Greta Balsillie’s husband was a Bendigo boy originally, and whenever they visited the family home, they’d also visit the family graves.
It started the relationship that has seen Mrs Balsillie volunteer at the Bendigo Cemetery for more than 25 years. Remembrance Parks Central Victoria honoured her service on Wednesday, along with that of Ian Belmont and Larry Wust.
When she started volunteering Mrs Balsillie had half a plan to write a story for every grave in the cemetery.
She’d be a busy woman, someone pointed out, as there were 60,000 interments, but Mrs Balsillie wasn’t daunted.
For her there’s a tale behind every burial.
“Every grave in the cemetery has a story, and they’ve all played a part in the history of Bendigo,” Mrs Balsillie said.
Among the notable names she lists are Sir John Quick and Anne Caudle, respectively the author of the plan which led to federation, and the woman who began subscriptions for the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum, now the Anne Caudle Centre.
Even some of the highest dramas in Australian history are remembered in Bendigo’s cemeteries.
Mrs Balsillie knows of the grave of Michael Reardon, who at just 16 was shot through the shoulder during Ned Kelly’s last stand.
He survived, living until 1942, and was buried still bearing a bullet in his chest from the shootout.
In her time volunteering Mrs Balsillie has seen the cemetery change beyond recognition.
It’s a testament to the power of volunteers.
“When I first came here we didn’t have a volunteer organisation, the cemetery was basically neglected,” Mrs Balsillie said.
RPCV chief executive Dean McElroy said the volunteers were driven by the needs of the community.
From tours, to research and even gardening, RPCV’s volunteers provided more than 4000 hours of work in the past financial year.
“They do it for the people and the needs they have when they come to the cemetery,” Mr McElroy said.
“They provide a lot of support to visitors to the cemetery.”
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