Christchurch Cathedral Park 27.2.2011

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Went for a walk through the Christchurch Cathedral Park early yesterday morning. This park was a cemetery the 1960s when Council removed all but a handful of the gravestones to turn it into a park.

I suspect I’m the only person who has walked down the hill there for a while: it’s hardly busy, which would no doubt disappoint the Council of the day.

There’s a gorgeous view of the harbour beyond rooftops and a huge ship was being brought in as I watched, guided by tugs, blowing its horn (or whatever the nautical term for that is), and having another vessel respond. All at an unsociable hour in the morning, noisy beggars.

The state of the few remaining gravestones on the eastern boundary of the park is saddening, as they’re eroding and becoming illegible, and they’re not enhanced by their cyclone fence backdrop.

 Newcastle Council’s website has some helpful information on the park’s history. A number of links can be found here.

 I asked a relative recently if there were protests at the time of the cemetery’s destruction and she said he recalled none.

Here’s a sad map of the graves as they lay in 1966.

On a website called Haunted Newcastle the story is described as the desecration of the cemetery:

‘In 1966 the Christchurch Cathedral, Newcastle, Cemetery Act was passed. It allowed for any headstones whose inscriptions were illegible to be removed by the Council and the Corporate Trustees and the cemetery to be converted into parkland. Only a three month notice was given in local and state wide newspapers to any family members or relatives of those interred in the cemetery. Family members were able with the approval of the Council to remove the headstones at their own cost…

In the early seventies the majority of the headstones were removed by council and used as fill. With the stroke of a pen the memories of the founders of Australia’s second oldest city were swept away.

Today only three rows of  Headstones remain though the bodies belonging to those headstones do not lie there.’

The Newcastle, Cemetery Act is here.

The park has a fantastic number of trees, about half of which are the greenest tuckeroos I’ve ever seen, and there are some tables and chairs most of which look forlornly as though they’re never used.

A community workshop was held some years ago where this park was discussed (356KB) and some of the barriers to its ability to live up to its potential were canvassed. To the ones below that workshop attendees came up with I’d add that the lack of prominent signs pointing people to the park doesn’t help. What a gorgeous place to eat your lunch on a working day. The workshop mentioned

  • the growth of vegetation within the Park effectively obscures harbour views;
  • the multi-storey car park on the north side of King Street detracts from harbour views;
  • the present treatment of historical gravestones detracts;
  • the 1970s landscaping treatment in the lower area towards King Street is not of high quality.

All of these deficiencies could be addressed in a comprehensive master plan for the site, which should extend beyond the Park boundaries on all four sides to ensure a properly integrated setting, and the site is of sufficient importance for this to be an important prerequisite to further action.’

(I never quite understand that language – a ‘properly integrated setting’. Integrated into what?)

 It remains sad to this day that the city moved the graves.

Imagine moving, destroying, obliterating Père Lachaise Cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Chopin and Maria Callas are buried or Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx and Christina Rossetti and Douglas Adams are buried.

I know Newcastle’s history is a moment in comparison to that of Paris and London but nevertheless. I’m so glad we have a different attitude to our heritage now…

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