and urns on graves.

While large-scale vandalism attracts more attention, the smaller single incidents have an incremental effect over time that can be just as bad - except that not many people will notice that it is happening.

Thanks to the efforts of the FOSBC, the Brisbane City Council now sends regular security patrols through the cemetery at night and has installed boom gates on unsecured road entrances. There is still much to be done in preventing vandalism, however, and the FOSBC believes that one useful step is educating young children so they appreciate what makes cemeteries so interesting and worth looking after.

Another threat comes from the trees in South Brisbane Cemetery. They contribute to the beauty of the place and provide welcome shade that creates a park-like atmosphere on the slopes, but the presence of some of these trees is causing irreparable damage to the headstones. In fact, the FOSBC believe that such trees pose one of the greatest threats to the long-term survival of the headstones.

The damage can be gradual or instant. If left unchecked, the spread and growth of new trees will eventually overwhelm the cemetery. Many headstones have already been slowly damaged or destroyed by trees growing up through the graves, or by massive root systems pushing through them. 

Tree growing through a grave (FOSBC, 2014)

Then there is the quick damage caused by falling trees, and several headstones have been smashed this way during storms in recent years. 

This tree fell after a big storm in early 2013 and smashed several headstones, most of which will sadly never be repaired. (FOSBC)

Unfortunately, this incremental damage is as bad as vandalism attacks, and so part of the job of looking after cemeteries is to carefully manage the balance between heritage and nature.

The saddest fact about all this is that most headstones are never repaired, as they are legally the responsibility of families of the deceased. Many people are simply unaware of their connection to graves in the cemetery, or that any damage has occurred. Even if they were aware, headstone repair can be prohibitively expensive.   

The FOSBC asks people to keep their eyes and ears open for signs of occurring vandalism, or evidence of damage already done. If you do notice any vandalism occurring, or any other suspicious activities going on inside the South Brisbane Cemetery, please contact the local police on 131 444. If you see any damaged headstones or evidence of inappropriate use of the cemetery, please contact the FOSBC at friendscemetery@gmail.com, and send a photo if possible. This will help us keep track of the incremental damage that all too often goes unnoticed and unreported.