Cemetery Maintenance

There were complaints even in the earliest days about the condition of South Brisbane Cemetery. A large piece of land containing wooded slopes, gullies and waterways was always going to be difficult to maintain as a ‘parkland’ setting with minimal staff. The person in charge on-site was the sexton, who lived in a house within the grounds. It was his job to oversee grave excavation, help visitors, lock the gates at night, and keep the cemetery looking tidy.

Controlling the grass in the cemetery was constant problem. In the 1920s the sexton let up to 120 sheep roam and graze around the cemetery to keep the grass short, but the sheep also ate flowers, caused damage to graves, and left manure everywhere. The practice was stopped after multiple complaints from visitors and reporters.

Sheep in an English graveyard. (Daily Mirror)

The next grass-control method was fire. The sextons let the grass grow long before setting fire to it, but the flames also damaged graves. The one-metre-high grass in the cemetery also led to mosquito infestations.
'How is it the grass is allowed to grow over the graves in the South Brisbane cemetery? It is disgraceful. My little boy’s grave is low down in the new cemetery and to get to it I have to walk through grass up to my shoulders, and it is well over the heads of my little girls. Is there no way to keep the grass in hand, or keep the paths clean, as I am afraid of snakes...?' (‘A Mother’, Brisbane Courier, 1926).
In reply to this letter, the sexton explained that he was the only employee working at the cemetery.

In later years the council sprayed the grass with chemicals and weedkiller, but there were still complaints about the place being a ‘jungle of weeds’. Thanks to mechanisation, the grass in the cemetery in recent years has been kept in check by mowing. Indeed, it is probably safe to say that the grass is better controlled now than at any time in the cemetery's history.