Thursday, 18 August 2011
Corio Electorate: Geelong Cemeteries Trust
When we think about the story of Geelong and the way in which it is preserved and recorded, we rarely give a thought to the rich resource in our cemeteries. The Geelong Cemeteries Trust manages 13 cemeteries in Geelong and on the Surf Coast. Each is special and significant, not just as a place of burial and solemnity but as a place to remember those who came before us and helped make our city what it is today.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 09:40 to 10:00
For instance, the Geelong Eastern Cemetery is in fact Victoria's oldest working cemetery: its earliest burials date from 1839, when Geelong was barely a town.
Some of our city's and indeed Victoria's oldest families are buried here. The stories of their lives, their successes and their failures are our stories: the stories of our city and region. Sir Charles Sladen, one of Geelong's earliest settlers and a former Victorian Premier, is buried in Geelong Eastern Cemetery, as is James Harrison, who founded the Geelong Advertiser in 1840 and who was famous for pioneering refrigeration technology through the first use of a compressed ether machine in 1844. One of the city's most important pieces of road infrastructure bears his name: the James Harrison Bridge.
We have Alfred Douglass, an enterprising Englishman who prospered on the goldfields and then took a punt on a prefabricated house sitting unclaimed on the Geelong wharf, to thank for the enduring elegance of Corio Villa, one of our city's most significant buildings. Thomas Austin is widely blamed for introducing rabbits into Australia. His graveside is now surrounded by those furry pests in Geelong Eastern Cemetery, where a resilient population continues to create a nuisance by burrowing around trees and digging holes in footpaths. Then there is the Armytage family, who owned Melbourne's Como House. Thirteen family members are at rest in lead lined coffins in their superbly crafted family vault. Charles Brownlow, the Geelong captain whose legend lives on through the AFL's greatest individual accolade, is also buried here.
We can trace our multicultural history through our cemeteries. Not only has Geelong Eastern Cemetery many early Chinese graves but it also has a Jewish section of historical note. When the land was granted in 1849 it became the only Jewish cemetery in Victoria outside Melbourne. In Grovedale the graves of the early German settlers remind us why Grovedale was once called Germantown. And King Billy, known to us as the last of the Barrabool tribe, is buried in the Geelong Western Public Cemetery. During his lifetime he defended his right to live on the land of his people, the Wathaurong, and saw Geelong grow from little more than a camp to a major agricultural centre.
The Geelong Cemeteries Trust reminds us that cemeteries are places of remembrance. For many people they are places of grief and for all they are solemn places. But with this in mind the trust encourages us to visit its cemeteries respectfully and to pay tribute to those who have gone before us. I echo this sentiment completely, and urge Geelong people to get in touch with our history and to honour our past by seeing these extraordinary places. On beautifully worked headstones we read the stories of love and loss, of children mourned and parents missed, which bring alive our history.