The Echo of Graves

    The missing graves, or vanishing graves as I call them, have always interested me.  These are graves that for one reason or another have simply gone, reduced to little more than an outline in the soil.  All that remains is an 'echo' of the grave which once stood there.

    They interest me for a number of reasons, so this post is a collection of photos and comments about these vanishing graves.

    In my adventures around the cemeteries I have come across graves which have vanished over time.  Over the years some graves become neglected and damaged, but others vanish almost entirely.  All that remains are shadows of the graves which once stood here, now little more than an outline.  One only knows they once existed by the change in grass or soil.

A damaged grave, the type we tend to talk about.
Field Of Mars:
    The missing graves can be found at just about any older cemetery, but Field Of Mars Cemetery is one of the best places to observe them.  Particularly the old monumental section on the left as you enter (or North side).

    Below is a patch of dirt where two graves once stood.  On a funeral many would simply see a dirt patch, but clearly there were two graves.  The green vegetation indicates the separation between them, and the change in colour and texture of the soil shows where the graves themselves were.

    Again, the picture below shows where a grave once stood through a change in the soil.

    Here a whole row of graves has vanished, you can see where they were by the change in soil and the accumulation of leaves and bark.  The soil shows quite nicely where the walls of the monumental graves were.  And the accumulation of leaves and bark show a change in the soil where the ground sank over the graves.  There were four missing grave in the photo below.

    The picture below is a little more tricky, it was clearer in person.  Basically the rocks and debris along the ground have lined up where the wall of the grave was.  The ground itself has sunk over the grave leaving an almost perfect line to the right.

    Again, a whole section of graves have gone missing with the only traces being accumulation of bark where the ground has sunk.  And a change in the soil where the walls of the grave were.  I counted at least seven missing graves in this shot.

    Another section of missing graves, this time only noticeable by the difference in the soil.

    Field Of Mars is by no means the only cemetery with missing graves, as shown with Rookwood.  Below is a photo of a field, mostly grass and a few headstones in the distance.

    The field was a cemetery lawn, scattered with graves.  Many headstones have falled over here and are almost impossible to see from a distance.  The photo below is of some graves at my feet (not shown in the photo above).  What looks like a grassy area is actually a whole section of lawn graves, now lost.

    The photo below is a little more difficult, it might even appear there are no missing graves but empty plots.  However, you look closely at the ground in the middle, between the two graves towards the front.  There the grass changes in texture and colour, it is a lighter green and not as high.  This is because there was a grave here.

    In person and closer it was more obvious, but I do not have that picture.

    Finally, here is an example of a grave now missing except for the remains of a stone cross.  The grass does change, but so subtly one would not know this was once a grave if not for the cross.



  1. I assume the coffins are still there, under these blank pieces of dirt. Are they listed somewhere or are they lost forever? Do the plots get reused when they reach this point, or will the cemeteries eventually consist of just abandoned, leaf covered dirt after many more generations, with nothing but the occasional ruined monument to show what was originally there?

    1. The coffins are definitely still there, which is why I find it very interesting. It is only because the coffins are there that the ground looks the way it does. You can clearly see the outline of the graves (it's more obvious in person) and to some extent where the coffin would likely be. Not only is the soil different but the grass and plants are different, the grass will naturally be a different hight and colour over where the coffin is.

      Plots can be re-used, as Death Correspondent explained, but this can be a bit of a grey area. Nor is it something I know much about. All I know is graves are bought on tenure or in some cases can be bought in perpetuity. Even when tenure expores it is not always reused by the cemetery for various reasons.

      However, whole cemeteries being removed is not unprecedented. Several notable cemeteries were completely removed due to lack of maintenance like this. Town Hall is built on a cemetery, which was moved to Rookwood Cemetery and Eastern Suburbs Cemetery. More interestingly, Camperdown Cemetery was finally removed in the 1940s-1950s and turned into a big park. It's now the big park in Newtown. Camperdown Cemetery had become dilapidated by the early 1900s, and many people wanted it removed due to safety and hygiene but others opposed due to respect for the dead and such. Then in about 1945 (if I remember right) a young girl was abducted and murdered in the cemetery, as a result it was closed.

      There have been several cemeteries closed and removed due to lack of maintenance. But new procedures have all but eliminated this, in theory it is not an issue that will arise again. Between a growth of cremation, better investments, and volunteer groups many cemeteries like Field of Mars will be fine. Some areas might become 'lost' as shown above, yet this is natural and inevitable. Overall cemeteries should not become abandoned as they might have in the past.

      As for the listing of graves, not all graves can be accounted for after this type of dilapidation. If you look at old maps of Camperdown Cemetery they had the graves marked and identified. This was not always done perfectly, as Death Correspondent explains, but in many cases there are some sort of records. However, after the cemetery became abandoned it became hard to physically tell which grave might be which, or find some graves. As such some suspect not all graves were removed let alone identified at Camperdown.

      Either way, the graves might be 'lost' but they are not forgotten. We can find evidence they were there, as I show above. Or in cases such as Camperdown plaques and a few token graves sometimes remain. Reminding us of what was there, and in many ways still is there. Even when a cemetery is completely removed it will not be forgotten.


  2. Death Correspondent4/7/13 18:29

    Yes the coffins are still there under the soil. I suspect that is why it has sunk. As the coffin breaks down and deteriorates it would eventually come to a point were the walls would no longer support the weight of the soil on top and give way, giving an extra foot of space in the grave for the soil to settle in. This process takes years however. In cemeteries like Field of Mars and Rookwood the records would indicate the grave location, however in cases like these it can be tricky to locate graves by numbers since the signs and grave numbers have also worn away with time. Sometimes when locating a very old grave the closest you can get is which 'field' or section it was in. And graves do have a tenure on them. Depending on what the tenure was at the time of purchase of the grave the cemetery does have to power to reuse the grave - most likely by doing another burial on top. I believe the current grave tenure is 70 years, at which point the family have the opportunity to buy the tenure for another set amount again. Likewise a grave with an open tenure can have be purchased (again with a tenure) by another family member decades later to do further interments until the grave plot is full. It is all a legal minefield.


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