Nothing is forever, not even cemeteries; one of the largest exhumations of human remains took place just outside the Perth CBD, providing historians with significant research.
In Perth, Western Australia there's major archeological work has been underway to research the site of Eastern Perth Cemeteries. Human remains are bein exhumed for reburial elsewhere to prepare the site for development.
East Perth Cemeteries was the first cemetery established for the Swan River Colony in 1829 in East Perth, Western Australia. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 people were buried there between 1829 and 1919 in seven independently administered denominations or sections which is why the place is known as 'East Perth Cemeteries'. Only around 800 gravesites have been identified. A large section of the original site has since been built over, leaving about 5 hectares (12.5 acres) remaining.
The site, which is a short distance from Gloucester Park and the WACA Ground, is now bounded by Plain Street, East Perth, Wittenoom Street, Bronte Street and Waterloo Crescent.
In the 1930s, the various church authorities relinquished control of the individual grants and the entire site was then re-vested as Crown land and declared a disused burial ground. From the mid-1930s, control and responsibility for the grounds moved between various government departments and numerous projects were undertaken to refurbish the historic site.
Much of the area devoted to the Chinese, Jewish and Presbyterian sections was originally located west of Plain Street, and an unused Anglican section was located south of Bronte Street. In the late 1940s, these sections were excised and existing headstones removed. Some land west of Plain Street was used by the former Perth Girls' School. Fences separating the individual cemeteries were removed and those areas are now roadways, carparks and commercial and residential buildings. An access road called Forrest Avenue (previously Cemetery Road) crossed diagonally over the block which now houses the multi-storey Main Roads office building. Extensions of Wickham and Horatio Streets have been incorporated into the grounds.
A major redevelopment project in the late 1980s provided for landscaping and perimeter fencing to protect the church and remaining monuments from vandalism.
In 1994, the National Trust of Western Australia became responsible for the management and conservation of the East Perth Cemeteries after being approached by the Department of Conservation and Land Management.
The East Perth Cemeteries are significant for the following reasons:
the place is a rare surviving group of colonial cemeteries which have retained a high degree of integrity and authenticity within the central business district of an Australian capital city
the place is associated with the growth of Perth from a small colonial community to a thriving metropolis and contains the graves from a cross-section of its first colonists from the 1830s – 1890s. The place is also associated with a number of public servants and religious leaders who were important to the development of colonial Perth
NATIONAL TRUST WA
Australian Development Capital has formally acquired the site from the Western Australian Government and, in conjunction with the Perth Girls School site, is planning a mixed use neighbourhood. A condition of the sale requires the exhumation and reinterment of any human remains identified during the excavation. A specialist team of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists are undertaking the fieldwork and post-excavation analysis of the remains.
Although the National Trust has never managed this section of the cemeteries, its history is integral to our understanding of this significant historical site. Until it closed, almost all of the people who died in Perth, from the wealthy and prominent, to the poor or unknown were buried here. The National Trust therefore is working with the developers and the archaeologists to build as much knowledge as possible about this little known area of the site.
East Perth Cemeteries closed for burials in 1899 however burials were permitted in existing graves until 1916 and again in the 1940s. Located on the western side of Plain St between Bronte and Wickham Streets, the land was relinquished and made available to the Education Department. It was levelled for tennis courts for Perth Girls School in 1958.
Although there are no surviving records of who and how many people are buried in this section of the old cemeteries, it is known members of the Presbyterian and Chinese communities were buried here. All individuals exhumed will be reinterred at Karrakatta Cemetery in an area to be known as the East Perth Cemeteries Memorial garden.
A database of known burials in the sections of East Perth Cemeteries on the east side of Plain Street managed by the National Trust can be accessed here. East Perth Cemeteries is open on Sundays from 2–4pm where our volunteers can assist with database searches and location of graves.