“Why don’t we walk through the cemetery tonight?” It’s not every day that someone makes a suggestion like that. Walking through Melbourne General Cemetery in the day would be interesting enough, but adding the element of darkness makes that invitation so much more enticing.
The cemetery, which was established in 1852, is almost full. Among the notable graves are two Australian explores, a boxing champion, and four prime ministers. One of those prime ministers, Harold Holt, isn’t actually buried here though. His stone is simply a memorial as his body was never found after he went missing while swimming in the sea back in 1967.
A final resting place here is costly, much the same as all property in Melbourne. Graves are scarce and a space in the most recently built mausoleum can cost a heart-stopping $72,450! However, for ‘just’ $9,600 one can buy a single crypt at Melbourne General Cemetery and be neatly stacked away with other dead people in Australia’s first “non visitation” mausoleum.
According to Jonathan Tribe, chief executive of Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, the non visitation option gives people “at a relatively low cost” the chance to “realise the ambition” of having their relatives interred at a this “iconic location within the City of Melbourne.” That might seem like a lot of money to pay for a final resting place that nobody can visit, but Tribe himself pointed out “the reality is that in two generations’ time, very often we don’t visit our relatives, we lose the connection.”
That fact was not far from my mind as we walked around the cemetery reading the names of people, many of whom have surely become, as Tribe put it, disconnected with their living relatives.
The moon was bright and cast a silver light over us as we threaded a path between headstones, mortified angels, crosses and various versions of Jesus. Some of the graves are collapsed and in the advanced stages of decay. Others are polished and adorned with plastic flowers, saving those left behind the bother of having to tend to the departed as often as real flowers would demand.
Among the headstones there are a number of double-width graves for married couples. We noticed at least one where the side of the headstone reserved for the partner remained blank, despite the fact that the partner would clearly have died by now. It seemed sad that the first person is laying there in perpetuity waiting for the other who obviously had a change of heart.
Walk by Melbourne General Cemetery using Google street view.
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