CEMETERIES are the time capsule of a community and its history.
Ballarat’s New Cemetery celebrates its 150th anniversary today but part of its history is unwritten.
It is the history of the women whose final resting places are within the cemetery walls.
To celebrate the anniversary, the Ballarat Cemeteries Trust will today launch the 150 years, 150 stories project to gather the stories of the women whose lives have shaped the Ballarat we know today.
“This year Ballarat has potentially the highest number of significant women in leadership roles across the many spheres of industry and government and the Trust felt it was both an important and timely opportunity to recognise the women of Ballarat both past and present,” said Ballarat Cemeteries Trust chair Judy Verlin
The goal of the project is to collect 150 stories and share the lives and contributions of the female leaders, visionaries and pioneers in Ballarat’s cemeteries and learn the stories about them known only by families and friends.
“These are the women of Eureka who fought for democracy, who kept the home fires burning during the war, who marched for the right to vote, who managed families and businesses – and through their everyday lives built the foundations on which we continue to grow,” said Ballarat Community Trust chief executive Annie De Jong.
Much is known about the men buried in Ballarat’s old and new cemeteries but in many cases the women’s graves are unmarked, names unknown or burial records only tell of their role in society but not their contribution.
But there are fears that current trends in memorialisation could result in even more stories disappearing from the region’s history.
Increasing numbers of families opt to have their loved one cremated and spread the ashes at a place of significance to them rather than a cemetery where records are held.
Because the decision of where to place the remains of a loved one are often made during a period of intense grief, they might not be the right decision in the fullness of time.
“They sometimes make a decision to scatter the ashes then years later show regret as they are having problems coming to grips with their grief because they haven’t got anywhere to go that memorialises the person,” Ms Verlin said.
”People deal with death and remembrance differently, but scattering of ashes it makes it hard to memorialise a person for future generations.”
And because the final resting place goes unrecorded, so too can their history.
To submit your contribution to the 150 years 150 stories project visit www.ballaratcemeteries.com.au, email stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Ballarat Cemeteries, 1250 Doveton St North, Ballarat, 3350.
THE EVOLUTION OF MEMORIES
CEMETERIES have changed through the ages as the community’s ideas about commemorating death have evolved.
Once a place of sombre graves and grey headstones recording the basics of a person’s life, they have evolved in to places of beauty, nature, even playfulness, that fit the many different ways we might want to remember.
Ballarat’s New Cemetery, which today marks its 150th anniversary, now has gardens, park-like settings, bushland and child-friendly spaces where families can choose to place their dearly departed.
“People are dealing with death very differently,” said Cemeteries Trust chair Judy Verlin.
“We know that the trend is toward cremation and scattering of ashes but it’s important to have a place that memorialises a person. You can scatter them under rose bushes, or place family around a particular tree or monument. More and more we see people wanting a more natural environment.”
The cemetery has evolved to meet that need, with the Birdsong area a park-like garden with a stream running through it, and Poets Walk a patch of more rugged bush. When ashes are laid in these area a rock is placed with a named plaque on it and the ashes of other family members can be laid here if that is what they wish.
”Rather than an individual or two people under a rose bush, we now know that people are wanting to be with their family.”
Every grave, every memorial, every name has a story behind it of a life lived and how it changed others.
Whether someone was a prominent member of society or the backbone of a large family it is these memories the cemetery wants to hear for the 150 years 150 stories project.
They’re the untold stories of women in the cemetery – like that of violinist Gertrude Healy who after an international performing career in the early 1900s became a music teacher and eventually joined the Convent of Mercy where she spent the last 36 years of her life as Sr M Catherine of Siena and taught music at Sacred Heart.
With the stories received, the cemetery hopes to develop self-guided walking tours so visitors can learn more about Ballarat’s history and the women who helped define its personality.
“Our role as a Trust, a custodian of this place, is to ensure that the cemeteries and their records are held in perpetuity and maintained in perpetuity,” Ms Verlin said. “If we can link a story with that it will benefit future generations.”
SOME of the stories of women buried in Ballarat’s cemeteries we know, but many remain untold. Read how three local women made their mark.
ANNIE MAYNARD WESTCOTT
1875 – 1951
AT THE age of 24, Annie Maynard Westcott began her nursing training at Ballarat Base Hospital and after graduation worked in Ballarat and around the region where the long shifts and dilapidated nurses’ quarters prepared her for the challenges she would encounter near the battlefields of Gallipoli and France.
At 40 she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and in 1915 arrived in Egypt to nurse soldiers injured at Gallipoli. Arbitrary age limits cut short her overseas service and in 1916 Annie left from Suez aboard the Commonwealth, nursing soldiers who were being returned home.
Although buried in the Old Cemetery with other family members, her name was not recorded. In 2016, the Trust and the Ballarat Base Hospital Trained Nurses League held a service to honour Annie and the forgotten nurses of WWI.
MATILDA LOUISE THOMPSON
1871 – 1951
MATILDA “Tilly” Louise Thompson was a woman of many firsts. She became Australia’s first travelling saleswoman when she joined the sales team of textile company E Lucas & Co, and the first woman in Ballarat to obtain her driver’s licence.
Eventually she became the company director.
At the start of WWI, Tilly and the Lucas Girls threw themselves in to charitable works to support the war effort including establishing Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour and building the Arch of Victory.
In 1914, Tilly married wealthy mining speculator William Daniel Thompson. After he died she built Sunways, a large house on Lake Wendouree, which became a refuge for needy ex-servicemen.
The Returned Sailors and Solders Imperial League of Australia awarded her a gold medal in 1939, and she was appointed an MBE in 1941
1951 – 2011
KAREN Overington made a difference to her community as a politician and passionate supporter of the disadvantaged and the people of Ballarat.
She proudly represented her Ballarat West electorate from 1999 to 2010 as an ALP member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1999 to 2010, and before her election to parliament had a long career in local government as councillor for the Borough of Sebastopol from 1982 to 1994, as mayor in 1990-1991, and with the City of Ballarat after it merged.
Born Karen Marie Brown in Ballarat, she attended Sacred Heart College and worked as an electorate officer from 1984 to 1992, and Uniting Church outreach worker from 1994 to 1999.
As MP for Ballarat West until she stood down in 2010 due to ill health, Karen worked hard to improve living standards for the community’s disadvantaged.