Meet the Friends

Here are just a few of the wonderful volunteers who are part of the ‘Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery’ family. You are welcome to join our group too!

2022-23 Committee

President: Tracey Olivieri
Vice-president: Alicha Harvey
Treasurer: Chris Dawson

Secretary: Chris Dawson

Gayle Albert – My family and I have always loved visiting old cemeteries, reading the inscriptions and enjoying the peace and tranquillity.  I knew from my family research that I had many ancestors in the South Brisbane Cemetery however it was only  in 2019 that I became aware of the group ‘Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery’, their tours and that you were even allowed to clean the graves. Since joining the FOSBC, I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting other members and helping out on the 150th Anniversary Day, attending Chris and Tracey’s talks and cleaning graves up in Boggo Corner.

Rhonda Burton (retired public servant) – I’ve always loved old cemeteries. My grandmother used to take me to Toowong Cemetery to clean her mum’s grave when I was a child. We used to take all our cleaning gear with us on the bus and whitewash her grave afterwards. We used to look at the old graves and wonder about the history of the ‘residents’. I enjoy cleaning the graves at SBC. It’s a lovely cemetery and a very peaceful place to spend time in. It’s very rewarding to see how much difference you can make to the old graves, many of which have been neglected for generations. I’ve even discovered the graves of some of my ancestors. The Guardian Angels are a diverse group, all lovely people who are passionate about what they do.

Lisa Coleman – When I’m not spending countless hours searching cemeteries for family, I am a Secondary School Tutor. I first started visiting SBC in 2020 to find my ancestors and to connect with my lineage and have found so many family on both sides here. When I realised how many people had no-one to do this for them, the obvious thing to do was become part of the amazing FOSBC family. Like so many others, I love not only making something beautiful again with the cleaning but I adore the history and the stories that bring these people back to life. We are all the product of those who came before us, I can’t think of a better way to honour those who paved the way for us to be here.

Hollye Dagan – I have been an Assistant in Nursing at the PA Hospital, specialising in dementia and delirium care for 13 years. I’m also a mother to four little girls and step mother to another little girl. I love the peace that old cemeteries bring to my soul. The quiet and solitude of being in the cemetery helps me to relax and reenergise. The intricate and elaborate designs on the headstones are so beautiful. To learn what each depiction represents is really interesting and tells a story about the person who was buried there and what they meant the their families left behind. I’m moved by the stories and lives of the deceased. To discover who they are, where they came from and their life story is fascinating to me.  I love the cleaning of the headstones and seeing them transform. The satisfaction of having brought some life back to someone’s final resting place is very gratifying. Although it’s been a long time between visits, due to my work commitments, the South Brisbane Cemetery is so dear to my heart.

Chris Dawson – I used to live near the cemetery way back when and always enjoyed walking inside it. I first met other volunteers there in 2005 and got more involved over time. I do tour guiding, research, writing, cleaning, and community organising among other things. As a professional historian, I really enjoy the chance to do Public History in the cemetery setting. It is a beautiful spot, close to the city but pretty tranquil, green, and packed with heritage and history. The FOSBC has been brilliant because it has grown so much since I got the group incorporated in 2017 and a real sense of community has developed. The members come from far and wide, they work hard and like a laugh, and we all get a strong sense of satisfaction from what we do here. (I’m originally from Lancashire, England, have lived in Brisbane since 1988, and I also founded the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society).

Paul Granville – I’m a retired engineer and I live nearby in Highgate Hill. I often pass through the cemetery on my walks and visit my great grandmother who I knew when I was young and my father’s elder sister who I never met as she died as a child in 1925. Theirs’ were the first headstones I cleaned after I joined FOSBC. I also have enjoyed researching the families interred in the cemetery as part of the group’s database project. One of my hobbies is local history and many of the people I’ve written about in my blog are residents of South Brisbane Cemetery. I’ve put some of these together to create a guided tour of the cemetery. I also enjoy long distance walking, play the French horn in two local amateur orchestras, and volunteer as a guide for the National Trust.

Rachael Hodgen – I was introduced to cemeteries at a young age when growing up in South Australia, mainly the Burton Pioneer cemetery where I have family buried, and which has been beautifully restored. I went on a tour of South Brisbane Cemetery with some friends and Chris and Tracey about 12 years ago and was so impressed with their knowledge that I joined the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society and then FOSBC. I enjoy grave cleaning and meeting new people at FOSBC events. I always visit cemeteries whenever travelling and love the stories and different ways that people remember and memorialise their loved ones. Having lived in PNG for 11 years the Bomana War Cemetery is a favourite as were the burial sites in Samoa which are often raised above ground and in the front yard so family can still talk with the deceased and involve them in daily life!

Sonya Kerslake –  Our parents and grandma are buried in this cemetery, not far from the caretaker’s shed. Mother and grandma came down to Brisbane from Childers. Since retirement due to throat cancer I have done a lot of volunteering, including with environmental groups, a Fire Ant Ranger, Clean Up Australia Day, Bushcare, Op Shop, and coordinator of Bayside Clean Up Crew, Wynnum/Manly. Since joining the FOSBC and cleaning the headstones, I’ve added this activity to my volunteering list. I’ve made new friends and learned of residents who are buried here from all walks of life, from early pioneers to Boggo Road prisoners, to the disease pandemic through to the Great Depression and the World Wars and those who lost their lives through accidents. We must be fortunate for these people who lived a hard life in the past to make sure our lives would be easier in the future. I truly thank them for their sweat and tears. And I will sure be sweating myself to ensure that these graves are maintained for future generations to visit.

Sandy Liddle – I am a true Wynnumite and am heavily involved in the Wynnum Manly Historical Society. I spent 25-odd years as a legal secretary before completing an Advanced Diploma in Local, Family and Applied History and then a Bachelor of Arts (Library & Information Sciences) which led to me becoming a librarian. I subsequently went on to undertake a Masters of Information Studies (Archives and Records Management). Both my husband and I have many ancestors buried in the South Brisbane Cemetery and I love wandering through there and visiting all their graves. I am also part of the St Helena Island Community involved in researching the St Helena Island Penal Establishment and before. It is interesting how many of those we are researching were interred at South Brisbane Cemetery and I look forward to exploring their graves in the future.

Lisa Moulder – Ever since I was a small child I’ve had a fascination and love of old cemeteries. I find them very beautiful and tranquil and enjoy reading the headstones and trying to piece together the person’s life and visualise what it must have been like. They’re full of history and love and the art work that goes into some of the monuments is amazing. I work as a cobbler during the week and enjoying doing things like the night time cemetery tours to learn more about places like South Brisbane Cemetery. This is where I discovered the FOSBC group and volunteered some of my time to helping restore the graves. It’s incredibly rewarding to see some of the long forgotten graves come back to their former glory and to feel like I’ve made a little bit of difference in helping to honour someone’s loved one. The team are welcoming and caring and I’m proud to call some of them my new friends.

Tracey Olivieri – Back in 2005 the cemetery was unkempt, and I felt I had to do something to help protect this special heritage place. I grew up in the local area and used to spend a lot of time at the cemetery so it became a very special project for me. Me and my friends Roma and Marilyn photographed every grave, embarked on re-mapping and compiling a database of the residents; helped family historians locate graves; and recorded many known and unknown stories of the residents. This was all done along with trying to clean the cemetery. All of this is still being done on a larger scale today. In later years, many amazing volunteers come and clean on the ‘Guardian Angel’ cleaning days. We share many of the stories through publications, tours, public talks, facebook and our website. We have plans for more and new things over the years ahead.

Jess Parker – I first became acquainted with South Brisbane Cemetery during a tour conducted by Tracey and Chris of Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery.  As an undergraduate Historian, I was blown away by the professionalism of the tour, and the beauty of cemetery.  That evening I talked Chris and Tracey’s ears off (sorry!) and my relationship with the organisation, and the old girl herself, had begun.  Since then, I have regularly visited ancestors who reside within the grounds, attended many more tours and seminars, cleaned graves as a Guardian of South Brisbane Cemetery, and had the honour of participating in anniversary celebrations.  It is an absolute privilege to have been welcomed into a community that shares my passion for Brisbane’s historic cemeteries, and the stories they hold. 

Margaret Schneider – Dutton Park Cemetery was an integral part of my childhood, having been born and raised in the local area. As children, my sisters and I often explored the cemetery, not knowing that we had a strong family connection to the residents who have played such an important part in its history. Having recently retired from 40 years teaching, I started to research my family tree and discovered the importance of South Brisbane Cemetery in our family story. My involvement with the FOSBC family has been a wonderful opportunity to not only explore more about our family’s ancestors, but to learn about the people buried here, their unique stories and the part they have played in our history. To share that interest with others who also value this heritage has been a rewarding experience. Distance and farm commitments prevent me from visiting the cemetery as regularly as I would like, but working on the database is rewarding and creates opportunities to make more discoveries about the history of South Brisbane Cemetery.

Dr Mengzhu Wang – Our family emigrated to Australia in 1995, put down roots in Taringa, and have maintained close ties to UQ for decades. I had spotted the cemetery from across the river growing up, but it was in 2016 when I was recovering from surgery that I walked into the cemetery for the first time to practice photography and was immediately captivated. I looked into groups associated with it and joined FOSBC tours, and a memorable Tombstone Folk music concert in 2017 which despite the rain, was a happy event that warmed my soul. I was also studying Russian at the time, and was touched when I found Nell Tritton’s resting place (second wife of Alexander Kerensky). As an introvert with OCD tendencies, I quickly found cleaning the headstones to be very relaxing and helpful for mindfulness. Even a career move to Mount Isa Base Hospital couldn’t stop me coming back! When I wasn’t flying to remote communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria to provide clinical services, I tried to come home as much as I could and still participated in Guardian Angels days here and there. I have since made another move to Goondiwindi Hospital, but I still visit the cemetery  when I can. The cemetery took a piece of my heart and when I am there, especially after being away for months, I feel like I am home.

Sandra Watkins (retired primary school teacher and administrator) – I have always loved old cemeteries and managed to wrangle family visits and even talk my prim and proper Girl Guide leader to take us to one, for some research and a sticky beak. They are full of history, families, odd little bits and sadness. They are quiet restful places away from traffic and noise for a walk or a think. I took my six year old grand-daughter into Woden Cemetery to practise her bike riding along the quiet roads in safety. Wherever we drive, if there’s a cemetery along the way, it needs to be visited. I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning the graves but it looks great and seems quietly respectful, when it’s done. I especially enjoy the days when visitors come; chatting, selling the books, meeting new people. I wish I was there more often but as we live at the southern end of the Gold Coast and I’m being allergic to going out at night, I won’t be there often, except in spirit.

Jenny Wilson – I was born and raised in Brisbane, and after getting married in 1983, my husband Ross and I built a house at Shailer Park and we have lived there for 37 years. This is where we raised our two children, and where our first grandson now comes to play. Working three days a week enables me to have a good work/life balance and allows me to volunteer my time. For over 15 years I volunteered at the local primary school library, where I found a love of helping others. When I found out about the FOSBC and their Guardian Angels, I thought I might give it a go, and I am so glad I did – I absolutely love it. It gives me such satisfaction and sense of achievement when you see the results of all your hard work. I often chat to the person whose grave I am cleaning and wonder what their life must have been like. It is always sad when they are graves of children. I have met some wonderful people, who I can now call friends. I highly recommend spending a morning or afternoon cleaning headstones, you won’t be disappointed, and the feeling of satisfaction for helping others is like no other.

Gerry and Kathryn Woodruff – have recently returned to Brisbane after living in Mackay Queensland for many years. Gerry grew up in the Western district of Victoria and came to Mackay in the early 70s to work in the mining industry. Gerry is a very keen birder with a particular interest in migratory seabirds. He also researches family history and will be kept busy helping to maintain his three daughters’ homes in Brisbane, along with being a member of FOSBC… 
Kathryn grew up in East Brisbane which is why she has such an interest in the South Brisbane Cemetery. Her parents, grandparents, and two sets of great-grandparents are buried there along with numerous other relatives. Kathryn has worked as a classroom music teacher for many years, and has a keen interest in choral singing. She keeps fit doing Zumba and Aqua Aerobics and is honing her lullaby skills in readiness for the arrival of the first grandchild. She has a long term project to put gravestones on all her ancestors’ graves.