Cemetery Guardian #25 – December 2022

Welcome to the newsletter of the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery (Inc.) 🙂 

Looking Back at 2022  •  Graveside Chats  •  Gone But Not Forgotten  •  Coming Up at the Cemetery  •  Symbol of the Month  •  FOSBC News

Looking Back at 2022

After the intensity of our (covid-delayed) 150th anniversary year in 2021, we ‘took it a bit easier’ this year but still ended up with quite a packed calendar, as you can see below.

Cemetery Floods

It wasn’t a good start to the year when the widespread flooding in February and March hit the cemetery, as floods usually do. The cemetery office and shed were affected as the waters reached their highest levels since 2011, resulting in the loss of some of our equipment but not as much as we initially feared. This still involved a lot of cleaning up, however, and once again our volunteers stepped up to the plate.

The council did strip the fittings from the office and told us they would be replaced with stainless steel benches, a water heating unit, and a new sink, but unfortunately all that was replaced was the sink so the office is looking a bit bare these days.

We are still in the process of reorganising our storage, which of course needs to take into account the risk of further flooding.

Cemetery office, March 2022
Cemetery office, March 2022
Cemetery office, March 2022
Cemetery office, March 2022

Mystery of the Missing Headstones

There was an unusual postscript to the flooding when the swollen waters of Albany Creek, on the northern border of Brisbane, washed away soil from a bank and exposed a stash of old headstones. The names on them revealed that some of these were from South Brisbane.

They had been removed from municipal cemeteries during the controversial ‘Beautification Scheme’ of the 1970s. In brief, this scheme involved the Brisbane City Council of the day deciding to tidy up the old cemeteries such as Balmoral, Toowong, Lutwyche and South Brisbane that were now mostly closed to new burials (but still requiring costly ongoing maintenance) by clearing out old monuments they deemed to be ‘dangerous or unsightly’ (after first seeking permission of the grave owners). The aim was to create more open park-like space. An estimated 1,000 graves were affected by this scheme.

Some of the removed stones were obviously used to shore up the bank along the creek. The FOSBC kept things quiet and liaised with the Albany Creek residents to go and retrieve what we could before word spread and any pilfering occurred. We found that the majority of the stones were from Toowong Cemetery.

We rounded up a band of 20 volunteers and headed north with utes, cars and trucks to see what we could save. A lot of stone was taken back to South Brisbane in utes and small trucks.

Unfortunately, all these months later, we are still waiting for Brisbane City Council or the Friends of Toowong Cemetery to organise taking the Toowong headstones back to that cemetery.

The whole incident was a great example of the power of a strong community group like the FOSBC, as we were able to get enough boots on the ground and the finances to pull this rescue off. The dedication of these people and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into heavy work like this is an inspiration.

The stones at Albany Creek.
The rescued stones at South Brisbane.

More Trees Fall

Unfortunately, we had more damage to the cemetery caused by falling trees this year. A large specimen came down during the rains in late February, while a dead eucalypt split in October, adding several more headstones to the long and growing list of monuments broken by falling trees and branches in the last couple of decades.

February 2022
October 2022

Guardian Angels

Our Guardian Angel cleaning programme commenced in 2018 and we have just completed another successful year. Despite cancellations and disruptions caused by wet weather and flooding, we managed to hold nine events which attracted around 200 attendees in total.

This year we focussed on the historical and predominantly Catholic ‘2’s’ section up in ‘Boggo Corner’, next to Annerley Road, before moving down to start work in some lower sections nearer to the river.

We’ll be back in early 2023 – all welcome for our sixth year!

Cemetery Tours

We ran a lot of tours again this year, although the schedule was disrupted by weather and illness. Altogether there were 30 night tours, including ones over at Toowong, and three day tours. We also assisted other groups in running tours at South Brisbane, including the Brisbane Labour History Association, and the ‘Room to Read’ charity group.

We intend to return with a new tour schedule in early 2023, so watch out for details about that.

‘History Among the Graves’ Public Talks

We held three ‘History Among the Graves’ public talks in the cemetery this year. We set up a table and chairs outside in a nice grassed area under the tree shade, and a speaker delivers a 45-minute talk on a historical subject.

In June we had Tracey Olivieri presenting ‘When Death Was a Woman’s Business’, looking at the role of women in the grieving and mortuary process in the western world, which prompted a good discussion afterwards.

In July, Chris Dawson presented ‘Death on the Gallows’, looking at how the 42 people who were hanged at Boggo Road 1883-1913 actually died before they were laid to rest in the South Brisbane Cemetery.

Queensland’s leading paranormal historian – Liam Baker – rounded out the series of talks with ‘Poltergeists and Pranksters: South Brisbane Cemetery’s ‘Guyra Ghost’ Connection’, looking at one the best-known historical ‘paranormal’ occurrences documented in 1920s Australia, with a a direct correlation to a Woolloongabba case and one of our very own South Brisbane Cemetery ‘residents’.

The talks were well attended and we really enjoyed presenting them, and are looking forward to another series next year.

New Benches

We had a win back in July when seven new benches were installed at select spots around the cemetery. A couple of years ago there was only one bench in the cemetery and we lobbied the council for more. They did fix up two broken benches, making a total of three, but money was tight and there was to be no more. A member of the FOSBC sourced seven former bus-stop benches on their way to scrap, and we asked the council to install them. It took some time but now the cemetery has 10 benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the atmosphere there, a big improvement from the former situation.

Rhonda's Graveside Chats

By Rhonda Burton

Nic joined Guardian Angels in early 2022. He discovered our Guardian Angels group on Facebook under ‘Suggested Events’.

He’d never been to the cemetery before and was initially a little uncertain about how he’d fit in when he first came along but he enjoyed it and has been seven or eight times since then.

Since COVID started Nic’s tried to get out into nature and the open air more. He spends a lot of time indoors and is not usually very active so grave cleaning provides a good opportunity for physical exercise.

He said he actually enjoys cleaning. It’s something he is very good at, and he finds it  satisfying.

Nic also likes the social aspect of grave cleaning and the different views of people from different backgrounds. He enjoys talking to other people while he’s cleaning.

He finds grave cleaning relaxing and interesting.

While he’s cleaning graves, Nic likes to imagine what people’s lives might have been like when they were alive and will often Google them afterwards to see if he can find out more information about them.

He believes it’s important to show respect to the memory of someone who was once important in the lives of others.

Nic also enjoys foraging for native food plants and edible weed foraging so working in the cemetery has given him the opportunity to indulge in these interests as well. He’s found a lot of edible weed species and native food plants in the cemetery. He also enjoys trying to identify mushrooms for fun.

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Gone But Not Forgotten: Mary Soden

South Brisbane Cemetery resident Mary Soden was an energetic businesswoman who had a big impact on the development of southern Brisbane. This obituary somehow failed to mention her first name, referring to her only as ‘Mrs John Soden’.
“One more of Queensland’s old pioneers, Mrs. John Soden, sen., who had lived in Brisbane for 65 years, passed away on Friday at the age of 90 years and 2 months, and was laid to rest in the South Brisbane Cemetery on Saturday. The Rev. R. Sayce (Fairfield) and the Rev. W. Bell (Vulture-street) officiated at the house, and at the graveside. Mrs. Soden was born at Bedworth, a small village on the outskirts of Coventry, Warwickshire, England, on March 28, 1837.
She commenced work in Cash’s ribbon factory at the age of 12 years, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. She was married at the Church of England, Bedworth, on April 16, 1857, and owing to labour troubles migrated to Queensland, with her husband, the late John Soden, sen., (who predeceased her six years ago), in the sailing ship Chatsworth on April 3, arriving in Moreton Bay on September 2, 1862. On arrival, Mr. and Mrs. Soden were engaged to work in the arrowroot fields for Messrs. G. and S. Grimes, and shortly afterwards they started a milk run and took up a selection at Cooper’s Plains. Misfortune followed, however, and all their cows died of a mysterious disease. Bush-work, hawking, and fruit growing were carried on later.
On removing to Ipswich-road in 1879, Mr. Soden started a line of buses, and became mail contractor between Rocklea and Brisbane. Later on carrying was successfully taken up, Mrs. Soden being a very live assistant in all the undertakings. Mrs. Soden was an ardent worker and follower of the Baptist Churches at Vulture-street and Fairfield; she was also a regular visitor to the General and Diamantina hospitals for over 20 years. Mrs. Soden was of a very loving nature, endearing herself to all who came in contact with her, and hundreds of men who from time to time were employed by her late husband always called her “mother.” Since the death of her husband the late Mrs. Soden has lived a retired life amongst her family at Clifton, Ipswich-road.
She leaves six sons (Messrs. Arthur W. and George, of Soden’s Ltd.; John, an alderman of the City Council; Joseph and Ernest, Ipswich-road, and Walter C, of T. A . Soady, Ltd.); one daughter (Miss B. A. Soden), who resided in Ipswich-road with the deceased lady for 48 years, 24 grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren, all of whom reside in Brisbane, to mourn her loss. There was a large and representative gathering at the graveside, and each of the grand-children present placed a white rose on her coffin.” (Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1927)

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Coming Up at the Cemetery

With the holiday season upon us, we are taking a break from official events and will be back with a new tour, talk and Guardian Angel programme early next year. Watch this website and our social media for updates.

Cemetery Symbol of the Month

Russian or Eastern Orthodox Cross
There are many Russian and Eastern European people interred in the South Brisbane Cemetery, and their graves usually stand out because of their characteristic Russian Orthodox crosses. This is a variation of the Christian cross dating from the 6th-century Byzantine Empire and introduced before the break between the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the 11th century A.D.

The cross has three horizontal crossbeams – as opposed to the one crossbeam on standard western crosses – creating a distinctive interpretation of the crucifixion apparatus used by the Romans. It features an upper horizontal shoulder representing the inscription over the head of Jesus. In Western Christianity, most depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus include a plaque (called a titulus) placed above his head, bearing only the Latin letters INRI (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews). In the Eastern Church, ‘King of Glory’ may be used. The lower slanting beam on this cross represents the foot-rest (in Latin, suppedaneum).

One notable aspect of these crosses is that most of them (not all) are facing towards the west, even on rows where the other headstones are facing east (which was the norm for graves in this cemetery). This is because of an old Orthodox tradition in which visitors to the graves prefer to face to the east as they pray.

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FOSBC Road Trip

A group of FOSBC members enjoyed an end-of-year ‘cemetery hop’, driving out in a convoy to visit cemeteries in Fassifern, Warwick and Boonah. It’s always interesting to explore old cemeteries, discovering local history, different monument styles, and new symbols. Even better in the company of a lot of fellow cemetery enthusiasts with delicious food!

At Warwick Cemetery.
Boonah Cemetery.

Our Cemetery Survey

Regular visitors to the cemetery may have noticed people walking around there recently with clipboards and cameras, while scribbling notes and taking photos. The volunteers of the FOSBC have been undertaking a cemetery-wide infrastructure survey, making extensive notes of any issues regarding paths, navigation, drains, etc.  This survey does not include graves and headstones.

The results will be compiled into a report and are intended to serve as a guide to action in the future.

We have over 80 members and you are welcome to join us and be part of this dynamic community group. Further details can be seen here.

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This newsletter edited by Chris Dawson. All original material ©FOSBC.