An Inside Look: Rookwood

    At over 314 hectares Rookwood Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere (and thus Australia).  It is also the largest active Victorian cemetery in the world.  More than a million people have been buried at Rookwood since it opened in the 1860s.  It is so large that it had to be divided up and run by different organisations.  Many of which are religious based.  So one should think of Rookwood as several different cemeteries all in one place.  
    Rookwood might be the most diverse cemetery in the world.  While other cemeteries are bigger Rookwood has a huge variety of religions and cultures.  A good representation of the Sydney population.

    I have had trouble writing this post.  Rookwood is such as large and complex place that I really didn't know where to start.  Instead I wrote a few little posts and then put them together.  Hopefully this will give a good overall representation of Rookwood.  But with the open day only a week away I had to get this post finished.

    This post is divided into four parts.  The first looks at getting to and around Rookwood.  The second is a brief discussion of the history.  The third is an explanation of the different groups operating in Rookwood.  Finally the forth part is just a few extra details and information.

    Rookwood open day - Every year towards the end of September Rookwood has a big open day; there's tours of crematoriums, embalming talks, hearses, historic tours, parades, funeral home displays, and much more.  If you're interested in Rookwood or the funeral industry it is well worth a look!!

Part 1: Getting to & around Rookwood

    The cemetery gates are open sunrise to sunset everyday.  However, different groups and buildings within Rookwood have their own hours of operations.  So while the cemetery might be accessible the buildings might not be open.

    I strongly recommend you bring a map if unfamiliar with Rookwood.  This is quite literally the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere.  Plus as I explain below it can be tricky and deceptive.  If you know you are going to Rookwood print out one of the many maps I link to below.

My favourite map.
Map of Rookwood trusts and organisations.  Has many main landmarks and main offices.  A very good and informative overall map that shows Rookwood in its entirety.

- Google Map of Rookwood.  A nice overall map, with satellite overview options it is a good way to 'see' and thus get a feel for Rookwood.

Anglican sections in Rookwood.  Has details on the Anglican and related areas.

- Catholic sections in Rookwood.  Has many of the main Catholic buildings and details.

- Jewish sections in Rookwood.  Details of the Jewish section and office.

- Independent sections in Rookwood.  An old and low quality map detailing the independent sections.

    Rookwood is located at Rookwood, NSW, in the Inner West part of Sydney.  The cemetery does not have a specific address because it is so large.  Think of Rookwood as a whole suburb, not a single address.

View Larger Map

Getting there:

    Bus and train timetable and instructions.

    Because of how large Rookwood is it makes it very easy to find and get into.  There are two entrances to Rookwood, I will describe both in detail:

The East Gate:  This gate is located on the East side of the cemetery, on Weeroona Rd, just off Centenary Drv.  The East Gate is my favourite as it is the easiest to get in and out of.  Simply turn left or right off Centenary Drv and go straight!  There are also plenty of signs on Centenary Drv to warn you where to turn.  But to make it easier if you are traveling South on Centenary Drv it is the next lights after Arthur St.  If you are going North then keep left after the Hume Hwy and turn left at the next lights.

The West Gate:  This gate is located on the West side of the cemetery, at the intersection of East St and Victoria St East.  This is a nicer gate to go through, and quite easy.  It is right on the round about so you can easily go right to get in or out.  However the turn at the gate after getting in is tight.  Hearses and trucks go through here daily, so a car should fit fine.  To get into this gate simply drive along East St, or Victoria St East and turn at the large stone gates with "Rookwood" on them.

Getting around Rookwood:
    Getting into Rookwood is easy, getting out and navigating it are the harder parts.  I strongly recommend you bring a map.  However there are two things to remember if using a map in Rookwood:
1. Not all roads are listed.  While most streets and roads are listed on the map and GPS not all are here.  Some of the little or less used ones are painfully absent, especially with the GPS.  Even the Google Map of Rookwood shows most of the roads but not all of them.
2. It is deceptive.  Cemeteries are generally deceptive, it might appear as though you are driving straight, but you have actually just gone in a circle.  There are few landmarks, the roads look similar and there are many small side roads snaking off everywhere.
    Rookwood is a rather large place with lots of dead end streets, dirt and gravel roads and tight turns.  It is not a place one wants to get lost if they have somewhere to be.  Having said this Rookwood is not too difficult to get around, especially if you do it once or twice.  With a map and/or some experience you have nothing to worry about.

An example of a long narrow road.
This is a two-way street with very tight corners at each end.
The large circle by the West gate.  Doesn't look like a round about or
even a circle in person.
Another view of the deceptive circle.
    This is included in part 1 as I see it as part of getting to and around Rookwood.  Parking is very variable in Rookwood.  Some sections of the cemetery are great, nice wide roads and plenty of places to stop.  Other times the road will be narrow and involve a walk to the graveside.  My only advice is to just do your best, and sometimes remember that parking in a parallel street can get you closer to the graveside than parking at the back of the cortege.  Just remember not to get lost looking for a parallel street!! It has happened.

Part 2: History

    Rookwood has a rather interesting an unique history for Sydney cemeteries.  Here is a link to the wikipedia page on Rookwood.  It is actually quite decent for explaining the history.


    In the 1840s cemetery space in Sydney was filling up and a new cemetery was needed.  So a new cemetery was proposed in Randwick.  But this was scrapped in 1859 due to complaints by local residents and churches.  The trend for cemeteries was to build them on the outskirts of the city.  It was cheaper and people were more accepting of the cemetery not being so close.  A new rail line had recently been completed between Sydney and Parramatta in 1856.  So they decided to build the cemetery on this rail line.  In 1862 the government purchased 80 hectares at Haslem's Creek.  However another source states that closer to 100 hectares were bought.  Either way the site was prefect for a cemetery, isolated and close to a rail line.  The cemetery was called Haslem's Creek Cemetery, yet most people knew it as "the Necropolis".

    They divided the cemetery into different denominations according to their numbers in the 1861 census.  The government designated 23 hectares were as non-denominational, the Church of England got 21 hectares and the Catholic church got 14 hectares.  However in 1879 more land was needed and another 233 hectares were added.  Haslem's Creek was now about 314 hectares and had several buildings, including churches, chapels and cottages for managers.  Quite impressive for the late 1800s.

    There was still discontent and dislike of Rookwood.  The residents of a local village wanted to change the name of the cemetery to disassociate their village with the cemetery.  In 1879 the name of the cemetery was officially changed to "Rookwood".  The nearby settlement of Rookwood then changed its name to Lidcombe in 1913.

    The cemetery opened in 1861, grew in 1879 and was renamed 'Rookwood' in 1879.

    Although we should note that there are references to 'Rookwood Necropolis' as early as 1793.  So it was not a new name or concept for Sydney.

    Below are some photos I took of the historic areas in Rookwood.

Angels sit on top of many graves, looking down.
Old monumental style graves.

More old monumental graves. 
There are some very old and very vibrant red sandstone graves.
Unfortunately many are falling appart. 

Nature has consumed the graves.
Just next to the Necropolis Circle sits this old and pretty structure.

Once this would have been all graves, now it's more a field.
An old Chinese grave, fallen over and only exposed after
recent mowing in the area.

The Railway:

    Rookwood once had a rail line, which was part of the Sydney suburban rail network.  The Rookwood rail line opened in October, 1864, although it was not until January 1865 until trains actually started to run along the line.  The first regular service was advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1867.

    It was considered necessary to build a station at the cemetery.  The location was a considerable distance from Sydney centre and from the main station at Haslem's Creek.

    During operation there were four stations at Rookwood and one on Regent Street in Sydney CBD (which still stands today).  The funeral trains would have left from the Regent street station.  The first and most notable station at Rookwood was Cemetery Station No.1.  Opened in 1867 and closed in 1948.  It was an ornate sandstone building.  In 1958 it was moved to Canberra and converted into a church.  Recently in 2000 restoration work was done at Rookwood to uncover and fix the original site of the station.
    In the 1930 there were almost no trains running funerals.  After the 1930s the trains were only used on this line for mourners on Sundays and Mothers Day.  The rail line was reviewed during WWII in the face of petrol rationing.  Yet this did not save it and the last train was run in 1947.  In April 1948 the service was officially close and the line dismantled.

Map of each trust and organisation within Rookwood.
Click to enlarge.
Part 3: The Organisations

    Think of Rookwood not as one cemetery, but one place with several cemeteries and crematoriums.  Because it is such as big place with such a rich history that there was no way for one group to manage Rookwood.  So Rookwood is divided into several different 'trusts'.

You can download the map to the right here.

Anglican & General Cemeteries:
    I start with the Anglican and General Cemeteries Trusts as it is both alphabetical and this is the largest section.  The Anglican and General Cemeteries Trust looks after 92 hectares, about 33% of Rookwood.  As you can see on the map above, the light blue section is rather large.

    The Anglican Trust covers more than just Anglican burials.  It also looks after Armenian, Assyrian, Macedonian Orthodox, Mandaen, Maori, Serbian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox.  While the General Trust looks after Chinese, Druze, Hindu, Indochinese, Islamic, Khmer and Vietnamese burials.

    This group also owns and manages the Reflections Rookwood Cafe near the East entrance.  A rather nice and well priced cafe staffed by decent people.

- Phone: (02) 9746 2177
- Hours: 7:30am to 4:00pm weekdays, 8:00am to 12:00pm Saturdays.  Close public holidays.
Contact Page.

Catholic sections map.
Click to enlarge
Catholic Cemeteries & Crematoria:
    Established in 1867 the Catholic section of Rookwood was once quite small.  Only about 14 hectares.  However now it is the second largest section, occupying about 33% of the cemetery grounds.

    You can download a PDF of the Catholic map here.

    Working at a predominantly Catholic funeral home I dealt more with the Catholic section than any other at Rookwood.

The Catholic office:
    This organisation insists that all funerals must go to the office before going to the graveside.  This is actually not unusual for a cemetery as the conductor needs to exchange paperwork with the cemetery staff before burial can take place.  However the Catholic office makes the cortege wait for "the little red car" also known as the lead car.  This is a small red Toyota Yaris which will drive in front of the hearse, leading it from the office to the graveside.  The issue with this is that it looks strange and the red car is very, very slow.  Slow even for a funeral cortege.

    An issue with this system is not only the slow car, but where the cortege stops.  For obvious reason there is a large car park right by the Catholic office.  And another one within sight.  Sometimes if the cortege is long it will have to snake through the car park to not block the road.  Either way mourners see the hearse stop, see the car park and get out.  Only to then watch the hearse drive off, leaving them behind in the largest cemetery in Australia.  It is only natural for people to do this, most do not know the system, have been driving for a long time and see everyone stop.  Right next to them are toilets and a car park and graves.  So they think it's time to get out.

    The other issue is how this system gets caught up if too many funeral come in at once.  Unlike Macquarie Park the Catholic office does not enforce distancing the arrival times of funerals.  So two funerals might arrive at the office within 5 minutes.  Next thing the road is blocked and traffic is at a standstill.  If two large funerals, or more than three funerals are at the office at once it causes issues.  Mourners sometimes follow the wrong hearse, traffic is blocked, paperwork is slowed as staff need to do more and so on.  It is painful.

Catholic Mausoleum of the Resurrection:
    In 1998 the Catholic section opened the Catholic Mausoleum.  It is a large concrete style building with a large water feature inside.

    The building is rather nice, with marble and large glass windows it has a certain respect about it.  Yet unfortunately it feels cold, physically and emotionally.  The large stone building is cold in winter and lacks character.  Another issue is the lack of parking.  The closest parking lot is on the other side of the Catholic office.  Which involves a short but unnecessary walk around the office.  The other option is to park on the road outside the mausoleum.  Yet there are few spaces here, and all under trees which can drop stuff on the car.

Approaching the mausoleum.

Not much parking by the main entrance.
Main entrance.
View as you enter.  
Fountain inside.  It is actually quite noisy.
Chapel inside the mausoleum.
Side corridors run off the main room and chapel.

Mary Mother of Mercy Crematorium:
    The Catholic section opened a new crematorium in 2007, the first Catholic crematorium in Australia.  This was a very costly and modern crematorium, costing about $7 million at the time.

    This crematorium is very well designed.  Parking is close and convenient and the building itself is not only practical but nice.  It is my second favourite crematorium after Macquarie Park.  I would even argue that it has a better atmosphere and more character than Macquarie Park.  One of the best things about it is the alter the coffin is placed on during the funeral.  This is a large black marble alter, very nice looking.  At the end of the service the top of the alter opens slowly coffin is lowered through the alter.  It is a great mix of burial styles at a cremation.  One can have the best parts of a burial while having the ease of a cremation.

    Apparently the chapel seats 160 people, but I have seen more sitting inside with added chairs.  There is also plenty of room outside, and with large glass walls (which can be opened) one can be outside but part of the service.  For further convenience there is a function room for wakes right next to the chapel.

Inside the Mary Mother of Mercy chapel.

The Sacred Heart Chapel:
    There are many churches scattered throughout Rookwood.  I only talk about this one because of how bad it is.  Despite renovations there is no air-conditioning.  A large brick building with no windows in summer and with no air-conditioning makes for a very hot and stuffy funeral.  In winter there is no cover from the rain and the pavement outside is extremely slippery when wet.

    While it can seat 200 people that is squishy.  The chapel feels rather small inside, perfect for small funerals to create an intimate atmosphere.  But with large funerals it is bad.  There is no overflow area at all.  If the church fills up that's it.  The other people have to stand about outside, unable to see or hear the funeral service.

    Even the entrance is bad.  The doors are awkward to open and the doorway is narrow.  Furthermore there is nowhere convenient to place the condolence book.  The condolence book is what people sign as they enter, it is then given to the family.  At this church there is nowhere to place it out of the wind or rain.  If you place the book inside you block the door (it is fairly narrow).

-  Phone: (02) 9649 6423
- Website.
- Contact Page.
Map to the Catholic office.

Muslim Cemetery Trust:
    Along with the Jewish section this is possibly one of the smallest sections at Rookwood.  It is one of the only Muslim cemeteries in Sydney.  Costs for burial plots in the muslim section in Rookwood is are about $6, 800 for an adult.

    The muslim section is rather interesting.  There is a rule about what plants can and cannot be planted at Rookwood.   Yet the Muslim section has ignored or stretched this rule and planted things as they like.  There is no doubt that there's a cultural difference between the Muslims and say the Catholics.  In fact there is quite a significant difference between the two.  And one can actually observe this stark difference in Rookwood.  The Catholic and Muslim sections look almost nothing like each other.  From plants to layout they are strikingly different.

    If you are ever in Rookwood and have spare time swing by the Muslim section.  It is very interesting and so different to the rest of the cemetery.

-  Phone: (02) 9763 2955
- To arrange a funeral: 1300 854 628
Contact Page.

Jewish Cemetery Rookwood:
    The Jewish section is quite small at Rookwood.  However unlike the Muslim section there are Jewish cemetery sections all over Sydney.  Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park and Macquarie Park both have decent sized Jewish sections.

-  Phone: (02) 9746 5765
Hours: 7:00am to 3:30pm weekdays.
Contact Page.

Independent Cemetery:
    This a group originally formed to take care of a few religions but overtime has grown.  Now this trust looks after several religions and non-denominational groups.

-  Phone: (02) 9749 1744
Hours: 8:00am to 4:00pm weekdays, 9:00am to 12:00pm Saturdays.

    InvoCare is the only private company to have holdings within the Rookwood grounds.  The other groups within Rookwood are religious orders or trusts/groups.  Not private companies.

    You might notice there are now two crematoriums within Rookwood.  Yet they do not really compete with each other.  The MMM Crematorium (the Catholic one) aimes at a specific and traditional religious group while having a modern theme.  The InvoCare crematorium does not aim at a specific market or group and has a historic and vintage theme.

Rookwood Memorial Gardens and Crematorium:
    This is an old historic crematorium.  It is quite a nice place, similar to Northern Suburbs Crematorium.  Surrounded by nice gardens the historic building has a certain presence.  Parking is easy as there are plenty of spaces close to the crematorium and the ground is paved.

View as you approach the crematorium.
    There are three chapels here, West, South and East.  The West chapel is rather small, so not very good for large funerals.  But it does have a good atmosphere and will feel intimate (not cramped) on small funerals.  On the other hand the East chapel is also small, but has a special overflow room for extra mourners.  So if unsure about numbers this is probably the safer chapel.  The South chapel is the closest to the parking lot, and has a cover over top making it the best choice in winter.  All chapels have an AudioVisual system.  But like all older crematoriums this system is not too great.  It is certainly good enough, but not as good as MMM or Macquarie Park.

    Unfortunately the InvoCare website for the crematorium is lacking.  InvoCare tends to keep things as quiet as possible, so it is had to find information about there crematoriums without actually going there.

    So I did, I went there on the weekend when there would be no funerals and took photos.  All the photos of the crematorium were taken by me with my iPhone, so excuse the low quality of a few.  I took many more photos, this is just a select few.

-  Phone: (02) 9746 8945
Hours: Not listed, but I know the crematorium and office are at least open standard business hours during the week.
Contact Page.
Map to the Crematorium & office.

The South chapel entrance.
Only part of the car park.  There are plenty of spaces.
The South chapel doorway.
The office is to the left of the photo, just out of sight.
The office.
The West chapel doorway.
An amusing sign stuck to the ground outside the West chapel.
Obviously this has been an issue recently.
Behind the crematorium, the service entrance. 

Fountain in the gardens just behind the crematorium. 

This is only part of the garden, they
surround the back and side areas of the crematorium.
Cemetery as far as the eye can see, right to the horizon.

Friends of Rookwood:
    This is not really an organisation working funeral at Rookwood.  Rather it is a group that works within and for Rookwood.  They do all kinds of things from maintenance and conservation to promotion, tours and organising events.  A rather interesting and friendly group.  There are other groups like this, from volunteers to others.  But I don't have room to list them all, and Friends of Rookwood is the most interesting to me personally.

- Tours.
- Website.
- Contact Page.

Part 4: General Details

There are several events at Rookwood each year.  The two most notable are the 'Hidden' art exhibition and open day (23rd September).  The open day is possibly the biggest social event for the funeral industry.  While other crematoriums have open days Rookwood is in a league of its own.

Mud, everywhere.
    Regular tours of Rookwood are also run by different organisations.  Some are free, others cost.  But few need bookings.

- The Mud:
Rookwood mud is infamous in the Sydney funeral industry.  Like many cemeteries Rookwood is built on bad soil, it is mostly clay here, not very nice for buildings or growing anything.  In the rain this soil turns to mud, a special mud.  It is sticky, slippery and once on something refused to come off.  Going to Rookwood in the rain means coming back with a filthy car.

    The mud is incredibly difficult to get off when wet.  Many make the mistake of trying to get the mud off their shoes while it is still wet, before they get in the car.  Rather, just get in the car, perhaps get the large chunks of mud off but do not fuss.  Then let the mud dry over a day or two.  once dry wipe away with a dry cloth and vacuum the rest up.  Finish it off with a damp cloth.  This takes about 5-10minutes depending on how much there is and is fairly easy.
My foot sank up to my ankle.
This is on the pathway!

The Ground:
Keep in mind that the ground here is not always solid.  Often it will be soft, spongy, slippery and uneven.  I have talked about this before, but high heals (especially stilettos) or slippery shoes are just dangerous at Rookwood, especially in the rain.

    At one point while walking about, researching for this post, my foot sank unexpectedly.  There was no dirt below the grass, so it just gave way when I stepped on it.  My foot went down to the ankle before I caught myself.  You can see it in a picture to the right.  Be careful when walking about any cemetery!

Getting Lost:
If you do get lost do not worry, you are not the first and will not be the last.  To avoid getting lost within the cemetery look it up before going!  Maybe even bring a map, I have linked to several decent maps within this post.  Either way, people get lost, if it happens refer to a map and hope.  If you have no map nor internet/smart phone then just drive East.  As the roads go east they tend to narrow down to just a few main ones.  Plus there are lots of landmarks, offices and a cafe to the East.  You can stop and ask for directions if need be.

The Future:
It is estimated that Rookwood will run out of land between 2020 and 2025.  I have heard a few people say this, and seen it on a few websites while researching Rookwood.  This is possibly a big reason why the Catholic group built a crematorium and mausoleum.  As cemeteries fill up one of two things happen.  We build new cemeteries out of Sydney.  Which is not a great solution, it means more traveling on the funeral and is inconvenient for mourners.  The other option is alternatives.  Vaults are like high-rise cemeteries.  Many more bodies can be fitted into the same area by building up, and it is easier than digging constantly.  Once the mausoleum is built the rest is simple.  Another common alternatie is cremation.  Cremations are rising as they are cheap and easy.  Macquarie Park saw the profit in crematoriums and went from being a cemetery to focusing on the crematorium.

Through Traffic:
Due to the size and location of Rookwood going from Strathfield to Lidcombe means having to go right around the cemetery.  Through traffic is not technically allowed, but it happens.  We should question why through traffic is discouraged.  It is really because it causes issues or possibly because we consider it 'inappropriate'?  There has been a lot of debate about how cemeteries should be used, many favour keeping them separate and isolated.  The cemetery exists for one purpose (keeping the dead and visiting the dead).  To do anything other than this is disrespectful.  Others  (like myself) prefer the idea of using cemeteries for multiple uses.  Such as recreational spaces, a walk or jog through Waverley Cemetery is a great way to spend the day.  Perhaps we should accept the use of some cemeteries as thoroughfares for traffic and people.  A bus rout already exists through Rookwood.

There are at least two cafes in Rookwood that I know of.  And I would not be surprised to find out there are more.  The most obvious is the Reflections Cafe by the East entrance.  I ate here a few times as it was well prices, decent food and very nice staff.

The Circuit:
Towards the Western side of the grounds is a rather large round about.  It is big on the map and bigger in person.  What I find interesting is that it is in some ways a 'perceptual illusion'.  By that I mean it looks like a circle on paper, but in person it is a bend in the road.  Due to the layout of the land you cannot see the other side, only the road directly in front.  So in person it appears to be just taking a bend to the side, not going in a circle.  Quite a fun and strange little thing.

The large circle by the West gate.  Doesn't look like a round about or
even a circle in person.
Rookwood is now the site of some conservation and environmental work.  There are plants which now all but exist solely within Rookwood.  Native and rare species have been allowed to grow, and have survived.  You can see the natural elements all over Rookwood.  Mainly in the old areas.  As plants overtake and consume graves.

Having a map of Rookwood will save a lot of time and trouble.  This is the largest cemetery in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.  It is like trying to navigate a new city without a map.

Map of Rookwood trusts and organisations.  Has many main landmarks and main offices.  A very good and informative overall map that shows Rookwood in its entirety.

Google Map of Rookwood.  A nice overall map, with satellite overview options it is a good way to 'see' and thus get a feel for Rookwood.

Anglican sections in Rookwood.  Has details on the Anglican and related areas.

Catholic sections in Rookwood.  Has many of the main Catholic buildings and details.

Jewish sections in Rookwood.  Details of the Jewish section and office.

- Independent sections in Rookwood.  An old and low quality map detailing the independent sections.


     Most pictures shown here were taken by me, and are owned by me.  Only a few, mostly the maps and some in the history section are owned by others.  I encourage people to use my pictures as or where they like.  However please give the appropriate credit if possible and do not claim them as your own.


  1. I found this post whilst researching my family vault in the anglican section at rookwood. Lots of interesting information :) thanks for a great post. Will continue to follow. I've always been fascinated with cemeteries!

  2. love the story about following the wrong hearse….. good one….
    good researching job…. well done !! keep it up

  3. Detailed story with the nice effort. I would really like to appreciate the author. Keep sharing such awesome posts. Have a look at my post here Lawn Mowing Eastern Suburbs.


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