9 November 2017

Pioneering history at risk

| Maryann Weston
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Goulburn Historical & Family History Society President Garry White says more can be done to conserve Goulburn’s pioneer cemeteries.

Goulburn’s pioneering history, preserved in part in its original cemeteries is at risk due to long-term inaction.

With gravesites of local, state and national significance, tourism potential is being wasted. It’s also an issue that will only worsen with time unless conservation becomes a priority.

Despite the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage describing Goulburn’s original Mortis Street Cemetery as having “high strategic and cultural heritage value”, gravesites continue to be vandalised within the unfenced cemetery, broken headstones are left to crumble alongside graves, and rabbit holes proliferate as a result of infestation.

Nearby, the St Saviour’s Cemetery where explorer William Hovell is buried is in slightly better condition but fading and unreadable signage provides few clues as to the significance of the pioneers buried within, nor how to find gravesites.

Goulburn Historical and Family History Society President (GH&FHS) Garry White believes the state of the City’s pioneer cemeteries reflects the undervaluing of Goulburn’s history, and with genealogy a rapidly developing industry, opportunities are being lost.

“Other towns make their pioneer cemeteries a real tourist attraction. Liverpool has maintained its pioneer cemetery and rather than restore any broken headstones, has put them into a wall around the cemetery,” Garry said.

“Our pioneering cemeteries are located by the Wollondilly River and were part of the old walking track. They could become part of the river’s new walking track, and a place for tourists to visit.”

Liverpool Pioneers’ Memorial Park was reopened as a park in 2010 and revitalised with new signage. An interactive online site allows history buffs to research their family history. Seating, walkways and plantings provide a practical and aesthetic amenity for visitors.

As Australia’s first inland city, the original Goulburn cemeteries have a place in the nation’s history books. Pastoral pioneers, the Durack family including Patrick and his wife Mary, are buried in Mortis Street Cemetery. Prominent Goulburn settlers, First Fleeters and the City’s first Anglican priest William Sowerby are interred at the St Saviours cemetery.

Pastoral pioneers the Duracks are buried at the Mortis Street Cemetery.

As well as the two pioneer cemeteries Goulburn also has other cemeteries of historical significance.

“The Jewish Cemetery is a result of Goulburn being home to the largest Jewish population outside of metropolitan areas. They owned the hotels and the big stores in Goulburn and were money lenders to those going off to the goldfields,” Garry said.

“The Kenmore [Psychiatric Hospital] Cemetery houses 1230 souls and only four headstones because patients were given a pauper’s burial. That cemetery could at least be fenced off, access provided to the public and a plaque put up. I have all the names of those 1230 people buried there which could be put onto the plaque as a commemoration, at least.”

Inaction has largely been a result of lack of funds; however, restoration of Goulburn’s pioneer cemeteries could be undertaken in stages through government grants, given their significance.

“The new Goulburn Mulwaree Council Manager is proactive but past councils really didn’t want to spend the money and were short-sighted,” Garry said.

Although inadequate preservation of Goulburn’s pioneer cemeteries has been undertaken to date, the Goulburn base of the GH&FHS, one of Goulburn’s oldest residential buildings, St Clair, is about to undergo significant conservation works.

“Over the years the Society has put in the voluntary work and we have a significant historical collection which chronicles Goulburn’s history including family history files, general history files, Parish maps and photographs. When the work has finished on St Clair we will be moving back in and there are plans to restore the old stables at the back of the building and establish a research centre,” Garry said.

Australian explorer William Hovell’s grave at St Saviours Cemetery, Goulburn.

One of the Society’s main activities is helping people with family history research.

Meanwhile, the rise of online genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com with more than three million paying subscribers and MyHeritage which has approximately 80 million members is also indicative of contemporary interest is family history.

Ancestry.com has more recently introduced AncestryDNA kits which have increased its revenue to $850 million, up 25% from a year earlier. Meanwhile, in Goulburn potential ancestry tourism is floundering.

Given the potential cost of conservation, what do you think should be done to preserve Goulburn’s pioneer cemeteries?

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St David’s Park in Hobart, and the old cemetery in Cairns have both been cleaned up. The tomb stones were removed to the fence line (sort of) and a “memorial board” with the names of those that were interred there place in a conspicuous place. The cemeteries then became parkland, much easier to maintain.

There may be other cemeteries in Australia where the same has been done and I suggest the cemeteries in Goulburn are candidates for this style of repatriation.

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