Lost cemetery found

Mitiamo Cemetery with Terrick Terrick National Park in the background.

Last week’s query from a prairie conservationist in Nebraska has been solved. Bendigo’s lost cemetery has been found – somewhere else! Not surprisingly, the discovery wasn’t made by a plant ecologist or naturalist, but by a more regular denizen of graveyards – a genealogist.

Carol J, who hosts a comprehensive web site on cemeteries and headstones, identified Glenn’s photo as being from the Eganstown Roman Catholic Cemetery west of Daylesford – which is ‘close’ to Bendigo, but far enough away to deepen the mystery. Carol kindly provided the following photo which matches Glenn’s original. Reddish-brown Themeda tussocks (Kangaroos Grass) can be seen between the graves in both photos.

Eganstown Roman Catholic Cemetery.
The ‘lost’ cemetery. Photo by Glenn from Nebraska.

Believe it or not, Eganstown cemetery also features on YouTube, in a short clip in which ex-Member of Parliament, Phil Cleary chats about his Irish ancestors (the web truly is an amazing place).

From a conservation point of view, cemetery web sites provide a fast way to identify places that may contain high-quality remnant vegetation and endangered plants. The photos below from Carol’s web site show high-quality remnant vegetation at Amherst Cemetery, south of Maryborough in western Victoria, and Mitiamo cemetery, beside Terrick Terrick National Park in northern Victoria. I’ve never been to Amherst, but Mitiamo Cemetery is a great spot.

Amherst Cemetery: a great place for endangered species?

I haven’t heard of any rare plants at Amherst or Eganstown cemeteries, so if anyone knows of anything interesting, please leave a comment below.

From Nebraska to Mitiamo, ecology to genealogy, in two short steps. Nothing beats the world wide web for demonstrating the power of ‘inter-disciplinary research’.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Helen, Carol and everyone else who enthusiastically joined in the search.

Next week’s blog: back to plants again – on sand, shrubs and weeds.

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13 thoughts

  1. I was struck by the history of Eganstown cemetery and the stimulatory history of the Old Catholic Cemetery near Denison Iowa. The Iowa cemetery is also the finally resting place for many of the Irish immigrants who came to Iowa for the land. They came from Kerry, Clare and Galway county for the good rich Iowa farm land. I can image the discussion of the Irish people should we go to American or Australia. Now they lay in the rich soil with Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) decorating their graves. The You Tube video tells of a young man who died in Belgium during WW1 in 1917 that is buried in Eganstown cemetery. Another of my prairie pioneer cemeteries contains the bone of John Selchta who died Nov 1 1918 in Verdum France fighting in the same war.

    1. Hi Glenn, thanks for your comment and for stimulating the search. I hadn’t realised that the cultural history of the prairie and our grasslands was so tightly interwoven. It is no surprise that they both shared similar fates given that the same peoples settled both regions. Best wishes Ian

  2. A pity I didn’t check your Bendigo Cemetery entry earlier, Ian. I’m familiar with all the cemeteries in Bendigo – I did some research into lichens across central Victoria a few years ago, and I could have confirmed that it wasn’t in Bendigo!

    While the soil around the graves harbour important species for conservation, so too do the grave stones and headstones themselves. Lichenometry uses lichen growth rates to determine surface ages in areas where there is poor documentary evidence or where traditional dating techniques such as carbon dating don’t work. It has mostly been used in arctic and alpine areas, but shows promise in arid environments and places where the rocks are reworked, such as the mullock heaps of the central Victorian goldfields. Cemeteries provide one of the best sources of accurately aged rock surfaces that can be used to establish growth curves for lichens. Unfortunately, keen historians, cemeterophiles, and the Australian War Graves Commission often ‘clean up’ the headstones, resetting the lichenometric clocks. Made my job considerably harder.

    1. Hi Gregg, thanks for your comment, that’s a completely different way in which cemeteries promote biodiversity. Best wishes with your lichen work, it’ll be great to see the results, Cheers Ian

  3. Gregg
    We who manage pioneer cemeteries with native plants, prairie, one of the main management practices is prescribed fire. Your fellow lichenologist express concern that lichen are damaged in the process. Fire does move very fast in these cemeteries and I have never seen a tombstone damaged because of fire but do not know the effect on lichens.

    1. Glen,
      I’ve looked at lichens on rocks in the Victorian Alps following wildfire, and the damage to lichens is patchy. My guess is mortality will depend on intensity, lichen morphology, and aspect of the grave/headstone, to think of a few of the most obvious factors.
      It’s been a few years since I got right into the literature on this, but a great starting point is Bull, W.B. and Brandon, M.T., 1998: Lichen dating of earthquake-generated regional rockfall events, Southern Alps, New Zealand. Geological Society of America Bulletin
      110, 60–84.
      I’m pretty sure that in this paper Bull talks about dating a wildfire that swept across part of one of his rockfall sites, from the signal in his lichen data. This didn’t totally obscure the older signals of rockfall events, but did reduce the amplitude of the rockfall ‘signal’ in that area.
      I’ve pondered whether lichens would be useful for reconstructing fire chronologies, but my guess is it would require some pretty specific site conditions, and lichenometry and lichen taxonomy is not sufficiently advanced in Australia to make it worth pursuing.

  4. In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Betz discovered some of the finest prairies in Illinois, USA hiding in the turf of old cemeteries. He recognized “bonsai” prairie plants there. Burning often revealed one hundred or more other rare species. Ending the mowing, and then burning frequently, utterly transformed these sites (many of which are now dedicated nature preserves) in just a few years.
    I took a stab many years back at finding such conservation opportunities on Martha’s Vinyard, Massachusetts, USA. I found at least one such cemetery but never had time to follow up. The original vegetation of the surrounding landscape seemed totally lost under brush, deep pine needles, etc.

    1. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Betz at a North American Prairie Conference in Iowa many years ago. What was remarkable about Dr Betz he was not a botanist by training.

    2. Hello Stephen, thanks again for your comment. We’re a little more fortunate in SE Australia, as rapid shrub and tree encroachment isn’t a widespread problem in our cemetery remnants. A more widespread issue is competition from dominant grasses, especially kangaroo grass (Themeda), which can smother out smaller herbs. Burning, slashing or crash grazing are mostly used in our grasslands to reduce grass biomass, rather than to control shrubs and trees. We would have a huge management problem if our grassland remnants were lost beneath shrubs and trees as rapidly as occurs in your prairies. Thanks again, and best wishes, Ian

  5. More on a brush story: The “heath hen” went extinct about 1920, making its last stand on Martha’s Vinyard. Expert sources blamed too much fire. This didn’t make sense to me. So I went there in 1982, spending some time looking through historic sources and looking at the landscape. With 60 years of fire protection, 20-foot oaks and pines covered most of the sandy former “heath,” except for a mowed airstrip and a few other odds and ends. I took a lot of photos and started writing an article. Then I came across “Death of a Firebird” (by the Hendersons) in a popular publication. They laid out a sensible rebuttal very clearly. If no one listened to them, I wondered who’d listen to me. So that initiative went on a back burner and then suspended animation. Thanks, Ian, for your engaging focus on this fun and important stuff.

  6. Ladies and Gentlemen, discovered by chance your amazing contribution to a part of nature and humanity and similarity with a USA cemetery My in laws Jack & Joan Paton including Joans’ Grandfather are buried at the Eganstown cemetery together with other family members. To us it was not a lost cemetery as far i can remember first meeting my wife Julie Paton over 40 years ago. We used to go to the Old Catholic Church nearby at Blampied then stop to place flowers on the graves coming home to Julies grandparents pioneer house which he built at Eganstown. I have wondered at times about helping clean up the the older graves including the long grasses but the trustees maintain it a lot better now and the grass is cut. Knowing that concerned people like you are trying to save our traditional plants in the world is good to hear, especially with modified plants entering the world. I will inform my extended family of your website. Thank you for reading my comment.
    David Nugara

    1. Hello David, thank you very much for sharing your wonderful experiences at Eganstown. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Best wishes to you and your family, Ian

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