St John's Cemetery Sydney, Australia
St John's Cemetery Sydney, Australia

Sydney Cemeteries Worth A Detour make for an interesting day exploring the history of Sydney while enjoying the benign neglect of Gore Hill, inhaling the heady scents of nineteenth century roses at Rookwood Cemetery, taking in the panoramic views from Waverley with the option of a Saturday morning tour or simply absorbing the stories of Irish orphan girls whose memorial wall at Hyde Park Barracks reminds visitors of the harsh life of many early settlers.

Waverley Cemetery


Want spectacular views of the eastern suburbs of Sydney?

Are you fascinated by the wrought iron and ornate stone work of nineteenth century cemeteries?

Waverley cemetery is the place to go in Sydney. In fact it should move on to photographers wish list as a destination with a view with glorious up close and detailed objects to post to your instagram feed. The cemetery opened in 1877 on the site of a disused horse tram terminus. Since that time around 90,000 interments have taken place in 55,000 grave sites and memorials over the 16 hectare site. Waverley Cemeteries local council statement. The cemetery is readily accessible as it is part of the Bronte Beach to Coogee coastal walk.

Notable interments

There are over 200 war graves with 132 registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission. The front gates are a memorial to the residents of the area who died during World War I and World War II . Inside the main gates is a memorial to the military forces of NSW which houses the remains of several officers killed in an 1891 sea mine explosion at Middle Head.

At least eleven United States Civil War veterans are also buried at Waverley, including Phineas S. Thompson. In addition, the cemetery is home to the The Irish memorial, the final resting place of Michael Dwyer (1798 Rebellion), and a memorial to all those who died in that rebellion. There is also a memorial stone commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strikers. As well as nationally famous figures the cemetery contains the graves of notable Sydney identities including Robert “Nosey Bob” Howard, the state executioner who served until 1904, and Sydney crime figure George Freeman.

The cemetery is a significant repository of Victorian and Edwardian funeral architecture with the elaborate gates, buildings, fencing and statutes. A fund of information about the architectural details of each tomb and the occupants are The Friends of Waverley. Contact details are on their homepage Facebook. Every Saturday the morning tours are very popular. There is a cost as a contribution to the upkeep of the cemetery.

The cemetery is open for funerals from Monday to Saturday. The self-funded cemetery supports its operations from instruments – including burial, cremation, memorials and mausolea – of which there has been over 86,000.

TIP: A great place for quiet contemplation, take a few moments enjoy the panoramic views and wonder about the people’s lives keeping you company.

Gore Hill Cemetery


Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery is one of the oldest and largest remaining cemeteries in metropolitan Sydney. Located in St Leonards the cemetery occupies an area of 5.81 hectares and was originally laid out as a formal Victorian/Edwardian garden. Today it is a testament to the ravages of time and benign neglect. The cemetery is not readily visible as it is tucked behind a hospital with the glorious Gore Hill Park dominating the area.

Yet there are over a hundred years of history about the earliest settlement period. Tombstones with daisies pushing their way through weedy tombs and sunbleached memorials are a reminder of the transitory nature of memories. For photographers interested in decay and nature reclaiming the land there is lots of opportunity to capture evocative images.

Sparkling in its pristine state is Saint Mary MacKillop Ash Wall. The secluded area continues to offer space for the purchase of interment of ashes. The life and works of Saint Mary MacKillop is described in a series of aluminium plaques. The heritage listed cemetery has approximately 14,500 graves including 17 World War I diggers, the scion of the Australian retailing dynasty the Horderns. The Antarctic expeditioner Archibald McLean.


The front gates are closed for security reasons at 4.00pm. The cemetery is not open on Sunday. The gates are open Monday to Friday 8.00am – 4.00pm and Saturday 9.00am – 4.00pm.

Botany Cemetery (Formerly Bunnerong Cemetery)


The memorial park incorporates Botany Cemetery, Eastern Suburbs Crematorium and Pioneer Park. The collection of headstones and monuments commemorate prominent historical figures, provide an excellent historic resource, are of outstanding aesthetic value and remain largely intact. The collection is historically significant as evidence of the former Bunnerong Cemetery, established in 1901 as a purpose-built cemetery for the relocation of remains from Devonshire Street Cemetery. Devonshire Street Cemetery disinterment led to most metropolitan cemeteries existing in 1901 receiving the remains of at least some persons interred in the Devonshire Street Cemetery. The majority went to the recently established Bunnerong Cemetery, which is today known as Botany Cemetery. A small number were transferred to country cemeteries. Bunnerong Cemetery, south of the city, had a tram line constructed to make the removal of re-casketed remains as simple as possible. Bunnerong Cemetery was next to the Botany Cemetery and, in the early 1970s, was absorbed by that cemetery to create the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

Botany is home to a number of early settlers and Sydney personalities. Some of those individuals are, bushranger John Dunn, an accomplice of the infamous Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner. Dunn was just 19 years of age when he was hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol. His headstone was erected by Mrs. Pickard, Dunn’s Godmother, which reads: “Memory of John Dunn, who died March 19th, 1866. Aged 19 years. May he rest in peace. Amen. He has gone to his grave but we must not deplore him though sorrow and darkness encompass his tomb – the Saviour has passed through its portals before him and the light of his love was the lamp through his doom”.

Devonshire Street relocated graves include,Mary Reibey, the emancipated convict turned successful business woman. Her lasting legacy is her image on the $20 dollar note.

Another emancipated convict is Fleeter James Squire, whose name is emblazoned on the craft beers in stores today.

Sydney Cemeteries [Lisa Murray] informs readers approximately 8,500 remains were claimed by descendents and removed to places throughout the region Another 30,000 were exhumed and moved to Bunnerong Cemetery.

Bunurong Memorial Park & Cemetery in Dandenong, East of Melbourne is now a place for reflection, to relax in the wide open spaces and to enjoy the cultivated 26 acres

St John's Cemetery, Parramatta

Australia’s oldest surviving cemetery and the most intact Georgian cemetery in NSW. In use between 1789 and 1824, it contains the oldest known undisturbed grave in Australia, marked by a slab of river sandstone which bears the inscription: “H.E. Dodd 1791.” Henry Edward Dodd was Gov. Phillip’s butler. He was buried there on 29th January 1791, a year after the opening of the cemetery. An excellent introduction to The History of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta will inspire cemetery buffs and heritage fans to delve into this record and go on grave finders hunt for the first fleeters whose tombstones are located at St John’s.

The burial records tell the story of the earliest settlers from convicts, shopkeepers and military personnel.

Many ethnic groups are reflected in the registers from ‘Negro’, German, Indian, Chinese in addition to the Ireland and Scotland.

In 1970 concerned citizens formed a committee to resort the neglected tombstones.

In 2016 a trust, Friends of St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta was established.

Rookwood Cemetery Heritage Rose treasures


Heritage roses in full bloom spilling over paths and gracefully wrapped around lichen covered tombstones. Spring, lush soft opening buds, public gardens and Rookwood Cemetery are superb places to view one of Australia’s favourite flowers, the rose. Rookwood is home to the world’s largest nineteenth century cemetery making it a mecca for heritage blooms.

Since the 19860’s mourning families have planted roses. Left untended the roses acclimatised to the cemetery’s naturally dry conditions and continue to flourish. The Rookwood roses are heritage status with a dedicated team of volunteers.

The heritage rose gardens in Sydney’s heritage-listed Rookwood Cemetery are being conserved by a dedicated group of rose enthusiasts from the Heritage Roses in Australia for the benefit of the community. For rose enthusiasts, Rookwood Cemetery, offers a place to discover an abundance of unique species. This includes many rose varieties that have been propagated from the old graves in Rookwood that have never been officially identified and therefore classified as “found roses”, named after the grave where they had been originally planted.

The conservationist group carefully identify, catalogue, propagate and re-plant each rose species into dedicated areas where they are left to thrive of their own free will, watered only when it rains, never sprayed and fed every few years.

The initiative was led by Barbara May, an expert propagator who, before her death in 2015, dedicated 30 years of her life to collating the roses in the Rookwood Heritage Rose Garden, which was renamed ‘Barbara’s Garden’ in her honour. The work of Barbara May continues today by members of Heritage Roses in Australia and Rookwood Cemetery under the guidance of Sydney group coordinator Glennis Clark.

Clark advises “Rookwood is the perfect environment for rose cultivation as the clay-based soil helps to retain moisture and nutrients,” commented Glennis Clark, Sydney group coordinator of Heritage Roses in Australia.

Rookwood’s heritage roses thrive with sporadic feeding every two years. Winter is an ideal time to plant roses as they are dormant and this will allow them to settle into position ahead of spring blooms and the heat of the Sydney summer.

Many of the most successful species that bloom abundantly are old tea roses, however some varieties have cross-propagated, creating new breeds that have acclimatised to suit the cemetery’s environment.

Clark notes “Tea and china roses can flower all year round however, October through to November is the best time to visit Rookwood as this is when all of the varieties are in full bloom.”

Australia is home to the world’s largest nineteenth century cemetery. The cemetery is now closed to interments and is operated by trusts administering specific sections of the grounds. The nineteenth century was the rose century with hybrid roses the flower to plant in gardens and as a memorial to the deceased.

Some of the heritage roses Rookwood include:


While enjoying the roses at Rookwood, spend time to find the Jewish section of the cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery Trust (JCT) manages Rookwood Jewish Cemetery. The oldest Jewish graves are amongst the earliest in Rookwood Cemetery, having been relocated from their original burial places. The first piece of ground allocated to the Jewish Community for burial in Rookwood Cemetery proper was two acres and one rod in 1867 adjoining No 1 Mortuary Station. In 1881 an additional allocation of 11 acres was made.

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