Melbourne General Cemetery was established in 1852 and opened in 1853. Since then, over 300,000 people have been buried here. It was the first modern cemetery in the state of Victoria, designed like a public park with wide paths, separate religious areas, and evergreen trees. Its oldest buildings are the Jewish Chapel, completed in 1854 and the Catholic Mortuary Chapel which dates back to the 1870s. The heritage-listed gate lodge was rebuilt in the 1930s.
The cemetery is notably the resting place of four Australian Prime Ministers, which is more than any other necropolis in Australia. Additionally, there is a memorial to Prime Minister Harold Holt who disappeared when swimming in 1967. His disappearance/death has become a part of Australian folklore, including the conspiracy theory that he was abducted by a Chinese submarine. Harold Holt has been commemorated by, among other things, the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre. Along with Holt’s memorial in the Prime Ministers’ Garden are Robert Menzies (and his wife Patti Menzies), John Gorton and Malcolm Fraser. James Scullin is buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery.
Aboriginal leader Derrimut, who warned early European settlers about an attack from another Aboriginal tribe in 1835, is also buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. He is a complex figure whose actions are discussed in depth in the Australian Historical Society’s article ‘‘You have all this place, no good have children …’ Derrimut: traitor, saviour, or a man of his people?’. Derrimut’s name persists in the Melbourne suburb of Derrimut, Mount Derrimut, and streets in Footscray and Sunshine. As Derrimut did not fit into the religions that controlled the cemetery, he was buried in the Chinese section. His headstone, which identifies him as a ‘Native Chief’ goes against Aboriginal rites, as traditionally they don’t mark their graves.
Also buried in Melbourne General Cemetery are the explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills. Burke and Wills famously walked across Australia from south to north. The exact dates on which Burke and Wills died are unknown and different dates are given on various memorials in Victoria. It is also unclear whether they died of nutritional disease, such as scurvy or beriberi or starvation. Their date of death has been fixed as the 28th June 1861. Their bodies were recovered in January 1863 and givens state funerals before being interred in Melbourne General Cemetery. Their epitaph reads “Comrades in great achievement, companions in death and associates in renown”.
Other notable interments include Redmond Barry – Acting Chief Justice who sentenced Ned Kelly to hang; Frank Hare – police officer in charge of the hunt for Ned Kelly; underworld figure Mario Condello; Patrick Hannan, who discovered gold at Kalgoorlie; Walter Lindrum – billiards champion (his tomb is not to be missed); and John Macadam, the scientist for whom the macadamia nut was named. The cemetery contains the war graves of 91 Commonwealth service personnel, more than 30 from World War I and more than 50 from World War II.
Dying to visit Melbourne General Cemetery?
Melbourne General Cemetery is open 365 days a year from 8am to 6pm, or 8pm from October to March. The closest bus stop is Cemetery Rd/College Cres (Parkville). If you are travelling by car, there are entrances located in College Crescent or Macpherson St, and free parking is available.
remember you will die
remember you are alive
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