It’s not just ghosts that walk through Castlemaine’s cemetery, Helen Gramberg and Andrew Le Clercq will be clocking up their graveyard miles in the coming year.
The two will guide visitors through the burial ground as part of new cemetery tours, which promise to reveal another side of Castlemaine.
But sorry. It’s not Helen Gramberg and Andrew Le Clercq who’ll be guiding the group. It’s unsuccessful Irish miner Andrew O’Reilly and schoolmistress Miss Myrtle.
Both Ms Gramberg and Mr Le Clercq have long been involved in amateaur theatre, so it was only natural they’d adopt personas.
They are just that though – personas – neither Mr Le Clercq nor Ms Gramberg wanted to disrespect those buried in the cemetery by adopting the character of any real person interred at the cemetery.
Instead they’ve aimed to create representative characters, to pull those on the tour into the rich history of the Castlemaine goldfields.
Their aim is to share something of the lives of the 22,000 at rest in the cemetery.
Mr Le Clercq is sure that those on the tour will be surprised by what they discover.
At its peak Castlemaine was home to tens of thousands of miners, of all nationalities.
Irish, Chinese, Italian, German and Swiss were among the languages that could be heard on the goldfields.
There were so many Welsh miners that at one stage Castlemaine boasted an area with 20 Welsh speaking churches.
Mr Le Clercq has found it a bit of a revelation to discover this often forgotten element of the goldfields.
“It was fascinating to see this whole other Castlemaine,” Mr Le Clercq said.
“The opportunity to do these tours has opened a window into the history, particularly the goldfields.”
An accident of time means the Castlemaine Cemetery is actually buried deep in Campbells Creek.
It was one of many cemeteries that sprung up to accommodate the huge population of the goldfields.
These people lived in precarious times, when a measles epidemic could kill four children from one family in a month. Waves of typhoid could kill thousands.
The tour will explore the rich symbolism on many of the tombstones, the meaning of which is not known to many today.
Roses were one example. A rose in full bloom indicated someone who passed away in the prime of life, while a bud suggested a young life, lost before its time. Fencing was to keep ghosts out.
It’s a unique way of sharing the past, and Ms Gramberg hopes that the theatrical cemetery tours may inspire people to develop an interest in history.
”I love history and love theatre, so this combines both. I just love it,” she said.
“I’m just fascinated by the history of the 22,000 people here.”
Tours will run on Saturday nights for 90 minutes. The first tour will take place on January 19. Bookings are essential.
More information available at twistedhistory.net.au
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