Waterfall General Cemetery – also known as Garrawarra (or Garrawanna) Cemetery – is located north west of Helensburgh, in the northern-most part of the Wollongong local government area. This cemetery was used from 1909 to 1949 as a burial site for over 2000 tuberculosis patients from the nearby Waterfall Sanatorium, which operates today as the Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care.
ED: different NSW government and historical sources refer to the site as GARRAWARRA or GARRAWANNA. We are unclear as to which is correct.
Care of the abandoned, and already overgrown, Cemetery was handed to Wollongong City Council in 1967, along with four other cemeteries that were in use at the time. Today, the site has almost completely returned to bushland, and there is currently no public access.
Since 2012, Wollongong City Council has been conducting research into the cemetery with the help of consultants and local historians. A draft Conservation Management Plan has been prepared by consultants BIOSIS, and we invited the community to give us feedback on the various options for the future management of the site from 20 September to 15 November 2013.
A short film "Not Forgotten: The Story of Waterfall General Cemetery" has also been produced to provide members of the public with a better understanding of the current condition of the cemetery, and its history.
History - Helensburg and District Historical Society
The Waterfall Consumptive Hospital cemetery is situated about one kilometre south of the Garrawarra Hospital on the old Illawarra road. It is on the Eastern side of the road with an 8 metre gravel road running through the centre of the cemetery in an West/East direction. Remains of an entrance gate, gardens, pine grove and parts of the eastern perimeter fence still remain.
The Garrawarra Hospital was officially opened in 1911 as a TB Sanitorium. Burials commenced a couple of years before, as the dates of the tombstones indicate, and stopped in the late 1940s. The hospital had its own mortuary and autopsy lab. The local Helensburgh clergy performed most of the burial services since they functioned as paid Chaplains for the hospital. The cemetery was divided into religious sections, although at the height of epidemic there was not enough time to follow such formalities. Many of the people who died were from England and were buried without a family contact. It was believed in England that a move to Australia may cure the disease.
The Garrawarra Hospital has a record of the more than 2,000 people buried in the cemetery. There was a site plan, but this has been lost. Most sites do not have a headstone and are only marked by a numbered peg. The 2001 Christmas bushfire destroyed most of these, as well as damaging the remaining headstones. Sadly quite a bit of vandalism has taken place. Headstones have been smashed and graves dug up. The cemetery could be repaired, but is probably best left to return to nature.
The Garrawarra (Waterfall Sanitorium) Hospital
As at 1914 the Waterfall State Sanatorium was the principal hospital in the State for the treatment of consumptives and contained 370 beds. In 1919 Waterfall was now the largest sanatorium in NSW and accommodated 788 patients.
After extensive remodelling Garrawarra Hospital was re-opened in 1958 as a Hospital for people with chronic diseases and diseases of the ageing.
Formerly Garrawarra serviced as a tuberculosis treatment facility and was known as the Waterfall State Sanatorium, and in its earliest years, from 1909-1913 as the Hospital for Consumptives.
From the Year 2000 it was determined to change the name to the present Garrawarra Centre for Aged Care to reflect the present day and future diversified role of Garrawarra as a multi-purpose Aged Care Centre specialising in dementia care services.
Images of the hospital and cemetery
Not Forgotten: The Story of Waterfall General Cemetery
Sources & References
- Helensburgh and District Historical Society
- ILLAWARRA MERCURY GALLERY: Forgotten souls of Garrawarra Cemetery
- Helensburgh (NSW) Website
- Youtube - Garrawarra Cemetery
- Wollongong City Council - Garrawanna (sic) Heritage Project
- Health NSW: History of the Garrawanna (sic) Hospital
- Have your Say Wollongong: Waterfall General (Garrawarra) Cemetery