Rookwood Cemetery & Crematorium
The first registered burial in the Roman Catholic Cemetery was of a 14 month old baby, Catherine McMullen. The burial took place on the 7th January 1867. Soon after, Rookwood was served by a railway line running from Sydney's Mortuary Station, located at Regent Street to the Receiving Station at Rookwood. Like a lot of 19th century Sydney architecture, both were built with the familiar colour of Pyrmont sandstone. However, with the arrival of the motorised hearse the railway came to an end in 1948.
Rookwood Necropolis still retains much of it's nineteenth century features. It was with the development of a romantic attitude towards death and dying in Victorian Britain that saw the Garden Cemetery make it's debut. This concept in cemetery planning was transported to the colony of New South Wales virtually unchanged. The main purpose of a garden cemetery was to "be a park-like location set aside as a pleasant resting place for the dead and a comforting site for mourners to visit" (David A Weston, "The Sleeping City").
The cemetery was a major employer at the turn of the century, attracting stone masons from all over Sydney to work on headstones and the many Gothic buildings within the Rookwood grounds.
Rookwood is a suburb unto itself - the only Sydney suburb without a postcode or voting rights.
The Catholic section of Rookwood takes up approximately one third of the area of the cemetery. Among the quarter of a million graves are those of former premiers Joe Cahill and Jack Lang, Federal politician Fred Daly, and an infamous bank robber, Darcey Dugan.
In the cemetery as a whole are the graves of many famous Australians including Peter Dodds McCormick, the composer of Advance Australia Fair, Harry Van Der Sluice, better known as Roy Rene and creator of the character Mo, Louisa Lawson, suffragette, newspaper proprietor and mother of Henry and John Fairfax, the founder of the publishing dynasty, and Bea Miles, the Sydney eccentric.
In earlier times death was accompanied by more elaborate rituals than we are accustomed to today. At the end of the 19th Century, coffins were brought to Rookwood by train from the Mortuary Station in the city. (This can still be seen at Central Station.) The Rookwood Station was dismantled and re-erected as an Anglican church in Canberra.
The first Catholic Crematorium in Australia was officially opened on Saturday, 17 February 2007. The $7 million crematorium project includes a Catholic chapel and crematorium, condolence rooms and columbaria for placement of cremated remains.
The Mary, Mother of Mercy Chapel and Crematorium will allow for the committal following Mass in the local parish church or for Mass and the committal to take place at the Crematorium.
For a period, cremation was forbidden by the Catholic Church, not because cremation was inherently wrong, but rather, that from the time of the French Revolution, cremation had been actively promoted by liberal and atheistic movements to promote anticlericalism, thus denying the resurrection of the body, a belief integral to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In 1963 Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation after reviewing the matter in light of the prevailing social, economic and environmental conditions. The Church teaches that the cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect as the remains of a whole body.
In endorsing the new facilities, Cardinal Pell said : “Just as the human body deserves to be treated with respect and dignity in life, so should it be treated in death. It is therefore appropriate that the Catholic Cemetery Trust at Rookwood which already provides for the preferential final disposition of a human body through burial or entombment, also provides for the relatively recent option of cremation within a purely Catholic context."