HISTORIC CEMETERIES

Confessions of a taphophile

One of my favourite things to do on a holiday is visit cemeteries. People who have a passion and enjoyment for visiting cemeteries are known as ‘taphophiles’. You may be thinking that’s a bit morbid. Why would you want to spend your free time with the dead? Cemeteries aren’t just for the dead. They’re places of history, community and calm which showcase the beauty of the landscape. Maitland has some of the best cemeteries around. As a self professed taphophile, I have two favourites in Maitland. I share these beautiful spaces with my family and friends and they’re always pleasantly surprised by these somewhat hidden gems.

Maitland Jewish Cemetery is one of the earliest and most intact Jewish Cemeteries in Australia. Nestled between paddocks, I was sceptical that there would even be a cemetery down the long dirt track when we began our hunt. Sure enough my guests and I found it surrounded by a wooden picket fence making us feel as if we’d stepped back in time. As a local, I would recommend parking by Louth Park Road and walking up the track. It will save you having to reverse all the way out later. This space for contemplation and remembrance reminds visitors of the varied community that takes Maitland such a unique and inspiring place. The ornate symbols which appear throughout the cemetery are testaments to the skills of local stonemasons of the time and give a glimpse into Jewish traditions. Walking through the wood chips and observing the restored headstones gives my guests and I a great appreciation for the conservation works which have taken place here. These initiatives restore places of importance and secure their legacy for a new generation. It’s hard to believe this cemetery was once overgrown with waist high weeds and left to be forgotten. Thanks to conservation, time continues to pass around Maitland Jewish Cemetery but its memories remain.

Glebe Cemetery is a new favourite which I only discovered after moving to Maitland. This cemetery has seen East Maitland grow up around it so you can ignore the address google provides. To find this elusive cemetery you’ll need to head to the end of George Street where it meets Flinders Street. There you’ll be greeted by an open green field and a sign introducing you to the famous architect Francis Greenway. Although the location of Greenway’s grave is unknown research indicates he may be buried within this cemetery. Past the sign are an array of headstones beckoning in the distance set amongst the paddocks of East Maitland. Visitors will  need to walk down a grassy slope and across a quaint wooden bridge allowing access onto the site. Standing in the cemetery it can be overwhelming how quiet it is. The urban hum can no longer be heard and you can be alone with your thoughts. One of mine was that I should really have my next Victorian inspired picnic in this cemetery. That’s what every cemetery visit needs, tea and cake. Throughout the cemetery are small bursts of colour from flowering weeds and great monuments surrounded by fences as the earth starts to devour them creating cave like chasms. Visitors will need to watch their footing throughout this site as headstones aren’t always vertical and memorialised names come popping through the grass. Glebe Cemetery is truly impressive. Its unique location is like nothing I’ve seen before and this taphophile has visited cemeteries all around the world.

Visiting cemeteries might seem strange but these aren’t just spaces for grief and loss. They provide us with history, art, wildlife, peace, quiet and best of all they’re free! So crack out your walking shoes, pack a picnic and explore the cemeteries of Maitland. You’ll be a converted taphophile in no time.

If you are researching for your family’s history there are groups in Maitland who can help you  through your search including the Maitland Genealogy Society and Maitland City Library. If you are not sure where to start stop by the Maitland Visitor Information Centre and the friendly staff will point you in the right direction. 

Story by Genevieve Graham