In the mid-19th century, the city of Sydney had a problem: its old cemetery down by the city brickworks was nearly full, and residents needed a different place to bury their departed loved ones. In response, the municipal government designated a new cemetery — which would come to be known officially as Rookwood Necropolis, and colloquially as Rookwood Cemetery — that is still in use to this day.
Following the contemporary trend of relocating cemeteries away from city centers for sanitary and aesthetic reasons, a site for the new cemetery was chosen near the outskirt town of Haslam’s Creek, and interments began in 1868. The location was chosen not only for its relative remoteness, but also because of its proximity to a newly-completed rail line from Sydney to Parramatta. Today, the cemetery remains 17 kilometers (10 miles) outside of Sydney’s central business district.
Known at the outset simply as the Necropolis, it quickly became referred to as Haslam’s Creek Cemetery, which did not please Haslam’s Creek residents. In 1879, after just over a decade of operation, the town — acceding to popular demand — changed its name to Rookwood. Much to the locals’ chagrin, the cemetery eventually took on the name Rookwood, too. In 1913 they once again changed their village’s name to Lidcombe; this time it worked, as the cemetery remained Rookwood.
The nearby railroad access figured prominently into the cemetery’s operations for nearly a century. A spur was built off of the main line to carry trains into the cemetery, with stations in each of the three denominational sections (Anglican, Catholic, and non-denominational — Jewish, Muslim, “General,” and “Independent” sections would be added later) as well as one central hub station and one at the point where the spur left the main line. Funeral trains carried both coffins and mourners to the cemetery for services. Procession by train ended in 1948.
At 314 hectares (775 acres), Rookwood Cemetery is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the largest Victorian-era cemeteries still in operation in the world. (Brookwood Cemetery in England is 2000 acres!) Almost one million people have been buried or cremated at Rookwood, and its crematorium is the oldest one operating in all of Australia. Here you’ll find the final resting place of many notable Australian politicians, business people, and artists, and even a few outlaws and gangsters.