Cathedral Park restoration open

Sunday, 22. July 2018

IT holds more secrets than anyone knows, but the mysteries of what lie beneath and above it are now ready to be explored.
Nanjing Night Net

Gone are the waist-high weeds which once dominated the historic Cathedral Park which lies between Christ Church Cathedral and King Street in Newcastle. In their place are brand new walking paths, restored gardens and revitalised historic corners of the city which few knew existed.

All up, more than 3300 people are said to have been buried in the historic park and cemetery, but an ambitious project spearheaded by Newcastle City Council has only been able to map out about 258 graves.

Among them is the grave and memorial of James Hannell, Newcastle’s first mayor. There is also a mass grave containing 31 members of the Cawarra shipping disaster – 60 people died when the boat sank off Stockton beach in 1866.

It also contains the graves of local magistrates John Bingle and Major Archibald Innes, and former mayor James Kemp. The 1826 grave of Mary Martin is thought to be the oldest.

In the early 1970s one of the stone retaining walls fronting King Street collapsed, exposing many of the bones and skeletons that had been buried deep beneath the surface for more than 100 years.

‘‘The cemetery was mainly for important people,’’ council project officer Mark Woolley said. ‘‘But there were many, many more people buried here by family members who couldn’t afford proper burial spaces, so the graves were never marked.

‘‘Sometimes people would just come up here at night, dig a hole only 300 millimetres deep and bury a young child which had died.’’

Specialised undergound imaging carried out by heritage officers shows where most of the people are buried.

But many of the bones have moved around over the years, making it hard for the researchers to plot the graves, match headstones or identify who is buried where.

During the park refurbishment project, 84 graves have been relocated, and many of the headstones restored.

Stage two of the project has been completed, with paths and walkways allowing people to stroll through the site and take in the magnificent views of the city afforded from the top, near the cathedral.

Future stages include a viewing platform which will replicate the old Mulimbah Cottage which once stood on the site, and a natural amphitheatre which might one day host open-air concerts or movie nights, but funding for those stages is still being negotiated.

Newcastle City Council project officer Mark Woolley shows the recent works near completion in the Cathedral Park, The Hill. Picture Darren Pateman

Newcastle City Council project officer Mark Woolley shows the recent works near completion in the Cathedral Park, The Hill. Picture Darren Pateman

Newcastle City Council project officer Mark Woolley shows the recent works near completion in the Cathedral Park, The Hill. Picture Darren Pateman

Newcastle City Council project officer Mark Woolley shows the recent works near completion in the Cathedral Park, The Hill. Picture Darren Pateman

Newcastle City Council project officer Mark Woolley shows the recent works near completion in the Cathedral Park, The Hill. Picture Darren Pateman

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