As the largest Victorian era cemetery still in operation in the world, Rookwood is of significant national and historical importance. It has operated continuously since 1867, making it one of the oldest working cemeteries in Australia. It also offers 15 different burial types to meet the different needs of the 90+ religious and cultural denominations that use Rookwood Cemetery. The cemetery is run by two organisations – the Rookwood General Cemeteries Reserve Trust, and the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust.
From 1869 to 1950 the cemetery was serviced by a railway from Central Sydney station, where there was a Mortuary Station in one corner of the yards. Special trains for coffins (and their occupants) and mourners ran twice daily, arriving at Mortuary Station No. 1 from a dedicated spur line at Lidcombe railway station. The line within the cemetery was extended and eventually there were four stations to drop off coffins at locations convenient for their final carriage to the burial site. The receiving station at Rookwood was removed in 1957 and re-erected stone-by-stone in Canberra where it has been serving as a church ever since.
The Mortuary Station in central Sydney is open to the public several times a year and is well worth visiting.
“The Necropolis (as Rookwood was initially called) featured sinuous paths, ornamental shrubberies, specimen trees, summerhouses, chapels, water features, and an elaborate network of deep, brick-lined serpentine drains.” ("Sydney Cemeteries" A Field Guide", Lisa Murray, p. 109, pub 2016)
There are of course hundreds and hundreds of interesting headstones, much ornate stonemasonry, glorious statuary, and stories galore of the nearly one million permanent occupants. As a working cemetery, with constant burials, cremations, chapel services, and construction and renovation programmes, the cemetery is a hive of activity, and there are enough people passing through and visiting to sustain an onsite café and a couple of flower shops.
Loraine and the other volunteer guides from the Friends of Rookwood conduct a series of 2.5 hour themed guided tours on the first Sunday of the month, from March to November. It’s worth keeping an eye on their Facebook page to keep up with their programme.