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Dead Central Exhibition

One of the more interesting things on in Sydney at the moment has to be the Dead Central exhibition. This wonderful audio-visual experience at the NSW State Library takes you back to the late nineteenth century just before Central Station was built. 

What a lot of Sydneysiders probably don’t realise is that their large rail terminus was actually built on the largest cemetery is Australia. This vast cemetery once sprawled across the land bound by Sydney’s Elizabeth, Pitt and Devonshire streets. 

The Devonshire Street cemetery opened in 1820, but the city’s major burial ground filled up quickly in the decades following, only to become overgrown and abandoned. In January 1901, when the state government announced its intention to clear the cemetery, well over 30,000 bodies were buried there. When it was announced that the cemetery was earmarked as the place for the new rail terminus there was an uproar from mainly local residents many of whom had buried relatives there. 

dead central exhibition

The Dead Central exhibition plots the opposition through petitions, editorials and speeches in parliament. However, the railway got its way and the cemetery was slowly removed. Thousands of remains were moved to Rookwood. Luckily for us, an intrepid, dedicated husband and wife team Mr and Mrs Foster systematically catalogued and photographed every discernible headstone in the cemetery – hence the wonderful collection of photographs on display today at the NSW State Library. 

If you pass through the tunnels of Central Station, spare a thought for the thousands who once lay in eternal rest as you hurry to catch you next train. 

Dead Central

State Library of NSW

On until 3 May 2020

Dead Central Exhibition Online

If can’t get to the exhibition, you can have a look at some of the photos on the NSW Library’s website or listen to an ABC Radio interview with the head curator Elise Edmonds.

dead central exhibition

Looking for more?

The Burial Files is a podcast series on nineteenth century Sydney.

The SL magazine is the State Library’s quarterly magazine with an interesting collection of articles related to the library’s collection and current exhibitions.

If you like the idea of underground burial sites, the Paris Catacombs is an ancient underground burial ground. If you can’t get to the city in person, there’s a Catacombs virtual tour.

New York’s Marble Cemetery was a hidden cemetery in the famous city.

Abandoned cemeteries make for revealing experiences when you’re travelling and if this is your thing, here’s some on the wonderful Atlas Obscura site.

Like the Doors tragic that I am, I had to make my pilgrimage to see the burial site of Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. I soon discovered the many burial sites of renowned artists and the dark, beauty of the ground itself. If you like the idea of beautiful cemeteries here’s some inspiration.

And high-rise cemeteries are a thing too.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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