Axedale is a town with two cemeteries.
Its gum-lined public cemetery sits side by side with the ornate stone-walled Catholic cemetery.
Both offer clues to the history of European settlement in Axedale.
It was in 1864 that Axedale requested a cemetery of its own.
The nearest cemetery, at Back Creek, was 15 miles away.
During the cold, muddy winter it must have been a grueling trek for the townspeople to bury their dead.
1869 saw the first burial recorded in the cemetery, but it may have been used as early as 1865.
The oldest remaining stone dates from 1888, marking the resting place of David and Euphemia Mill.
Now the seemingly-random scattering of graves throughout the site tells the story of the town and the farming communities by which it was surrounded.
It drew people from as far as Longlea and Junortoun.
Many of the graves are a mystery in the cemetery of a small town like Axedale.
Cemetery volunteer Greta Balsillie often finds herself stumped by the graves.
To discover the story behind the gravestone Mrs Balsillie normally looks up the name in the annals of Bendigo, a collection of news reports.
But people who lived in outlying towns like Axedale rarely rated a mention in the city’s newspapers. Often they left little trace of their life on the record.
Unmarked graves make up as many of three-quarters of the burials in Axedale’s general cemetery, while many of the early stones have not survived the sands of time.
In many cases, a mound of rocky earth is all that remains of a person who was born, lived and died.
Why the cemetery split?
Even one cemetery might seem like a generous allotment to the town which was home to just 802 people in 2016.
Father Andrew Fewings, priest of the parish which takes in Axedale, believes the separation may be because the Catholic cemetery predates the public cemetery, or it could date from the times when burial places were closely linked with places of worship.
Most Australian cemeteries are split into sections that are home to the graves of different denominations and religions.
This was a departure from the European tradition in which burials took place in graveyards attached to a parish church, Father Fewings said.
Graves in the Catholic cemetery bear witness to the identity of the early settlers.
Many a monument lists the counties of Clare and Tipperary as the birthplace of those interred.
Its first recorded burial was for one Margaret Conroy, aged 36, who died on September 30, 1868.
Today people are still buried in both cemeteries.
Mrs Balsillie thinks Axewood locals must come to the cemetery to maintain the stones.
Fresh flowers adorn many of the plots, even those which date back over 100 years.
“It really is very well kept,” she said.
“Somebody is very diligent, there’s no rubbish, or weeds, or anything.”
Does your town’s cemetery have an interesting story?
The Bendigo Advertiser would love to hear from you as part of a series on central Victoria’s small cemeteries.
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