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The history of Waverly Cemetery

Wed 28th Apr 2021

Waverley Cemetery is an iconic landmark in Sydney. Picture: ThinkStock
Waverley Cemetery is an iconic landmark in Sydney. Picture: ThinkStock

Waverley Cemetery is an iconic Australian landmark. Established in 1877, the site is located at the top of the Bronte Beach cliffs overlooking the Tasman Sea. It spans 16 hectares and contains over 80,000 burials and interments, many of which are decorated with Victorian and Edwardian monuments. It was heritage listed on 28 October 2016 and is recognized as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. It is owned and operated by the Waverley Council.

Indigenous Heritage

The Cadigal people of the Eora nation are the traditional land owners of the site where Waverley Cemetery is located. There is archaeological and non-archaeological evidence of the Cadigal people occupying the land pre-colonisation.

Site History

Waverley Cemetery began operations in 1875 when an old horse tram terminus was purchased; the site where the cemetery would be built. It was formally opened on 4 August 1877 when its first interment took place; Ruth Allen, aged 85. The first manager appointed was William Thomas, who was responsible for the layout of its now famous white marble monuments; its presentation was so well received by the community that Waverley Council recovered establishment costs in the cemetery's first year of operation.

Waverley Cemetery has become famous for the beautiful marble monuments nestled beside the Tasman Sea.
Waverley Cemetery has become famous for the beautiful marble monuments nestled beside the Tasman Sea.

Historical Significance

Waverley Cemetery is the final resting place for many people that not only shaped Australia culturally, but those who helped protect it.132 of the 200 graves attributed to war time conflicts are registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; over 100 from WW1 and approximately 20 from WWII. The cemetery contains a memorial to the Military Forces of NSW inside the main gates, dedicated to officers killed in a sea mine explosion at Middle Head in 1891. The cemetery also houses The Irish Memorial, honouring those who died in the 1798 Rebellion, as well as approximately eleven American Civil War veterans.

Famous Graves

There are many cemeteries around the world that attract tourists due to the fame of the person, or persons, buried in its grounds; Waverley Cemetery is no different. Here are a few:

  • Henry Lawson - Renowned Australian short story writer and bush poet
  • Jules Archibald - Journalist, founder of The Bulletin and benefactor of the Archibald Art Prize
  • Henry Kendall - 19th century author and bush poet
  • William E. Sheridan - Stage actor and American Civil War veteran
  • Dorothea Mackellar - Poet and author, most noted for 'My Country'
  • Ethel Pedley - Author of 'Dot and the Kangaroo'
  • Lawrence Hargrave - Aeronautical engineer, explorer, astronomer and inventor
  • Fanny Durack - Olympic swimmer; the first Australian woman to win a gold medal (1912)
  • W.H. Paling - Paling's music shops founder
  • Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston - Responsible for the arrest of Gov. Bligh in the Rum Rebellion
  • Reuben Uther - Former owner of Sydney's Imperial Arcade
  • Sir James Martin - Former NSW Premier
  • Sir Frances Forbes - First Chief Justice of NSW
  • William Dymock - Founder of Dymocks Booksellers, now known as Dymocks

Film & TV cameos

Waverley Cemetery's most famous on-screen appearance is perhaps Mel Gibson's 1979 film 'Tim'. However, an Italian film based on the 1934 murder of Linda Agostini in Albury NSW titled 'La Ragazza dal pigiama giallo' (translating to 'The Pyjama Girl Case') was filmed on location in 1977. Other appearances include Baywatch Down Under, Dirty Deeds, Home and Away, and Water Rats.

As one of the most beautiful graveyards in the world, Waverley Cemetery has performed as the backdrop in many famous films and shows.
As one of the most beautiful graveyards in the world, Waverley Cemetery has performed as the backdrop in many famous films and shows.

Wildlife Haven

Waverley Cemetery is not only the resting place for loved ones and famous Australians, but an amazing variety of wildlife including foxes, reptiles, frogs and birds such as the fairy wren, have found the seaside location very welcoming and decided to stay.

Weekend strolls through history

Walking tours on Saturday mornings dive into the cemetery's rich history, making stops along the way at the many famous graves to share tales and anecdotes.

By Mario Rodriguez

SOURCES:

  • https://www.waverley.nsw.gov.au/recreation/places_of_interest/waverley_cemeteries
  • https://www.sydney.com/destinations/sydney/sydney-east/bondi/attractions/waverley-cemetery
  • http://www.visitsydneyaustralia.com.au/waverley-cemetery.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waverley_Cemetery
  • https://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/entertainment/article/walk-through-australian-history-waverley-cemetery
  • https://headtopics.com/au/how-life-is-thriving-among-the-82-000-dead-and-buried-at-waverley-cemetery- 1514...
  • https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/content/article/Waverley-cemetery-suburban-wildlife-haven-high-flying-raptors
  • https://www.imdb.com/