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In February 2010 I wrote about the resplendent Morton Bay Fig at St Stephen’s Church in Newtown for Festival of the Trees. See http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/st-stephens-fig/ With this post, I aim to describe the cemetery as I have experienced it. To separate the graveyard & the trees is almost impossible as they intermingle & both are quite beautiful.
Once you walk past the massive Morton Bay Fig planted in 1848 & the 2 large clumps of Giant Bamboo, also planted more than a century ago, you follow the dirt road that takes you to the heritage protected Gothic Revivalist St Stephen’s Church & immediately into the cemetery. The graveyard itself starts within metres of the entrance on both sides of the dirt road.
The current cemetery is about 4 acres (1.6 hectares) & is bordered by a high sandstone wall. The land, 4 kms from Sydney’s CBD, purchased by a group of businessmen in 1845, was originally 12.5 acres (4.8 hectares). It was the main cemetery for Sydney until it closed in 1867 because it was full. Even so, a few people were buried here up to the 1940s. All up, about 18,000 people were buried here, though the true numbers are not known because many of the graves hold multiple people, all buried on top of each other. A significant number of the famous are buried here.
In 1948 Marrickville Council reclaimed ¾ of the cemetery land to create a public park & Camperdown Memorial Rest Park opened in 1951. The headstones and other fixtures were brought inside the cemetery wall & I guess the thousands of interred are still under the park while the dog walkers & others play overhead. Rather a gruesome thought, though I know others who question why I think like this.
The tombstones from outside the new boundary were removed & placed inside & against the sandstone perimeter wall & fixed in place with steel nails. Unfortunately, the nails have rusted over time & split many of the headstones. Most of the graves & headstones are made of Sydney sandstone & have seriously weathered over the years.
The graves surround the church, then spread out through the cemetery. I have not been on one of the regular guided tours, so I do not know much about the individuals who were buried here. Directly behind the church is an impressive grave in the style of a boat. My favourite tombstone is a tree stump made of cement. Over time it has weathered & appears real until you look closely.
The cemetery is also special because of the trees. There are Brush Boxes (Lophostemon confertus) planted in the 1960s, Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon), a Lemon Scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora), a Port Jackson Cypress Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), 2 African Olive trees (Olea africana), a number of Melaleucas, a grove of Chinese Elms (Ulmus parvifolia), Canary Island Palms (Phoenix canariensis), a Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), a few Birch trees & a number of Camphor Laurel trees (Cinnamomum camphora). There are also 2 clumps of Giant Bamboo.
If I were to take you on a tour, we would walk down the dirt road passing many graves & a row of Canary Island Palms planted in the 1930s. There is a circular road behind St Stephen’s Church & many of the gravestones in this area are impressive.
From here we would walk into the small area beside the church on the other side. It is somewhat off the path, but it is well worth it because of the enormous Oak that spreads its boughs here. The last time we went it had been raining heavily & the ground was very boggy, which I think would discourage people from going in this direction. In this area the gravestones are sparser, though I would guess there are people buried in unmarked graves. The Oak is magnificent & would be one of the trees that were planted in 1848. The Oak tree spills out claiming a lot of space & I can easily imagine the kids playing on it after church a century ago.
A few metres away a big tree has recently been chopped down. Judging by the side of the stump, I imagine this tree also filled the space now open to the sky. Interestingly, the stump is one of many which is directly next to a grave & over time it has dislodged part of the stone. I would guess there was a tradition of planting a tree where a loved one was buried.
The cemetery did have many Peace roses, but Marrickville Council removed them because it was felt they required too much care. I found one old rose bush planted in a grave, so perhaps it is a remanent of the original roses.
Moving away from this area & rejoining the dirt path that meanders around the left side of the cemetery following the sandstone fence, you pass very old Brush Box & Camphor Laurel trees. Their trunks are massive & they have been left to grow naturally with minimal pruning.
A special site is on your left where those from the shipwrecked Dunbar & the Catherine Adamson in 1857 are buried. I know it is important because these graves are painted white & are well looked after. The dirt path becomes a track & takes you to & along the back wall of the cemetery. Tombstone after tombstone are lined up against the perimeter wall. Some are detailed & very beautiful while others are simple affairs.
The trees in this area are different. They too are tall, but their branches sweep just above the ground & in some cases require you to dodge & walk around them. Some of the graves here are different as well, being just headstones & you have to assess where the grave would be if you don’t want to tread on them.
This part of the cemetery has remanent Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) left over from when the whole area to Botany Bay was covered with this species of grass. It’s nice to look at & I can easily imagine following the walking trail to the sea over miles of this soft grass that would have caught the light & changed colour throughout the day.
To your right is the centre of the cemetery & my favourite area. It has no path, is dense with tall trees & you cannot see the church. Apart from the odd gravestone, you could be anywhere. The grass is long & many of the graves are overgrown. There is a birch wood covering a few metres that have sprung up naturally after the initial trees were planted. There is also some Wattle, a very large a Port Jackson Cypress Pine, more Oak trees planted in 1848 & a grove of Chinese Elms.
In the middle is an old Oak stump that stands about 6 feet high with a natural hollow that ascends to the top. Here I found a piece of hand-made jewellery that has been carefully placed inside. It made me think that I had come across some sort of wishing ritual, so apart from taking a photo, I did not touch it.
One branch from this tree has been left on the ground. It had the most amazing pattern & to me looked almost like rivers taken from space. Interesting that pictures of earth from space can look similar to what we can see in nature & even the same as inside the human body. The patterns repeat again & again. I hope the church authorities leave this stump as it is very beautiful.
Leaving the centre of the cemetery, you return to the path, which widens & takes you back to St Stephen’s Church. Here there are many other tall & old trees, mostly Brush Box.
The most filigree tomb is right in the front left-hand corner behind the Giant Bamboo. Here 4 figures act as columns for a roof structure. Each figure looks different & holds something different. We did not notice the bees that started to gather & had to run away because these bees were quite territorial. There are at least 2 hives situated at the back of the Lodge located a few metres away.
Once you pass the Giant Bamboo & the massive Morton Bay Fig, you return to the front gate & are in the heart of busy Newtown with it’s tiny terraces & narrow streets. If you follow the perimeter fence to your left, you come to Camperdown Memorial Rest Park where a few of the original Brush Box trees can be seen at the edge of the park. This much-used park is where the cemetery was originally, so remember to be quiet. There are people sleeping under your feet.
NOTE: I have tried to create a visual walking tour of Camperdown Cemetery. The photos are labelled 1, 2 , 3 etc & they follow the path as I walked it. You can view this at the following link – http://www.flickr.com/photos/savingourtrees/sets/72157623601096089/detail/
Some things always make me feel good. The first mango or cherry in summer, walking on the beach & feeling the chill of the ocean, sitting down in the theatre to watch a performance & opening a good book. The Morton Bay Fig in St Stephen’s Church Newtown is one such thing. I never fail to feel good when I see this tree & thought it should be this month’s tree & get its own space on Festival of the Trees.
This Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) was planted in 1848. Historians think it was planted to commemorate the completion of the roof on the Lodge, a delightful stone building situated a few metres from the tree. They chose the site to plant well because with a 30 plus metre span & after 162 years, this giant of a tree is not causing problems with the church, the Lodge, the public road or footpath or the internal road within the church grounds.
St Stephen’s Church is situated 4 kms south of Sydney’s CBD & one block back from bustling King Street in Newtown. The 4 acres of the church grounds & cemetery is a green haven in one of the most high-density suburbs of Sydney. Once you enter through the big wrought iron gates, there the tree is, with its massive branches reaching up to the sky. A few metres away is a very old grove of thick bamboo. Then
the dirt road leads you to the beautiful church, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture that was designed by Edmund Blackett & completed in 1874. From there the grounds open up into Camperdown Cemetery, which was founded in 1848 & consecrated a year later. Most of the burials occurred between 1849 & 1867 and ceased in the 1940s.
The grounds are full of many
old trees of various species, some of which were planted in 1848 & along with the Morton Bay Fig, are the oldest trees in Marrickville LGA. Fortunately, the whole site, including the trees & remanent Kangaroo Grass, is listed as a site of national importance by the Heritage Council of New South Wales & the National Register & is therefore protected from development.
Many people use the grounds daily to walk their dogs, picnic, read in solitude or meditate. The church kindly encourages this & for the most part, the community is respectful to the place, though when I downloaded the photos I did discover some faded nazi graffiti on the back of 4 gravestones.
It is a quiet, peaceful & very beautiful place. St Stephen’s is a popular church to be married & to have wedding photos taken under the Fig tree. There is a strong sense of history everywhere you look.
The Fig tree has enormous aboveground roots. It must be due to its age & I have never seen roots so high. The height of the roots gives me a strange, but wonderful feeling of entering the tree when I walk up close. It is like being embraced. Some people call it ‘the Peter Pan tree’ because of a hollow in the root system. The photos don’t convey either the size of this tree or how far the roots extend.
Currawongs nest in this Fig tree & its fruit feeds bats & other birds. At dusk the whole site comes alive with the sounds of birds that return home to settle in for the night. It’s lovely & loud.
So every now & then, we go for a walk, stop & say hello to the Fig tree before walking around the cemetery. It is without doubt my favourite tree & I know I am not alone in having strong feelings toward this tree & the cemetery as well.
In my area such beautiful places with many very old trees are rare. Far too many of our old trees have been cut down & even our mature trees are at risk.
There are 4 other very old Fig trees in Marrickville LGA that I am aware of. Three are in the grounds of the new Ikea development in Tempe & the locals & many others are holding their breath that the new building works will not harm them. Their canopies have been left to grow naturally so they look like upturned gigantic green bowls. At the moment they are clearly visible from the Princes Highway. Some Tempe residents take a walk & check on the state of these trees every day. The other old Fig is in South Street Tempe. It too is magnificent. Unfortunately I can’t photograph it properly because it is on private land.
I don’t think the Morton Bay Fig on the grounds of St Stephen’s Church would have been allowed to live so long if it had been growing on public land. The fact that it is on church land has ensured that it is loved & protected. The church should be commended for this. The church caretakers haven’t caused stress to the tree’s roots by paving or laying a bitumen road thereby compacting the soil. Everything is almost as it was more than a century ago & we all love it that way. If they continue to look after it, this tree could well live for a few hundred years more. Imagine how majestic it will look then.
Next month I will write about the wonderful old trees planted inside Camperdown Cemetery.
SoT concentrates on trying to save, preserve & protect healthy trees in public spaces, yet sometimes the loss of trees on private property deserves mention. Generally most residents of Marrickville LGA are unaware of the loss of the older, perhaps historic trees unless they are directly affected or when they recognise that ‘something’ in a particular area has changed. The presence of trees is something we take for granted & it is often only if they all go & the landscape is radically changed that we recognise their loss.
I have decided to document the loss of our big older trees or when a mass of trees are removed regardless of whether they were situated on private property or not. This post informs of a recent loss & one that is about to occur.
In September 09, 2 heritage listed 77 year old Fig trees, 1 other Fig tree, which were alive & growing in 1943, 1 mature Plane tree & 2 mature Eucalypts were chopped down in Ferncourt Primary School Marrickville South to make way for the building of a school hall as part of the Federal Government’s stimulus program. The loss of these trees caused much grief to those in the community who know about it. The community tried to find solutions that would enable all the trees to be retained, but their efforts were unsuccessful. You can read about these trees & see photos at the following -http://ecopond.blogspot.com/2009/09/trees.html Thanks to Voren a local resident who sent me the link to her blog.
Last Tuesday 2nd February 2010 the Labor & Independent councillors voted to approve a DA for the St Vincent’s de Paul State Office 2C West Street Lewisham. Many of you will know it as the old Lewisham Hospital site. It is situated across the road from Petersham Park with its lovely oval, numerous old, very special trees & the Fanny Durak Pool. The DA was seeking to demolish an existing brick & stone fence, remove 32 31 mature trees & construct a new fence, driveway & landscaping. The trees that are to be removed give the feeling of a tree-lined avenue as they match those on the opposite side of the road in size & were probably planted at around the same time so their loss is going to have major visual impact. 3 Palms will be relocated.
The whole St Vincent’s de Paul site is heritage listed, including the fence. The DA said:
- the existing fence does not provide sufficient security for residents of an aged-care facility & a woman’s refuge on site.
- the fence is also suffering structural problems due to the height of the soil inside the property & the presence of mature trees, both of which have caused the brickwork to move & lean outward in some parts.
While I agree with both points, after going to the site & having a look, I believe that the removal of the trees is unnecessary unless the aim is to get a more modern, streamlined effect to match the new shiny glass black building.
The fence is bowing outwards. The ground is built up on the inside of the fence. This looks to be deliberate & would have been in place for many decades. I wonder why they just cannot remove the old brick fence, built a new, higher one to improve the security & replace any soil dislodged during construction of the new fence. If they do this, they will be able to retain most if not all of the trees.
St Vincent’s de Paul intends to replace the 32 trees with a mix of lawn, low scale planting, screen planting & Crepe Myrtle, Tuckeroo & Summer Red Gums. I think they want to do this to modernise the place & perhaps allow more onsite parking.
The trees to be removed are decades old. I would guess around 80 years. Most have massive trunks (2-3 metres) & as such are significant sequesters of CO2.
The front of the Lewisham complex looks a mess at the moment because there is building work happening & the front & side of the property has a cement barrier erected to prevent pedestrians being flattened by any part of the fence if it decides to collapse. However, when you enter the property, the noise immediately abates because the trees block a lot of the traffic noise. It is cool, visually pretty & smells nice. It is a relaxing place despite the construction work.
Enter past the front buildings & further into the property & you come across one of Sydney’s hidden gems. There is a contemplation garden complete with life-size religious statues, a small cemetery, old hand-made stone seats tucked into raised garden beds, a variety of mature trees & an old fashioned & very beautiful garden. Birds, insects & lizards are everywhere. Further in there is a school with 3 massive trees with huge natural canopies that shade the playground. There are also many heritage buildings with curved silo-like attachments, a gigantic copper dome & an enormous & exquisitely beautiful sandstone church. The
complex is dotted with enormous Eucalypts & other trees, all of them mature.
Two families of Bandicoots live on the property. I was told the Bandicoots live “out front & in the trees along Thomas Street.” Where will these animals go when their homes are removed? The animals can’t just cross the road & take up
residence in Petersham Park because animals are territorial & other animals probably won’t allow them to move in even if the conditions are right.
The St Vincent’s de Paul complex is a green oasis that provides significant habitat for wildlife one block from the heavily trafficked Parramatta Road & about 6 kms from Sydney CBD. It’s not that I think everything should stay the same & there should be no progress, but sometimes progress can ruin something very special.