Art in the Cemetery

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Rookwood Cemetery is amazing to behold. Located in Lidcombe, historic Rookwood is the oldest and largest cemetery operating in Australia today. The cemetery was founded in 1867 as “The Necropolis at Haslem’s Creek”. Today it covers over 314 hectares and is the resting place of over a million people from 90 different religious and cultural groups.

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In the early days, the local residents of Haslem didn’t appreciate their suburb being so closely associated with the cemetery, so petitioned to change their name. According to the website, in 1878 the residents settled on the name Rookwood, for the many crows in the neighborhood. By 1913, the cemetery had once again adopted the name of the suburb where it lay, so the suburb name was changed to Lidcombe.  Rookwood stuck.

rookwood-cemetery-2-of-3           Rachel Sheree Peace in Death

Each spring, HIDDEN – A Rookwood Sculpture Walk is held at the cemetery, an opportunity for the public to experience the beauty and cultural significance of a historic site that they might not visit otherwise. The thought of the late afternoon sun falling over artwork tucked in among the gravestones being too much to resist, I grabbed my camera and took an excursion out west.

rookwood-cemetery-13-of-33George Catsi & Anne Kwasner Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

While for the most part I’ve appreciated the ease of traveling around Sydney on public transport, there are some places that are a bit more difficult to get to. What would have been a 20 minute drive (on the left side of the road; something that still gives me a lot of anxiety) took over an hour plus three modes of transport: light rail, train, bus. Four actually, if I include the 9K I put on my feet with all my wandering from here to there. The closest bus stop was still a few blocks from the cemetery. Feeling cocky about my adventure as I hopped off the bus, I soon found myself having to backtrack almost a full lap around the block when I came up against a cement barrier blocking my access over the A3.

rookwood-cemetery-22-of-33Michael Garth Expiry Date

I was still feeling pretty jaunty when I walked through the gate and saw the big sign pointing the way toward the general office, where I was headed first to pick up my map of the art exhibit. Apparently, I hadn’t studied the website close enough, and Google maps didn’t show the “general” office, just some other buildings that I guessed were the right place and weren’t. I walked in the direction of the arrow (the direction I thought it was pointing; now I’m wondering…), until I came upon a building I hoped was the office. It was an office, a closed office and not the one I wanted. I pulled out Google maps again, hoping, and reoriented toward a different wrong building. Did I mention this cemetery is over 314 hectares? Just when I’d about given up hope of getting a map I saw another “general office” sign pointing the same way as the signs for HIDDEN. I went thataway.

rookwood-cemetery-20-of-33Adam Galea Speak with Dead

I saw the first installation and near it another camera-wielding visitor. When I inquired about the whereabouts of the general office, she pointed up the road another 200 meters, shaking her head and looking at her watch. It was five minutes past closing. This very kind woman told me she was just finishing and offered me her map. I am forever grateful to her, because I would still be wandering around lost in there, trying to find the art.

rookwood-cemetery-16-of-33Linde lvimey Bella Donna, (Deadly Night Shade)

She pointed out the section where I’d find most of the artworks, in the oldest part of the cemetery. I thanked her for her kindness and trundled off. Hot, irritable, thirsty, needing to pee, and already so very tired of walking, I juggled my camera, map, and a heavy bag slung over my shoulder. Each time I lifted the camera to take a photo, the wind blew my hair and the map into the frame. I was really wondering if any of this was worth the effort and thinking that perhaps photography isn’t my thing. I was ready to say, “fuck it” and call an Uber.

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Then the wind blew again and the spirits whispered, “no, stay.” The light was starting to take on that golden glow and was playing hide-and-seek with the shadows around the worn and crumbling graves. The tall grasses and wild flowers growing in this unkempt section of the cemetery convinced me to stop, take a breath, and continue my adventure. I had all the time in the world now. Well, until they locked the gate with me inside. Keeping that in mind, I located the next artwork.

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Making my way deeper into the quiet, forgotten areas, I felt more at peace myself. This portion of the cemetery stood in stark contrast to the gleaming granite, manicured lawns, and oft-frequented area where I had entered the grounds. Here nature was given free rein, the ravens, magpies, and butterflies the only other visitors. Now and then I’d come upon a withered bouquet left on a timeworn grave, and wonder who it was honoring their long dead ancestor. Or was it someone who pities the forgotten ones, and transplants bouquets from other areas of the necropolis?

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I wanted to sit and contemplate the artwork, the leaning headstones and toppled angels. There were no benches to sit on and I hadn’t thought to bring a blanket. I didn’t dare rest my derriere on a tumbling grave, for fear I’d tip it clean over. Or, those spirits I felt on the wind might whip through my hair, knock me down, take my breath and follow me home for interrupting their repose.

rookwood-cemetery-5-of-33Robert Hawkins The End of the Conversation

Having come to the final artwork, I decided, since I was halfway there, to continue to make my way overland to the far side of the cemetery and catch the train instead of going back to the bus. In the distance I could see a tall fence around the perimeter. Another thing I hadn’t reckoned on. Was there a gate on that side? It was getting late; I didn’t know how long it would take me to trek back to the east entrance, and my feet were starting to cry. I was beginning to feel a little panicky; I do have a fear of being locked inside creepy places, like that time at Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Salt Lake City.  My phone battery was dying, I wasn’t sure an Uber could get to this section of the cemetery, and I knew I couldn’t scale that fence, even if I wasn’t wearing a dress. I asked the local spirits to puh-leeese let me out! I’ve never been so happy to see the other side of a fence in my life.

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The HIDDEN Sculpture Walk ends on Sunday, but even without the art this cemetery is a beautiful place to visit. When I grow a pair of ovaries I’ll drive back out there, leave my camera at home, and just visit the residents.

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Some Art Happened

juju stick (7 of 7)
I was motivated to make a little mixed media art this week.

juju stick (6 of 7blessings)
I took a piece of driftwood that was found out at the lake.

juju stick (light)
It’s been sitting in my studio for too many years, waiting for me to do something with it.

juju stick (spirit)
So I did this.

juju stick (1 of 7)
We are heading off to Iowa again tomorrow for a big 4th of July family reunion.  I am thrilled to see my kids and their partners, and I’m looking forward to lots of fun times with my granddaughter!  I’ll be back in a couple weeks, with my granddaughter in tow.  So I promise of overload you with pictures of her and tales of our shenanigans:)

Have a safe and happy 4th of July wherever you may be!