Rookwood Necropolis (or Cemetery) is located on the western boundary of Strathfield Municipality. Rookwood is important to the people of Strathfield as it is the final resting place of many local residents, their families and ancestors. The word ‘Necropolis’ is of Greek origin meaning City of the Dead. Since its opening in 1867, there have been more than 800,000 interments at Rookwood.
Rookwood is the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere measuring 283 hectares in size and is a popular tourist attraction, featuring significant architectural and social heritage. Many of the Victorian era features are protected by a Permanent Conservation Order covering 81 hectares of Rookwood.
Rookwood is located on Crown Land and is under the jurisdiction of the NSW Department of Lands. The suburb of Lidcombe was formerly known as Rookwood, however a new name for the suburb was adopted to avoid confusion with the cemetery. The name Lidcombe was adopted in 1913, adapted from the names of two mayors, Lidbury and Larcombe.
In 1862, the NSW Government purchased 200 acres of land to establish the cemetery from the estate of Edward Cohen. In 1879, an additional 577 acres was added to the site. The establishment of the cemetery at Haslem’s Creek (later called Rookwood) was required as cemeteries closer to Sydney city were reaching capacity. The site selection was uncontroversial as the land was isolated from existing homes with the advantage of being located close to the Sydney to Parramatta railway line, which was established in 1855. As the site was some distance from the centre of Sydney it was decided to build a spur line and eventually four railway stations were built in the Cemetery grounds. IN 1864 the Rilway line opened and in 1869, a railway station was built in the middle of the Cemetery. Special trains carried coffins and mourners from the Mortuary Station at Redfern to Rookwood. Services ran twice a day for mourners and coffins until the late 1930s but was revived during World War II. The service was officially terminated in 1948.
By 1890, many buildings had been constructed including the St Michael the Archangel Catholic Chapel and Anglican and Jewish chapels. The Chinese community erected a 2.6m high brazier topped by a pagoda dome in the Independent section.
Trusts and management
In setting up the cemetery, areas or sections were allocated to different religious groups such as Catholic Church, Anglican Church, based on the proportions of population measured in the 1861 Census. An area of 58 acres was allocated to a general section for those without a religion or denomination. In 1867, the Government passed the Necropolis Act, which set up separate trusts which allowed each group to manage their own area, set and collect fees. Trusts are established to manage the individual sections, i.e. the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and the Independent which oversees some 150 acres containing Uniting Church, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian and Orthodox sections. The Crematorium is managed independently.
In 1925 the State Government created a Joint Committee, in order to collect a levy from each of the Trusts annually for the construction of and maintenance of roads, fences, paths, drains and other “common property” within the Necropolis. The Joint Committee still exists and is composed of one representative from each group of Trustees and nominees of the State government, National Trust, Heritage Council and the NSW Crematorium Company.
In 1926 four acres were set aside for a crematorium. The NSW Crematorium company was established to run what was then only the second crematorium in Australia.
In 1948 the railway line into the cemetery, together with the stations on it, were closed down, due to decreasing use of the rail line in preference to cars.
The sole surviving rail staion was, in 1951, sold to a Reverend Buckle for one hundred pounds. He had it demolished, transported to Canberra and rebuilt as All Saints Church of England in the suburb of Ainslie.
Land allocations are:
- Anglican Cemetery Trust – 71 hectares
- Catholic Cemetery Trust – 85 hectares
- General Cemetery Trust – 11 hectares
- Independent Cemetery Trust – 57 hectares
- Jewish Cemetery Trust – 15 hectares
- Muslim Cemetery Trust – 2 hectares
- Crematorium – 9 hectares
- Joint Committee – 35 hectares
- Australian War Graves – 3 hectares
Within the denominational Trusts, many other religious groups and affiliations have sections.
Further information on Friends of Rookwood Cemetery