116 Maitland Road, Sandgate, NSW 2304
The Sandgate War Cemetery sits surrounded by the Sandgate General Cemetery, it contains 73 war graves.
In 1942 after a visit from representatives of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a further three acres of the infectious disease site was set aside for what was called a ‘Soldiers Cemetery’.
Before 1942, veterans had been buried at Sandgate General Cemetery, but without special provision for them.
This cemetery is not part of Sandgate General Cemetery reserve but is a Commonwealth war graves site.
It is mainly used for WWII service personnel.
Sandgate General Cemetery is now the resting place for over 600 Novocastrian war heroes who returned from World War 1.
As well, there are over 230 graves where the memories of those that made the supreme sacrifice and are buried in foreign lands, have been memorialised by their family on headstones.
The city of Newcastle was a strategic military site both as a centre for heavy industry and as a busy seaport. On the 8th of June 1942 Newcastle came under attack from a Japanese submarine. The area was also a major staging area for AIF Divisions and supported some of the largest concentrations of troops in Australia throughout the war. The Australian Second Army including the 1st, 9th and 28th Brigades and the 3rd Army Tank Brigade were based on the outskirts of Newcastle, the 4th Armoured Brigade in Singleton and three Artillery Training Regiments at Greta.
The land finally selected was near the south channel of the Hunter River. The track to Maitland passed along the northern boundary and the south-western boundary was close to the northern rail line. Access, therefore, was available by all modes of transport – water, land and rail. Many early funerals came by boat, and barges were used to bring in the materials for the monumental masons whose yards were at first beside the river. The railway was the principal mode of transport to and from the cemetery for many years and continued so until 1985. Horse drawn vehicles remained in use until early motor hearses were introduced, approximately in the 1930s.
The land chosen for the cemetery was owned, since the mid-1830s, by the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC), which had purchased it from the first grantee John Laurio Platt. The AAC sold 50 acres (c. 20 ha) to the Crown for the cemetery and an adjoining acreage for an infectious diseases hospital. The land was a series of vegetated sand dunes at the western edge of Platt’s grant. The railway line crossed the Wallsend Road at a place called the Sand Hills Crossing and this name is the likely source of the locality name Sandgate.
The cemetery opened in 1881. The cemeteries in Newcastle town closed at this time. Sections of land at the Sandgate site were apportioned to nine religious groups and a tenth section was allocated to non-religious burials. Each denomination appointed trustees to manage their areas of responsibility. Clearing away trees began, drains were installed, walkways constructed, fencing erected and beautification undertaken. A branch railway was built that entered the cemetery and proceeded to a centrally placed platform.
A special Mortuary Station was built in Newcastle at Honeysuckle. Special trams conveyed funerals from the suburbs to the Mortuary Station. Most funerals that came from the city used the special funeral trains that travelled regularly between the Mortuary Station and Sandgate.
As more and more land was taken for gravesites, the early beautification schemes gave way to more intensive land use for burials and many mature trees were removed.
In the early years of the 20th century, further land was needed. Newcastle’s population had doubled from 27,000 to 54,000 between 1881 and 1901. The land reserved for the infectious diseases hospital was not required for this purpose, so in 1908 Sandgate cemetery was extended westward. The new areas were not landscaped in the style that had been used in the 1880s.
Due to changes in land use at the old cemeteries at Newcastle West some remains were brought from the city, re-interred and their memorials reinstated in Sandgate Cemetery. By this circumstance, some headstones in Sandgate Cemetery are dated as early as the 1840s.
In the era 1920s to 1930s, gravesites then being used were located at a distance from the rail platform, which had been sited centrally to the original cemetery. At the same time, motor funerals were becoming more common.
This era was characterised by the building by the principal religious denominations of special ‘chapels’ or lych- gates in the newer areas, for the convenience and comfort of funeral groups. These interesting structures are generally built in the newer section of the cemetery.
In addition to the original denominational allocations, further sites were made available for other religious groups such that today precincts exist for Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Wesleyan Methodist, Methodist, Primitive Methodist, Uniting Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Jewish, Salvation Army, Chinese, Greek Orthodox, Macedonian and Muslim adherents. Other precincts are allocated for general or non-denominational use.
In 1942 three acres of the land still held by the Crown was provided for a Soldiers Cemetery. Before 1942, veterans had been buried at Sandgate but without special provision being made for them.
Today, the total area of the cemetery is about 31 ha. There is a general lawn cemetery, above ground crypts, a ‘garden of innocents’ for infant burials and memorials, and special places for interment of ashes.
Sandgate Cemetery is located on Crown land. The management arrangement set in place in 1881 continued for 106 years. As the cemetery grew in size the task of maintenance became increasingly difficult as well as a matter of community concern.
In 1987 the cemetery was brought under the control of the then Department of Land and Water Conservation and a single non-sectarian community-based trust of seven people was appointed by the Minister to oversee cemetery management. Shortly after the trust’s appointment, the damage to cemetery infrastructure, especially drainage, caused by the 1989 Newcastle earthquake added to the large task ahead in revitalising the cemetery.
The initial task was the development of a comprehensive Plan of Management for the site, taking into consideration the cemetery’s physical, cultural and spiritual qualities. The Department and the NSW Heritage Office provided funding for this major study. Architect Planners, Suters Architect Snell undertook the work during the early 1990s. The Minister adopted the Plan following a period of public exhibition and consultation. Funding to proceed with the recommendations was obtained under the Federal Government’s ‘Working Nation Initiative’.
This valuable DEET (Department of Employment, Education and Training) Scheme was implemented over two years. Work opportunities were provided for about 150 people. The Wallsend Training and Development Centre in association with EJE Group Landscape supervised the work. Improvements made to the cemetery in this round of works included erecting new boundary fencing and gates, upgrading of internal roads and paths, landscaping, tree planting and installing watering systems, seating, signage and other amenities. Conservation work was done to the historic rail precinct, church buildings and shelters.
Upon conclusion of the DEET funded scheme, the trust appointed a manager in early 1997 who continued the implementation of the Management Plan by the judicious use of resources and funding opportunities. Since then a number of projects have been implemented such as the habitat rehabilitation of the railway spur precinct, undertaken under the ‘Green Corps’ (Young Australian for the Environment) Program. On the southern boundary of Sandgate, between the cemetery and the railway, is a remanent of wetland that had long been a wild, unmanaged wasteland. After six months of the Green Corps program, this area became a delightful, accessible environment enhanced by a walking trail with areas and facilities to sit and enjoy interesting vegetation and wetland scenery. When clearing this precinct, a few rare plant were identified that could almost be called ‘heritage’ species.
Another program was the construction of a heritage walking trail through the original sections of the cemetery. This was achieved through a ‘Work for the Dole’ project. Groups of young people tackled this initiative with great enthusiasm and their achievements were highly commendable. They were introduced to history, heritage, botany and plant culture, monumental masonry, restoration techniques, and the making and erection of signs.
During 1998 a lawn cemetery and a chapel with above-ground crypts were opened, the latter to serve the needs of Newcastle’s significant Italian community.
In early 1999 a special monument was built to remember the over-4, 000 infant burials at Sandgate for which no marked grave or memorial exists.
Another special project honoured the hundreds of citizens remembered on graves in the cemetery who fought in or who were killed in the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Submitted by Julianne T Ryan, courtesy of Sandgate Cemetery. 13/03/2017. Lest we forget.