Cemetery Grasses and Weeds

I love roaming around cemeteries, looking at headstones and wondering about the life stories of people buried below. The Cheltenham Community Cemetery is not far from my home, in the bayside area of Melbourne. When it opened in 1935 and for a long while afterwards, the area was semi rural with lots of market gardens surrounding it; with time light industry was widespread in sections of nearby suburbs and now the area is a reasonably high density middle suburb. Although it is called a community cemetery, there is not much sign of current community interest in it; large sections are overrun with weeds, and in some sections there is no earth … you are walking across a sand dune.

I always have my camera with me, but what I photo graph is usually not what I draw, or paint, or make into handmade books. On one of my recent meanderings I picked a handful of cemetery weeds and grasses to draw. Weeds and agapanthus are prolific, whilst nearly every other plant seems to struggle to cling to life in the poor soil. A couple of years ago I tried seed bombing some barren areas with poppy seeds – they grow carefree in my garden, but not one popped up here. In this book I was aiming to draw and paint the weeds and grasses in a true but not botanical way. I enjoyed making them in to this concertina book with a cover design that I had not tried before.

I like walking in this large open space; I get to see some amazing sunsets and dramatic skyscapes which can make this fairly plain cemetery look quite Gothic in photos.

There are tiny pocket rose and native gardens, plus a riot of colourful fake flowers on highly polished black marble graves. A few magnificent old trees are home to what sounds like 1000s of birds who feast on the spectacular eucalyptus flowers, and I have been lucky to see a few Eastern Rosellas here too.

The graves, the headstones, and the names on them all reflect the changing demographics of the area; Anglo, Greek, Italian, Eastern European and now Chinese. I particularly love the small memorial spaces of the Greek graves. And one of Australia’s outstanding artists, Clarice Beckett, a local artist who painted around the area is buried here.

I love discovering those unique and creative acts of memorial, those places marked with a handmade grave marker, the acts of love and loss.

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