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All across Melbourne, there are historic landmarks with a rich heritage. We often see the outside but it’s rare that the public gets to go behind the scenes and really feel that history. That’s why at Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust we decided to include Melbourne General Cemetery in the annual Open House Melbourne event.
Melbourne General Cemetery’s heritage-listed Gate Lodge was opened to the public on the 27th and 28th July 2019 with more than 470 people in attendance across the weekend. The majority of people chose to join the free guided tours offered as part of the Open House Melbourne event. This annual event provides a wonderful opportunity for locals and visitors to access Melbourne’s most significant buildings.
Opened in 1853, the historical and iconic Melbourne General Cemetery is regarded as one of Australia’s most important cemeteries. It was the first cemetery in Victoria to be designed as a public park, with curved pathways, trees and shrubs, gate lodges and rest pavilions. It was also laid out in distinctive denominational sections by architect/surveyor, Albert Purchas.
Visitors were able to participate in self-guided tours or free guided tours of the Gate Lodge and cemetery. They visited a number of notables including Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, explorers Burke and Wills and the famous ghost of the Princess Theatre, Federici.
One of the highlights of the tour was the bell built-in 1869 that used to be positioned in the bell tower. It would toll when the hearse entered the cemetery out of great respect for the deceased. Visitors also enjoyed the costume display features mourning garments from the late 19th century to the early 1900s which are currently on loan from the National Trust. Other artefacts included the scythes used to cut grass, the trolley for moving large burial registers and the bellows used by the blacksmith to shoe horses and sharpen tools. All providing a glimpse into the history of the cemetery.
One visitor shared on Facebook after the event “If you are thinking of going it is well worth it. Lovely to look inside and see the gatehouse and a display of mourning clothes. The horse and carriage are wonderful and nice coffee as well.”
Why do we open our cemeteries for exploration? Because we build trust and friendships in our community that are long-lasting. Our relationships with families are forever. Whether it’s to visit a loved one, to enjoy some time in a beautiful space or to learn more about the history of Melbourne, guests are welcomed to join in regular community events.
Fortunately, this isn’t the only opportunity our community has to explore the grounds and heritage of this important cemetery. We offer regular historical day and night tours of Melbourne General Cemetery led by our knowledgeable guides.
At SMCT, we understand that In a world where people are feeling more disconnected, where sometimes they are not sure where they belong, that we can open up historic spaces that welcome and include all members of the community.
These events give us a chance to hear from our community and social media has opened up the communication and opportunity for connection even more. Here’s what one happy Facebook member had to say: “Was amazing, tour through the gatehouse and display of Victorian mourning clothes was great. The horse-drawn carts and meeting the horses was special. A lovely afternoon.”
To learn more about Melbourne General Cemetery’s rich history and tours, visit: https://smct.org.au/our-locations/about-melbourne-general-cemetery