What a glorious title: In Memoriam: Guide to History and Heritage of Victorian Cemeteries. What a shame the introduction did not go on to say, "be quick to see them before all the good bits disappear".
The cemeteries of Victoria and particularly the cemeteries in Ballarat are the last resting place of those hardy souls who made our civilisation what it is today and their memory must be maintained.
Thankfully in Victoria, unlike some other states, the actual grave sites of our pioneers are unlikely to vanish forever, but not so the many historic monuments erected to commemorate their time among us.
In the early days, the custom was to commemorate the passing of a family member, or notable, by the erection of a quite large, often very ornate, stone monument.
Many such structures are to be found within the cemeteries of our region and lots of them are edifices of the very finest quality.
Like the monuments in Sturt Street and the gardens, the most ornate of our cemetery monuments are now well over 100 years old and time is taking its toll many need attention, the majority minor but in some cases major the question I have been asking for a long time is "who is responsible"?
The answer simply is that "no one is responsible" and no one seems to really care unless there just happens to be a distant relative alive who can be found and who will rise to the occasion.
Recently our council refused the demolition of a house in Wendouree Parade claiming that it deserved heritage protection on the basis that it had been designed by a notable (although contemporary) architect just a very ordinary recently-built house, but now heritage protected.
Monuments erected in the Ballarat cemeteries in the late 1800s and the early 1900s were all hand-carved and frequently hand polished by artisans whose skills have largely vanished.
Many were carved out of stone which is simply no longer available for use, and none are heritage protected. Although located in a cemetery many of these pieces are in their own right high quality works of art which are the equal of the best sculptures to be found anywhere across our city indeed nationally. Many are of a far finer quality than some to be found along our streetscapes and in the gardens yet they are left to quietly disintegrate for the want of a little care and more importantly simple recognition of the cultural, artistic and historic importance of them.
Ballarat claims to be the most intact heritage city in Australia. Ballarat goes to great lengths to preserve the facades of our heritage buildings in the name of the preservation of history: even now the reputation of a contemporary architect.
It might be little known fact but, in the late 1800s, one F.W Commons, a local Ballarat stonemason, using local and imported stone, was carving memorials and monuments many of which were being exported from Australia to customers in America.
What about commemorating his extraordinary achievements by preserving examples of his work?
In Ballarat and in other places, we see cemeteries dotted with memorials commemorating our historic past and our pioneers simply falling down for the want of a little recognition and indeed in many cemeteries (including Ballarat) many are slated for demolition.
Historic preservation is a double edged sword, one cannot just play at being a little bit heritage, to be fair, it must be all or none.