Have you picnicked in a cemetery?

18th May 2024
By Engagement Committee
FHACT has organised many cemetery picnics as monumental inscriptions were transcribed.

Beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the 1980s, members transcribed monumental inscriptions from large and small cemeteries around the Australian Capital Territory and regional New South Wales.   

The task of creating permanent records and indices for monumental and other inscriptions was initially outlined as one of the primary objects of the Canberra Genealogy and Heraldry Group when it was formed in 1964. The genealogical and historical information displayed on headstones is a helpful aid to research. Preservation of this valuable information, which is susceptible to heat, weathering, vandalism, environmental change or even damage by animals, remains important.

In those days before internet and emails, many letters were exchanged between the Society and local shire councils, parish offices, historical societies and even the local police, as which cemeteries to be transcribed were sorted out and access was arranged. Transcribing inscriptions often took more than one visit and access commonly required scaling fences, avoiding nettles and other nasty prickly plants, and sometimes, even evading the local animals. Cemeteries and graveyards transcribed by our volunteers in the early days included sites at Binalong, Bowning, Bungendore, Cootamundra, Currandooley, Goulburn, Harden -Murrumburrah, Jerangle, Murrumbateman, Round Plain, Yarra and Yass—to name just some. The work of transcribing headstones continued for many years and covered cemeteries right across the Canberra Region.

Members were encouraged to participate in what member Pam Ray described as fieldwork in genealogy. ‘Most of our members seem to have enjoyed our forays into the various and varied graveyards that we have visited during the past few years. After transcribing for several hours, everyone is more than ready for a picnic lunch, over which to swap yarns and boast of recent research successes’. 


Hence the name cemetery picnics was devised to describe the gathering of members, families and friends to carry out this important transcription work. 

Copies of the typed list of transcriptions were sent to the Society of Australian Genealogists, the National Library of Australia and the relevant local historical society, with the original kept by the Society.  Members expressed the hope that the Society might eventually publish a book of all the burial lists for all cemeteries in the ACT and surrounding districts.  With this aim in mind, a letter was written to the Canberra Cemetery Trust in 1975 and a full list of burials was subsequently provided to the Society, to which transcription information was gradually added.

The Society was fortunate to secure a $100 grant from the ACT Totalisator Agency Board, to support the publication of the initial edition of ACT cemetery transcriptions.  With additional funding contributed by members Neville and June Penny, Pam Ray and Grahame Thom, Monumental Inscriptions: Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay (1977) came to fruition.  In the following years, additional volumes of monumental inscriptions were created covering cemeteries throughout southeast regional New South Wales.

At the Society’s Annual General Meeting in 1984, President Bill Marsh paid tribute to the cemetery picnic volunteers. ‘The race against the ravages of time continues as the Society documents the vital information on cemetery headstones in the southeastern region of NSW. The dedicated volunteers who made up the transcription teams venturing out in all sorts of weather under the leadership of Pam Ray have the satisfaction of knowing they have helped to record history, especially when they see the results of their endeavours printed and bound and much sought after by genealogical searches.’









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