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A Walk Among the Tombstones

On a warm November day, twenty seven members from the Probus club of Tea Tree Gully arrived at the West Terrace Cemetery on the edge of the Adelaide CBD where thry were met by our tour guides, Philippa and Jenny. They were given a brief history of the West Terrace Cemetery and a reminder of the harsh conditions faced by the first settlers in the early days of the South Australian colony.


A cemetery may seem like a strange place to take a walk, but once members entered this tranquil environment the noise of traffic became a distant murmur and only the sound of the breeze and occasional bird calls surrounded us. As they moved around the grounds, it became apparent that the cemetery holds a wealth of South Australian history with all religions and cultures represented.

The different styles of memorials were noticeable, varying from a simple cross to huge granite monuments embellished with gold, thus people from all walks of life have their final resting place here. Several surnames on the headstones were familiar to us, such as Ayers, Finniss, Wyatt, Kingston, Fisher, and Morphett. These names grace many of the streets and suburbs of Adelaide.

There were also many not so well known names, but which are also important to our history, such as Elizabeth Beare believed to be the first person to set foot on South Australian soil aged 2 years, though this has been disputed, and Maria Gandy, housekeeper, and friend to William Light. Another is Robert Thomas, who brought the first printing press to the colony and printed the Proclamation of South Australia document for the 28th December 1836 ceremony.

Among the people buried in the cemetery are those known not only in South Australia but across Australia such as Percy Grainger an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist, .and the Menz family which are famous for inventing the Crown Mints (1892), YoYo Biscuits (1906) and the FruChocs (1948).

The southern hemisphere's first crematorium was constructed within Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery in 1903 and the remains of the cellar and foundations are still visible. The Cemetery It is also home to the Commonwealth's first War Cemetery, the Australian Imperial Forces Cemetery, with over 4,000 ex-service people's graves.

In 1976 plans were afoot to close the cemetery and return it to the parklands but a public outcry stopped these plans and resulted in it becoming the first Heritage listed cemetery in Australia.

Though members barely scratched the surface, the guides gave a very interesting and informative insight to the cemetery and told some great stories about its inhabitants, tempting them to go back and explore some more.

The tour was followed by lunch at a conveniently located hotel, where members enjoyed a hearty meal accompanied by conversation and laughter in the true spirit of fun, friendship and fellowship.