Tomb savers

A walk among the tombstones: Perth MP John Carey welcomed the new register entry as providing clarity for “one of our city’s best kept secrets”.

THE East Perth Cemeteries have been given a permanent entry into the state heritage register. 

It sets in stone a process started back in 1992 when the cemeteries were given an “interim entry” on the register after former Liberal MP Phil Pendal raised concerns gravestones were being vandalised and ghouls were interfering with remains in some of the crypts.

Some places sit on the interim list for a few months or a few years, but 29 years later the cemetery still didn’t have a permanent entry. 

The “interim” category no longer exists in WA’s new Heritage Act 2018 and for the past year the Heritage Council of WA has been working through a backlog to tidy up the books.

Announcing the permanent entry, heritage minister David Templeman said “as we continue to forge our modern identity into the 21st century, it is more important than ever to recognise important places and times from our state’s history that we can learn from and appreciate on an aesthetic level.

“East Perth Cemeteries offer a window into our state’s colonial past and development into the late 19th century, with each headstone telling its own story and feeding into the collective story.”

The cemeteries at 2 Bronte Street were used from the 1830s. About 10,000 people were buried there including the only colonial governor buried in WA, Andrew Clarke (the rest went back to England). 

In 1899 it was designated a “disused burial ground” with burials to cease by 1916, but a few were still permitted through to 1924. 

There were once gravestones nearby where the Perth Girls School now sits, but it was decommissioned  in the 1880s and built over. Resuming bodies from remaining unmarked graves started earlier this year and they’ll find a new resting ground at Karrakatta. 

Confusion between the two sites had fuelled the fears of redevelopment and Perth state MP John Carey welcomed the clarity.

“There have been concerns which are unfounded, but I get it – a fear of part of the site being redeveloped. But that was never the case, and this heritage protection clearly locks it away.”

Mr Carey says he sometimes hears suggestions from people saying “why don’t you beautify the land, put in landscaping and put in rose bushes. But we want it to be retained the way it was in colonial times. 

“The idea of beautifying it would not be an actual historical reflection.”

By DAVID BELL

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