The Case for Saving
Point Nepean

Mary Kruithof

15 August 2003

Not for Sale
Picture by courtesy of the Victiorian National Parks Association

Throughout the debate about the sale of the old quarantine land at Point Nepean (outlined in the picture above), little or no mention has been made of the existence of a quarantine cemetery of major historical importance. Some one hundred bodies were buried there between November 1852 and August 1854 more than two-thirds being passengers from the fever-ship Ticonderoga, (hence the name Ticonderoga Bay off the old quarantine site). About another thirty-three were from twelve other ships quarantined there during that period. In the absence of materials for coffins, the relatives had to bury their dead in shrouds, and mark the graves with rough bits of sandstone and pieces of wood. Because the cemetery was within quarantine boundaries, they were never able to visit the graves again.

The original markers weathered away a long time ago and for about one hundred years the site was badly neglected. In the early 1950s army personnel cleaned it up and moved the few remaining intact monuments to the Point Nepean cemetery just outside the old quarantine boundaries. It is not known whether they removed any remains from the graves marked by those monuments. However, they did demolish the broken-down fence marking the original cemetery. Also at about that time, a drain was put right through the cemetery to service new army buildings and during the process bones were dug up. These, in turn, were re-interred in the Point Nepean cemetery. I don't know why they weren't put back where they were found. Somehow, I get the feeling the army might not have wanted to acknowledge the cemetery's existence on their land.

Since 1852, the graves have been off-limits to relatives and descendants and even now, though the land is no longer occupied, special permission has to be sought before anyone can visit there. The cemetery's fence was never replaced, so the location of its boundaries has been lost in time. Today there are many thousands of people with family connections to the site. Many will be quite oblivious to this fact, but many others cherish their family stories about kin who died in that lonely place long ago. A large monument, displaying the names of the dead, was erected in 2002 just outside the estimated boundary of the original cemetery. At least it goes some of the way towards fulfilling the need, felt by many, for a tangible memorial - even though it is still not readily accessible.

As well as having strong family bonds for many people, the old cemetery is an important historic site in its own right. It reflects poorly on the decision makers that they have seemingly overlooked its very existence and its relevance and significance to our early colonial history.

It has been said that bad things happen when good people do nothing. You may want to add your voice to those wanting to preserve this priceless area for the people of Victoria. One way is to visit the website of the Victorian National Parks Association and follow some (or all) of their suggestions. Their web site is at:

http://www.vnpa.org.au

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