Sydney has a population of just less than 5 million. Rookwood Necropolis (Cemetery) has just shy of 1 million inhabitants, if I may refer to them as that.
While far short of the 5 million buried in Wadi Al-Salaam (the Valley of Peace) in Iraq, Rookwood is the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere and an amazing place to visit.
My regular reader will be aware that I have an interest in visiting (old) cemeteries – not out of any morbid preoccupation with the departed or the afterlife but rather for what one can learn about a location and its social history from visiting such places. Rookwood is a treasure trove in this regard.
Rookwood might be best described as a amalgamation of cemeteries as opposed to one cemetery. It currently caters to 90 different religious and cultural groups and conducts 15 different types of burials – a truly multicultural experience, like Sydney itself.
Anglican, Armenian, Assyrian, Eastern Orthodox, Mandaen, Maori, Chinese, Druze, Hindu, Khmer, Vietnamese, Jewish, Islamic, Baptist, Orthodox, Congregational, Estonian, Jehovah’s Witness, Korean, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, The Salvation Army, Roman Catholic, The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and many more – they are all here.
Since 2012 Rookwood General Cemeteries Reserve Trust (RGCRT) has united the former Anglican, General, Independent, Jewish and Muslim Trusts that previously managed Rookwood.
In addition to a vast array of tombstones (some more resembling small mansions -largest pictured above) the beautifully landscaped cemetery (parts overgrown – adding to the atmosphere, some would say a sign of neglect) with its Serpentine canal and ponds also hosts numerous churches, rest homes, a Chinese Pavilion, Holocaust and merchant marine memorials, a war graves section, a crematorium, a magnificent Celtic cross, three flower shops, a couple of cafés and much more.
The cemetery formerly had three ‘mortuary’ railway stations (within the cemetery) though access today is limited to a network of roads which in addition to permitting access by private vehicle allows the visitor to enter by bus. There are a number of bus stops within the cemetery. Visitors (with a pulse!) can still arrive by train with Lidcombe station, about 10 minutes walk from the cemetery, being the most convenient.
Referring to the cemetery’s railway stations (more in a separate review), they closed in 1948 and one (pictured above – courtesy of Rookwood Cemetery) ended up being taken down brick by brick and transported to Canberra where it was rebuilt as All Saints Church in Ainslie – less than a kilometre from where I live. More details within my Canberra review on the church.
At 286 hectares Rookwood is the largest Victorian era cemetery, established in 1868, still in operation in the world and is of significant national and historical importance.
There is so much to see that one could easily spend a full day here. If you only have a few hours then you’ll need to concentrate on sections which interest you most.
I will, in due course, add more reviews on various aspects of the cemetery which especially interested me – as I hope they will you. After all ‘a city of one million’ generally warrants more than one review!
Given its size, you really do need to plan your visit here or you will aimlessly wander around, walk large distances, and not see much. Preplanned as I was I still managed to get lost a couple of times though not badly. A map can be downloaded from the website below (follow the link to Anglican section for best general information) .
The ‘Friends of Rookwood’ run general tours on the first Sunday of each month together with various themed tours. As none of the tours coincided with my visits I cannot comment on them. Have a look at the ‘Friends of Rookwood’ website for more details – http://friendsofrookwoodinc.org.au/
The cemetery is accessible dawn to dusk but visitor centres, businesses, churches, etc have more restricted hours.
Train to Lidcombe station is the most direct and easiest access from the city (my recommendation).
Bus number 408 which you can take from any of Burwood, Strathfield, Homebush and Flemington railway stations actually goes into the cemetery. Bus 407 gets you close to the Eastern entrance from Burwood or Strathfield railway stations.
Address: Hawthorne Ave, Rookwood
Directions: About 10 minutes walk from Lidcombe railway station
Phone: 02 9746 2177