Special Announcement: A Create NSW Grant for St. John’s Cemetery Project

By Michaela Ann Cameron


I am immensely pleased to announce that I have received a $66,290 Arts and Cultural grant from the NSW Government through Create NSW. 

The grant will be used to produce a collection of biographical essays for the St. John’s Cemetery Project (SJCP) website on notable “Old Parramattans” buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery (est. 1790).

St. John's Cemetery Project, Michaela Ann Cameron, Judith Dunn, Geoff Lee, Jennifer Follers, Friends of St. John's Cemetery Parramatta, Parramatta History, Parramatta Heritage, Australian History, oldest cemetery Australia
Left to right: Dr. Michaela Ann Cameron, Founder and Director of the St. John’s Cemetery Project, Dr. Geoff Lee, MP for Parramatta, Judith Dunn OAM, Chair of the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, and Jennifer Follers, Secretary and Head of Maintenance, Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, at the graves of the Shying family on 6 March 2019.

But don’t expect all the people featured in the essays to be ‘notable’ in the traditional sense of the word! This is by no means a collection of essays on white male elites exclusively. First Peoples will be represented in these stories and there will be convicts galore with all the juicy details of their dastardly deeds. The collection will also highlight individuals associated with the nearby Parramatta Female Factories, Wesleyans, master builders, women and children and, yes, the odd colonial elite — even then, as readers will discover, the colony being what it was, the most debonair, respectable gent was often hiding a dark side!

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St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: “The Gateway to Old Parramatta.”

I’m sure a cursory glance at what is in store is quite enough to reveal why The St. John’s Cemetery Project and, indeed, the cemetery itself is what I have dubbed ‘The Gateway to Old Parramatta.’ Telling the stories of those buried at St. John’s allows us to shine a light on so many of Parramatta’s major heritage sites; the world heritage listed Parramatta Park’s Government House and Dairy Cottage, the nationally listed Parramatta Female Factory, the old colonial hospital site at the Parramatta Justice Precinct, the Wentworth Atelier, and Centenary Square. And all of these heritage sites and more are just minutes away from the cemetery on foot — a fact that should well and truly put Parramatta on the map as a major heritage tourism destination.

WHAT DOES THIS CREATE NSW FUNDING MEAN TO SJCP?

“Old Parramattans” builds on the collection of “St. John’s First Fleeters” already published on the SJCP, which was supported by funds totalling $7000 from the Royal Australian Historical Society Small Heritage Grant via funds allocated from the Office of Environment and Heritage and the City of Parramatta’s Cultural Heritage and Stories Fund in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Obviously being on a much larger scale, the $66,290 grant from Create NSW makes it possible to deliver my entire original vision of a fully functional biographical database for the cemetery. But my original vision was also for a project that was collaborative; one that would attract numerous historians so they could apply their expertise and contribute original, peer-reviewed research on Old Parramattans in a free, open access arena for the widest possible public audience. As a grant that exists to ‘support professional arts and cultural workers,’ this Create NSW grant is providing me with the means to assemble those experts at a time when these kinds of opportunities are all too scarce, so we are all extremely grateful.

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American and Australasian Photographic Company, “St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, around July 1870,” (1870). Courtesy of Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

The expert contributors assembled thus far have ties to universities across New South Wales and diverse research interests that will undoubtedly lead to a variety of perspectives on Parramatta’s colonial history. (Browse the current list of contributors here, but note that the list is still growing).

Together the contributors will use their expertise in a wide range of fields to draw out new information on St. John’s “Old Parramattans” and place those individual stories in the broader historical context to demonstrate the cemetery’s importance—not just on the local level but also on the state, national, and international levels. These biographical essays may therefore tell readers everything there is to know on a biographical subject; alternatively, they may delve deeply into one previously overlooked aspect of the subject’s life and use it as a platform from which they can explore a topic of broader historical significance.

The project will also be taking on an intern to assist with the database content development. Priority will be given to a local History student attending one of the Parramatta-based universities and will be an excellent opportunity for a junior historian to develop research skills and their academic C.V. while volunteering on a real public history project.

A COMMUNITY-ENGAGED PROJECT

When I founded the SJCP in July 2015, the ultimate aim was to make high quality content demonstrating the significance of the cemetery easily accessible and freely available to the public. My philosophy was that engaging and educating the public on the significance of a heritage site is the best way to garner the community support that is always necessary to conserve heritage.

P_20190306_102534_vHDR_AutoAs such, SJCP is a proud supporter of the local community organisation which formed in late June 2016: the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. The Friends are a dedicated group of volunteers whose purpose is to manage and conserve the cemetery for future generations. It is my hope that the biographical essays funded by Create NSW will help to raise the profile of this extremely worthy heritage site by educating the public and fostering greater community support for the Friends’ ongoing conservation work.

There are many ways the Friends can benefit from your help; you can become a member of the organisation, volunteer at working bees, or make a donation. Right now, the Friends are organising a Conservation Management Plan, after which their campaign for the National Heritage Listing of the cemetery can begin in earnest.

Special thanks to Dr. Geoff Lee for visiting the cemetery this morning to learn more about how St. John’s Cemetery Project will use these funds and how all of this aligns with the Friends’ aims for the conservation of the cemetery itself. And a big thank you to Judith Dunn and Jennifer Follers for taking the time to talk about the Friends, and also Brian Wickham, Friends of St. John’s Cemetery General Committee Member; your efforts in caring for the cemetery generally and in the lead up to Dr. Lee’s visit this morning specifically are greatly appreciated.

I can’t wait to start sharing the biographies of these “Old Parramattans” with all of you over the funded period (2019–January 2021). Stay tuned to the SJCP social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) to read the latest biographies written by the SJCP’s ever-growing stellar lineup of historians the second they hit the website!

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Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery; the historic St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, 6 March 2019.