Significance of St John’s Cemetery Parramatta

Construction cranes hovering on the skyline near St Johns Cemetery [Photograph by J. Dunn]

Written by Judith Dunn, RAHS Councillor and President of Friends of St John’s Cemetery

In these days of a seemingly mad scramble to develop any conceivable space, the importance of our heritage is sometimes being overlooked by developers.  St John’s Cemetery at Parramatta is the oldest remaining European cemetery in Australia, the first burial recorded on 31 January 1790.  State Heritage listed in 1999, it neatly encapsulates and reflects the early growing town revealing local work trends, prosperity and poverty, how the people were living, population growth and migrations patterns of a surprisingly ethnically diverse population of Chinese, Indian, German, Danish, Aboriginal, African American, British and Muslim people.

Established as a non-denominational cemetery, Christian and non-Christian, convicts and wealthy, 82 First Fleeters and hopeful free settlers lye side by side. It is enclosed by a noteworthy, convict-built brick wall which helps to block out traffic noise and lessen the impact of ever larger developments, the latest of which, immediately across the road, is proposed to be over 60 storeys high. Unfortunately, the sight line to St John’s Church (now Cathedral) has already been lost amidst the high rise. It is significant for its aesthetic value, the colour and texture of material and fabric and scientific value, the research, rarity and quality of available data.  Its social value lies in its focus of spiritual and cultural sentiment and its historic value embraces the stories of all those buried there.

Cemeteries such as this contribute to an understanding of our cultural history, not just NSW but Australia and the world. Overshadowing from a 60-storey development is very worrying.

This article originally appeared in the 14 May 2020 issue of the RAHS eNewsletter. To subscribe to our eNews visit the RAHS homepage.

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