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Historic Cemetery

The Wonders of Waverley Cemetery. Discover the rich past and beautiful surrounds of this truly historic site.
By Jackie O’Neill

Waverley Cemetery is a fascinating and historical site that has remained defiantly traditional in our busy modern world. Visitors can meander through the 16 hectares and watch history unfold before them. A pillar on the corner of St Thomas and Trafalgar Streets, Waverley’s first burial dates from 1877. The original office was erected in 1878 when this locality lay on the outskirts of the Bondi Junction mercantile CBD. Forty years later, when the demand for office space exceeded supply, the original small building was demolished and in 1914 the current sandstone administrative centre was opened. After admiring the grand wrought iron gate that frames the administrative centre, I passed into the composed Edwardian surrounds and found the cemetery manager dressed in conservative attire that blended well with the environment.

Martin Forrester-Reid is a walking history book! With a true passion for understanding the past, particularly graveyards, Martin has links with the Australian Heritage Council and sits on the National Trust Cemeteries Committee. He promotes and generates increasing interest in this site and the other staff members regularly address local community groups about the activities of Waverley Cemetery. Between May and October the cemetery offers a ninety minute Twilight Tour where visitors can learn about the different forms of burials including monumental grave sites; the Circle Garden for ashes; the hundreds of underground chambers dating from the 1880’s to 1920’s; observe above ground vaults and mausoleums constructed by the Italian immigrants of the 1950’s; and be dazzled by the thousands of imposing white marble monuments. The Irish Martyrs Memorial is a wonderful example.

History and Infamy
The staff are particularly proud to highlight the graves of those famous and infamous people who contributed to our heritage; poets Henry Lawson, Dorothea Mackellar and Henry Kendall; sports celebrities like cricket greats Victor Trumper and the Gregory family, swimming champ 'Fanny' Durack; aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargraves; the Sargents of meat pie fame; Edmund Resch the famous beer brewer; chief justices Sir Francis Forbes and Sir James Dowling; Sir James Martin (the great Sydney pedestrian thoroughfare Martin Place is named in his honor); and John Sands, who produced the first Aussie Christmas Card, depicting eucalyptus and a kangaroo back in the 1890’s! All this brings both locals and tourists to Waverley Cemetery in huge numbers, 36,000 people pass through the marvellous main gate annually and another 5 million trek the coastal walk along the eastern perimeter.

History buffs will not be disappointed by Waverley Cemetery. An extremely well-preserved stone residence built in 1886 abuts the office, while a number of shelter sheds in the grounds date from 1895. Waverley still employs the old fashioned methods, no cumbersome machines are used, every grave and memorial is prepared by hand. Waverley Cemetery is a self-funding operation, not subsidised by ratepayers. From the 1870's the cemetery has been a stand alone operation enjoying individual bank accounts and assets separate from that of any other council enterprise. Waverley oozes history, charm and character, while remaining fully operational. In fact the demand for plots, 3000 of which are still available, is steadily increasing. Perhaps this is due to both the location and historical significance of this 19th century cemetery landscape. All of the new monuments are built in the traditional style reflecting the old motifs and decorations. These new solid stone and white marble monuments will ensure the site never loses its classic appeal and old world charm.


Waverley Cemetery

Phone: (02) 9665 4938

Email: cemetery@waverley.nsw.gov.au



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