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Waverley Cemetery: The Cemetery By The Sea

By September 28, 2022 No Comments

Perched over the Pacific Ocean on the cliffs between Bronte and Clovelly, Waverley Cemetery is possibly Australia’s most picturesque graveyard.

Since it opened almost 150 years ago, it has been a treasured place for the local community. We find out more about the rich history and significance of this tranquil place of remembrance.

The history of Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery: The Cemetery By The Sea

Waverley Cemetery: The Cemetery By The Sea — Photo from Wikipedia

Waverley Cemetery sits on Bidjigal and Gadigal Country of the Eora Nation.

In the mid-19th century, as the European community in the eastern suburbs grew, the newly formed Waverley Municipal Council recognised the need for a local cemetery. From the very beginning, Waverley Cemetery was planned as a grand metropolitan cemetery in the Victorian style, reflecting society’s desire for a scenic, garden-like place where people could visit and remember their loved ones. The cemetery’s layout and extensive use of luminous white Carrara marble memorials and monuments are typical of the Victorian era.

The council purchased a 22-acre parcel of land in a valley between two ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and Waverley Cemetery was opened on 1 August 1877. The cemetery’s first interment (of Ruth Allen, who was aged 85 when she died) took place a few days later.

The cemetery proved very popular with the local community, and in 1890, after the steam tramway was extended to the site, it was expanded to its current 16-hectare size. This was the era when many of the cemetery’s buildings and features, including the cemetery lodge, caretaker’s house, cemetery gates, waiting room, external fencing, shelters, sandstone walling and ground terracing, were constructed.

In 1901, the Devonshire Street Cemetery in Surry Hills was cleared to make way for the construction of Central Station. Some of the remains from that cemetery were reinterred at Waverley.

Throughout the 20th century, the cemetery’s architectural diversity increased as the grandiose Victorian era gave way to more modest Edwardian times and cremation services were introduced. As time went on, the range of styles of funerary monuments in Waverley Cemetery grew, reflecting the religious and cultural diversity and social attitudes of the people of NSW.

Notable figures buried at Waverley

Today Waverley Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 100,000 souls, many of them famous or significant in Australia’s post-colonial history. They include prominent sportspeople, writers and artists, politicians, religious, legal and military figures, educators and women’s rights activists.

Several of Australia’s best-known poets are interred in Waverley Cemetery, including bush poet Henry Lawson and the author of that famous line, ‘I love a sunburnt country … ‘, Dorothea Mackellar. Sporting heroes laid to rest at Waverley include cricketer Victor Trumper, after whom the SCG’s Victor Trumper Stand is named, and swimmer Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack, the first Australian woman to win Olympic gold. JF Archibald, the benefactor of Australia’s most famous art award, the Archibald Prize, lies in Waverley Cemetery, as does William Dymock, founder of the eponymous bookstore business. Several leaders of the 1798 Irish Rebellion, including Michael Dwyer, were reinterred at Waverley following the closure of the Devonshire Street Cemetery in 1901.

The cemetery is the final resting place of several infamous characters, too, including state executioner Robert Rice Howard, known as Nosey Bob after he lost his nose following a kick from a horse, and the colourful underworld figure of the 1970s and 80s, George Freeman.

Waverley Cemetery today

Today, while still a peaceful place to remember those who have died, Waverley Cemetery is also a treasured community green space. It is an important wildlife haven, providing habitat for small birds such as the superb fairy-wren and the New Holland honeyeater. Planting on the graves provides habitat for small lizards and other ground-dwelling species.

The cemetery is also a significant historical site, representing Australian society and its values from post-colonial times to today. In 2016, it was added to the State Heritage Register, and in the same year, Waverley Council nominated it for inclusion on the National Heritage list. Heritage listing affords the cemetery some protections and much-needed access to grants. Given the age of the cemetery and some of its monuments, maintenance and restoration are an ongoing concern.

Waverley Cemetery has become a highly valued public space, attracting locals and walkers from the coastal walk next to the sea at Bronte. With its gorgeous views, stunning monuments and historical relevance, it has become a tourist destination in its own right. Volunteer group Friends of Waverley Cemetery operates walking tours every Saturday morning, which help to raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the cemetery’s monuments. Visitors can choose from tour topics including Prominent Women, Famous Sportspeople and General Historical Figures.

Are you thinking of buying, selling or investing in Waverley, Bronte or Sydney’s Park Coast East region? We’re here to help. Get in touch with my team today.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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