Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery
Established 1877
Location Bronte, New South Wales
Country Australia
Type Category II Local Govt Business
Owned by Waverley Council
Size 41 acres (170,000 m2)
Number of graves 50000
Website Waverley Cemetery

The Waverley Cemetery is a cemetery on top of the cliffs at Bronte in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Opened in 1877, it is noted for its largely intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. It is regularly cited as being one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The cemetery contains the graves of many significant Australians including the poet Henry Lawson. Funerals are conducted Monday to Saturday.

The cemetery is self-funded, deriving its income from interments – including burial, cremation, memorials and mausolea – of which there has been over 86,000. Waverley Cemetery was used during the filming of the 1979 Mel Gibson film Tim. The Cemetery was designed to function along similar lines to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Kensal Green Cemetery in London.


The need for a cemetery in the Waverley area was discussed as early as 1863. In 1866, a delegation of representatives was sent to the Minister of Lands to talk about the proposal. In 1868, Waverley Council committed to the cemetery's management on the provision that it would "incur no cost in doing so", and a government grant of £1200 was provided. In the 1870s the government of New South Wales purchased an initial four hectares of land, which they provided to the Waverley Council for use as a cemetery. To this local citizens added an additional five hectares of adjoining land.[1]

The first interment occurred on 4 August 1877. In 1892, a "sinking" fund was established to pay for the upkeep of the cemetery during times of insufficient income.[1] By 1894 the cemetery had grown to its present size of forty-one acres bounded by Trafalgar, Boundary and St Thomas streets.

Historical significance

Grave of Henry Lawson

Waverley Cemetery contains the graves of many people who shaped Australia. This includes literary figures such as Henry Lawson,[2] (one of Australia's most famous poets), Jules Archibald, founder of The Bulletin and benefactor of the Archibald Prize,[3] nineteenth century poet Henry Kendall,[4] the American actor William E. Sheridan,[5] poet and author Dorothea Mackellar,[6] and author Ethel Pedley.[7] Other significant figures include aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave,[8] Olympic swimmer Fanny Durack,[2] and New South Wales Premier Sir James Martin, (whose remains were transferred to Waverley Cemetery after the death of his wife in 1909).[9]

The cemetery contains over 200 war graves from various past conflicts, of which there are 132 registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (over 100 from World War I and nearly 20 from World War II).[10] The front gates are a memorial to the residents of the area who died during World War I and World War II .[4] Inside the main gates is a memorial to the military forces of NSW which houses the remains of several officers killed in an 1891 sea mine explosion at Middle Head. At least eleven United States Civil War veterans are also buried at Waverley, including Phineas S. Thompson.[11] In addition, the cemetery is home to the The Irish memorial, the final resting place of Michael Dwyer (1798 Rebellion), and a memorial to all those who died in that rebellion.[12] There is also a memorial stone commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strikers. As well as nationally famous figures the cemetery contains the graves of notable Sydney identities including Robert "Nosey Bob" Howard, the state executioner who served until 1904,[13] outstanding Rugby player Peter Burge and Sydney crime figure George Freeman.[4]

Architecturally, Waverley Cemetery is significant in that it showcases examples of Stonemasonry and funerary art dating back from the 19th century, with features (such as the gates, buildings and fencing) that due to their intact nature are considered of "outstanding aesthetic value".[1] Included in this is a tomb designed for James Stuart and his family by the architects J Burcham Clamp and Walter Burley Griffin.[14]

Waverley Cemetery is listed as a heritage item in the Waverley Council Local Environment Plan. In 2015 local resident action group Residents for Waverley Cemetery nominated the cemetery for inclusion on the State Heritage Register. The nomination was recommended by the Heritage Council and after receiving Ministerial approval was gazetted on 28 October 2016. In 2016 Waverley Council nominated Waverley Cemetery for inclusion on the National Heritage list.


The cemetery after more than 130 years of operation remains a 100% self funded business. It has never been funded by the public purse or council ratepayers,[15] with individual graves maintained for a fee. Where families no longer wish to maintain their ancestor's graves this has led to some significant memorials (such as those belonging to Jules Archibald and Victor Trumper) falling into disrepair.[16][17] In 2002, the Waverley Council as owners of the business looked for alternative sources of revenue.[16] These included corporate and private sponsorship for grave sites,[18] and a proposed crematorium.[16] This sponsorship plan met with limited success,[16] although some graves have been restored with the assistance of sponsors – including Jules Archibald's (by The Bulletin),[19] Lawrence Hargrave's through the Royal Aeronautical Society,[8] and the grave of Henry Lawson which was restored through a $10,000 grant by the State government. The plan to incorporate an on-site cremation into the existing business encountered vocal opposition, including by Liberal Party MP Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Member for Wentworth, who spoke in Federal Parliament against the plan.[20] The community opposition led to the plan being canceled in 2004.[21] A two million dollar boardwalk designed to move joggers and others passersby away from the graves is now a popular part of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.

In late 2007, the National Trust ran an online competition to determine the distribution of $185,000 in funding. Of the nine finalists, the Waverley Cemetery's ceremonial gates proved to be the most popular, winning the majority of the votes.[22] Unfortunately, the amount voted to the project was only a little over 25% of the total restoration costs. Waverley Council has committed to funding the balance and work on this project is commencing in 2016.

Cultural influences

The earliest known motion picture filmed at the cemetery was the 1977 Italian production 'La Ragazza dal pigiama giallo', also known as 'The Pyjama Girl Case', a murder story based on the true story of Linda Agostini, the Pyjama Girl. In 1972 the cemetery was featured in filming for Spyforce where Colonel Cato played by Redmond Phillips was supposedly buried. In 1978 the cemetery was a location in filming of the movie Newsfront starring Bill Hunter and Bryan Brown. In 1979 the cemetery was a location in filming of the movie Tim starring Mel Gibson. Baywatch used the cemetery while filming its Australian movie length episode, and the Australian soap opera Home and Away buried one of their characters at Waverley in 2004. In 1996, scenes from the season one final of Australian TV show Water Rats were filmed at the cemetery. Notable recent films include Dirty Deeds. It was also pictured in the Bollywood Blockbuster Dil Chahta Hai in a musical sequence.

The cemetery has been a place of inspiration for many artists, Henry Lawson who ultimately ended up there was fond of using the location in his stories, either as direct reference or indirectly.

A panorama of the cemetery.

South Head Cemetery

South Head Cemetery is situated at the junction of New South Head Road and Old South Head Road, Vaucluse. It is administered by Waverley Council and is a companion cemetery to Waverley Cemetery.

The cemetery was established to cater for the needs of the population in the growing Vaucluse area; its first interment was in 1868. It was run for some time by a private trust, but management was transferred to Waverley Council in 1941. It covers an expanse of 4 acres (16,000 m2) and contains the graves of 6,000 people as of 2008.[23] South Head General Cemetery contains the graves of many notable people, including: Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton (1920); NSW Governors Sir Walter Davidson (1923) and Sir Roden Cutler (2002); NSW Premiers Sir John Robertson (1891), Sir William Lyne (1913), Sir Charles Wade (1922) and Sir Joseph Carruthers (1932); Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer “Red Ted” Theodore (1950); members of the Packer, Fairfax and Norton newspaper dynasties; members of the Street family legal dynasty including two Chief Justices, Sir Philip Whistler Street (1938) and Sir Kenneth Whistler Street (1972); Anglican Archbishop of Sydney John Charles Wright (1933); the Foy retailing family (including a monument to the disappeared Foy heiress Juanita Nielsen); architects Mortimer Lewis (1879), John Horbury Hunt (1904), Robin Dods (1920), Howard Joseland (1930), John Burcham Clamp (1931) and Neville Gruzman (2005); artist George Washington Lambert (1930); writers Jack Moses (1945) and Frank Clune (1971); entertainer Gladys Moncrieff (1976) and founder of the acting dynasty Roy Redgrave (1922); and Edmund Resch junior of the Resch's brewing family (1963).

The cemetery contains the graves of 22 of the 40 victims of the 1927 Greycliffe ferry disaster. There are also Commonwealth war graves of 18 Australian service personnel, 5 of World War I and 13 of World War II, in various parts of the cemetery.[24]


  1. 1 2 3 "Waverley Cemetery". Heritage Branch, NSW Department of Planning. Retrieved 29 July 2008.
  2. 1 2 Silmalis, Linda (25 April 2004). "Henry Lawson's grave site to be restored". Sunday Telegraph. p. 11.
  3. "Coffin' up funds". The Gold Coast Bulletin. 29 August 2002. p. 5.
  4. 1 2 3 Yates, Skye (2 June 2000). "Fascinating plots". Daily Telegraph. p. 108.
  5. An Actor's Grave. Saint Paul Daily Globe, October 30, 1887, p. 13 accessed 5.18.13
  6. Taffel, Jacqui (15 April 2000). "Views to die for". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 8.
  7. "Death of Miss Pedley". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 August 1898. p. 3.
  8. 1 2 Naylor, Catherine (14 December 2001). "See, sir, your dreams did take flight". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 2.
  9. Bede, Nairn (1974). "Martin, Sir James (1820–1886)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 5. Melbourne University Press. pp. 216–219.
  11. "A New Country Takes Shape". Daily Telegraph. 24 February 2007. p. 2.
  12. Harrison, Jennifer (2004). "Robert Emmet and the Rebellion of 1798". The Australian Journal of Politics and History. 50 (4): 453. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8497.2004.00347.x.
  13. "Robert "Nosey Bob" Howard (1832–1906)". Waverley Library. 25 May 2008. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  14. Watson, Anne (1998). Beyond Architecture: Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin. University of Illinois Press. p. 75. ISBN 1-86317-068-5.
  15. O’Neill, Jackie (2003). "The Wonders of Waverley Cemetery. Discover the rich past and beautiful surrounds of this truly historic site". For Peace of Mind. 2 (Summer). Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Nicholls, Sean (8 February 2003). "Troubled cemetery fights grim financial reaper". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 10.
  17. Cazzulino, Michelle (22 April 2003). "Grave state of neglect — Tombs of our folk heroes left to rot". Daily Telegraph. p. 19.
  18. Nicholls, Sean (28 August 2002). "Advertising to extend into afterlife". The Age. p. 6.
  19. Cooper, Tarryn (5 April 2006). "Grave of Archibald Prize founder is restored". AAP News.
  20. Turnbull, Malcolm (8 December 2004). "Speech in Parliament on Waverley Cemetery". Malcolm Turnbull MP (Official site). Archived from the original on 26 July 2008. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  21. O'Brien, Geraldine (17 April 2004). "Earthly cries of crowding halt crematorium". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 7.
  22. Gibson, Jano (15 December 2007). "Historic cemetery may win a new lease on life". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  23. Waverley Council Website:Retrieved 6 November 2008
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Coordinates: 33°54′26″S 151°15′51″E / 33.907287°S 151.264197°E / -33.907287; 151.264197

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