In glorious autumn weather our group were met at Rookwood by our knowledgeable guide, Eric Sinfield (from the Friends of Rookwood) who explained the history of Sydney’s cemeteries leading to the opening of Rookwood Necropolis in 1868. First stop the sacred Sydney War Cemetery, founded in 1942, which honours some 734 servicemen who mostly died of their wounds in what was Concord Military Hospital. Sadly, a new interment – 32-year-old Sgt Brett Wood, a casualty of the Afghanistan war who died on 23 May 2011, reminds us of the futility of war.
Adjacent, the beautifully maintained NSW Garden of Remembrance, which was constructed in the 1960s but was later expanded. It ominously has provision for 100,000 plaques. Inside the Office of War Graves I observed, with respect, the photo of VC recipient John Mackey, an ex student of Christian Brothers High School, Lewisham, who joined the AIF by raising his age, and was killed in Borneo in 1945.
Our next stop was at ‘the Lewisham stones’. These are some of the headstones removed from the old
Petersham cemetery located in the grounds of St Thomas’ Church, Lewisham, which contained about 4400 interments. The first recorded interment was on 21 May 1865, prior to the opening of Rookwood Cemetery, but after the cemetery’s closure in 1885 by Petersham Council and resumption of cemetery land for railway, parish and hospital purposes, many of these old headstones were moved to Rookwood.
|Image Source: Family Origins|
We then drove past various sections and memorials, vaults, pauper burial plots and the Bea Miles family monument. Of particular interest was the damaged and empty stone gothic Frazer Mausoleum built in 1894 costing £5000. At the site of the former Mortuary Station No. 1 we saw nothing of relevance remains of the railway or the beautiful station which was closed in 1948. After falling into disrepair through theft, fire and vandalism, what remained was sold for £100 in 1957 and re-erected as All Saints Anglican Church at North Ainsley, ACT. We had lunch alongside the 1880s Serpentine Canal near where we saw many beautiful Victorian style and heritage monuments.
|No.1 Mortuary Railway station, Rookwood Cemetery (NSW) - Funeral Train in Station|
Image Source: State Records NSW
Following afternoon snacks (including Turkish Delight), we strolled around the Auburn Botanic Gardens which opened in 1977 on the site of a garbage tip. It was a perfect time to enjoy the Japanese gardens, walkways and lake with its peaceful, reflective beauty. The Avenue of Remembrance struck a chord with
our Rookwood tour. The adjoining fauna reserve contained wallabies, kangaroos, wombats and emus all in attractive bushlike enclosures together with native birds and lizards attracted to the area. The serene and restful atmosphere of the gardens was a fitting note on which to end our day’s excursion. Thank you Mary O and her team for organising this most enjoyable and stimulating day.