• Date: 31/08/2018
  • Cemetery: Williamstown Cemetery

Above: Meg Jenkins leads a tour at Williamstown Cemetery. 

A successful volunteer-run group is working to share the rich history and heritage of Williamstown Cemetery, bringing the community together and drawing people back to their local cemetery in the process.

The cemetery in the tight-knit maritime suburb of Williamstown opened in 1858 and is listed in the Register of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria). It is a testament to Melbourne's maritime history through its memorials to lives lost at sea.

Friends of Williamstown Cemetery works to research, protect, conserve and build appreciation of the site’s cultural and historical significance. The group, which has around 50 members, has been running for over two years and is managed by a committee of five.

Connecting with community

Meg Jenkins is one of the group's committee members. She helps deliver guided tours and organised the group’s official launch event in April 2016.

“Because we’re one of the oldest cemeteries, we’re focused on the history and heritage aspects,” Meg says. “Williamstown is like a little country town. A lot of families have been here for several generations. I’m a fifth generation Williamstown resident, so I’ve got a lot of family members buried here.”

Since launch, the group has harnessed the power of social media to actively engage its members and the wider community. Online platforms such as Facebook have allowed the committee to connect easily with Williamstown locals - and those from afar - who have an interest in the area and its historical treasures. This includes a connection with the local historical society to uncover the stories of those interred at the cemetery and participation in working bees with GMCT’s records department to digitise historic records.

“We can now link it all together, work out who the person was and what they did in the community. Each person has a story and a history, and is not just a name,” Meg says.

“The story was that my uncle was buried in a lead-lined grave. I don’t know if it’s true or not. As I participate in record digitisation working bees, I keep hoping I’ll find his paperwork. It’s really fascinating stuff."

Meg has also found it personally satisfying to connect with others looking for their descendants.

“My favourite thing is when people contact us from afar and ask for a picture of a grave. We work out where it is and take a photo. I had a gentleman in his eighties who requested a picture of his father’s grave. He had a baby brother who had died when he was about two years old, and he didn’t know his brother was buried with his father at Williamstown. He rang up, and he was very emotional. It was really lovely.”

Merging past and future

“We’ve got lots of plans for the future,” Meg says. “We want to become an incorporated association so we can apply for grants. We’d like to have a self-guided tour, where people can come and pick up a brochure and do a walking tour. We’d also like to have some historical signage so people can learn a bit about notable people and who they were."

Friends of Williamstown Cemetery also hopes to continue to boost the cemetery’s profile as a community gathering place.

"We did a whole series of events during Heritage Month, including four different cemetery tours. We’ve got History Week coming up in October,” Meg says.

“In the old days they used to come here promenading around after Sunday lunch, but now a lot the graves haven’t been visited for a long time.

“It’s nice that people are coming back to it.”

If you're interested in joining Friends of Williamstown Cemetery or attending one of the group's events, visit their Facebook page