browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

Grave appeal of Sandgate cemetery

Posted by on 29/06/2018

NIGHT OWL: Waratah resident Kelly-Rae Shirlaw has enjoyed spending time in cemeteries at night since she was a teen. Picture Marina Neil Source: Newcastle Herald

SHE doesn’t worship Satan and doesn’t consider herself a goth, but Waratah resident Kelly-Rae Shirlaw has been hanging out in cemeteries at night since she was a teen.

And it seems she is not the only Hunter resident with the somewhat morbid interest.

Police received a fright while looking for a robber in Sandgate cemetery on Saturday morning – a mobile phone started to ring from among the gravestones.

A man who had earlier stormed a brothel and threatened an employee was last seen headed for the cemetery about 1am. Instead of the offender, the officers found four teenagers in gothic attire who popped up from behind a headstone.

Sandgate cemetery’s manager Chris Pryke – who was not aware of last weekend’s incident – said “paranormals” had been known to hang out at the cemetery after hours.

“They’re not supposed to be there after 7pm; we had some problems with paranormals in the cemetery here running over the graves 12 months ago,” he said.

“We came across photos of them doing it on Facebook and had a talk to them and told them not to.”

For Ms Shirlaw the appeal in cemeteries at night lies in how “peaceful” they can be.

“I’m definitely not one of those gothic stereotypes,” she said. “But I would say my reasons for visiting cemeteries at night would be similar.

“Most people who hang out in cemeteries would tell you it is so peaceful while you walk up and down the aisles.

“I wander around and also sit; it’s the quietness and the beauty of it that has always attracted me.

“Most people consider graveyards to be creepy but I don’t see anything creepy about them.

“A lot of people go to the beach to look at the water or go to the bush to do bushwalking, but what better place to come than the cemetery where you know no one is going to be?

“I’m not obsessed with the dead – I go here to understand my own mortality.

“This is where we end up.”

Ms Shirlaw, 33, estimated she had visited just about every cemetery in the Lower Hunter over the years.

“Sandgate cemetery opened in 1881, exactly 100 years before my birth day,” she said.

“Gravesites are where the people who went before us are. Even if their lives were insignificant, they still played their part.

“Apparently I had a cousin who was buried here, but he’s in an unmarked grave.”

About 90,000 people have been buried at Sandgate, which is the state’s third-largest cemetery.

It is estimated there are more than 4000 infant burials for which no marked grave or memorial exists, something acknowledged through a special monument built in 1999.

In September last year the cemetery started a database project aimed at learning about the stories behind the hundreds of unmarked graves that belong to the Hunter’s war contingent.

Ms Shirlaw, a university student, said that in recent years she had been forced to seek permission to attend Sandgate cemetery at night because other people had caused trouble there after hours.

“If you come here you should be respectful and understand this environment is not yours,” she said. “These are the people who helped build our city. You can’t trash that. It’s historical.”

Mr Pryke warned that anyone who went into the cemetery at night without permission was trespassing.

“People need to understand it’s a cemetery not a play park or camping reserve,” he said. “Actually with those teenagers [who police stumbled across], if it was night-time, they would have been trespassing. If people do not have permission I find that disrespectful.”

Mr Pryke said that security guards patrolled the cemetery at night and there were signs letting people know not to enter after 7pm.

Comments are closed.