Monday, May 28, 2007

The dead centre of Melbourne

Over the weekend I went on a guided tour of Melbourne General Cemetery. Without wanting to sound morbid, it's one of those experiences that gets you thinking about questions of life and death. Death is the ultimate statistic. Ten out of ten people die, with the possible exception of Connor McLeod from the Highlander movies. This place has a fascinating history, providing a snapshot into Victoria's past, and was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

This cemetery is notable for the number of famous people who are buried there. As the tour guide wittily explained, it's the final resting place of two and a half Australian Prime Ministers, namely James Scullin (1976-1953), Robert Menzies (1894-1978), and Harold Holt (1908-1967). Harold Holt went missing, presumed drowned, whilst swimming in the ocean off the coast of Point Nepean in December 1967. His body was never recovered, hence the half. A designated Prime Minister's Garden at the cemetery contains the graves and Menzies, and a monument to Holt. Scullin is buried in a section of the cemetery for Labor and union movement figures.

Fittingly, Australian billiards champion Walter Lindrum's (1989-1960) grave is shaped like a billiard table, complete with balls and cue. Sir Redmond Barry (1813-1880) was instrumental in the foundation of the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1848), the University of Melbourne (1853), and the State Library of Victoria (1854). but is perhaps most famous as the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, his Victorian fan club had a grave erected in the cemetery to his memory. To this day fans still visit it to pay tribute to him, leaving flowers, toys, and even having their weddings there.

In days gone by, Christian sectarianism was rife, so that each denomination had its own section, be it Catholic, Baptist, Church of Christ, Anglican, Methodist, or whatever. With his tongue planted firmly in cheek, the tour guide explained that Baptists and Methodists could never possibly get along, so they had to be buried separately. This comes as news to me. Of course, this was from an era where it was common for certain Christian sects or denominations to think of themselves as being the one true church, and to consider the others to be apostate. Of course, Christians don't think this way anymore, do they?

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