If you have ever paused a moment to wonder about Nambour and the hinterland’s rich local history, a visit to one of the many cemeteries is a journey back in time to discover more. 

by Rebecca Mugridge

Sunshine Coast graveyard tour guide and local historian Gillian Hall, owner of Discovering Hidden Gems Cemetery Tours, is passionate about bringing the history of Sunshine Coast graves and their stories to the community.

“They are such sacred places,” says Gillian, breaking into a warm smile, as she stands in the Avenue of Honour at Woombye Cemetery with outstretched arms. A tree-lined entrance leads you to the grounds beyond.

Gillian says hinterland cemeteries are places of local history and heritage that need to be cared for and celebrated. “People often do find it a healing thing to do, reflecting on life while visiting the graves. And we have often found the families that have connections to these cemeteries really appreciate that people have an interest in their family’s stories. And some of the stories are really quite inspirational.

“We often come across people that have made such a contribution to their community or their country.”

Gillian hopes to normalise cemeteries as integral parts of our community to visit, and is also proud to also be involved in the Sunshine Coast’s first natural burials.  

“From July 1st, Sunshine Coast Council will start offering natural burials on the Sunshine Coast. We are really excited that this choice will be available, it’s really helpful for people that want to choose something that is green or a more eco choice. 

“But it also aligns with a lot of different cultural and faith perspectives as well. Up until this point that kind of offering hasn’t been here.” 

One of the people Gillian has connected with through her cemetery tours is local craftsman Dan Murphy who makes speciality coffins for natural burials with recycled timber.  “Dan’s work gives people a choice of a coffin that is kind to the environment.”

Gillian also works closely with people like local author and artist Jenny Catalano, who has a strong family history in the area, and Stewart McCarthy, who loves the history side of the tours. 

“We met at a memorial service for Vietnam veterans and Gill told me what she does,” Stewart nods. “I was very interested right away. A lot of ex-service people are here, I’m an ex-serviceman, so that always interested me. Who is buried where? What units did they belong to?

“I have a great interest in history; and cemeteries are part of history.”

Gillian is thrilled that the tours are also part of the Australian Heritage Festival this year and receiving lots of interest. 

“It’s even taking us longer to arrange each tour event now, because so many community groups want to be involved in some way. In Witta, the Lions Club wants to start up a program about young people caring for the cemetery. 

One group with a strong connection and history with local cemeteries is Genealogy Sunshine Coast. Just above the Nambour pool, following the golden trail of flowers to the giant eye, then through the door you will find the welcoming wisdom of the genealogy scholars inside.

Christine Dyer, Wendy McMullin and Carolyn Slade are among the women currently compiling detailed books on military graves on the Sunshine Coast, with two books already produced and the Buderim edition next to be published.

Exactly how much time goes into each book?

“Years!” laughs Christine.
“Heaps, heaps, heaps,” agrees Wendy.

“You just can’t write a book like that in a couple of months,” Carolyn nods in agreement. “It’s just impossible. Mainly because of the research that goes into it. There is a lot of information in there..

“You look up their records. Some have hundreds of pages, others just a couple,” Christine explains. “You often see where they served, number of times in hospital, if they had mumps, Spanish flu, influenza. 

“Some were posted in Egypt, France, Italy. Others might go to Japan after the war in a peace-type force. A young Squadron Leader, Paul McCarthy was a doctor serving with the RAAF on an ADF humanitarian aid mission to Nias Island, Indonesia, when the Sea King helicopter he was on went down. Nine people were killed in the crash. Paul McCarthy was put to rest in our quiet little Diddlillibah Cemetery.”

A local woman was a morse operator. “She was a little bit like the ladies from the Bletchley Circle,” smiles Carolyn. “Vera Herse, she was one of the women doing these things behind the scenes, and they weren’t ever allowed to talk about it.” 

Christine adds, “Up in Townsville when the Japanese were coming, she was able to pick up the planes that weren’t ours.”

The tireless work of Genealogy Sunshine Coast volunteers is preserving local history. “We have documented every headstone in that cemetery (Woombye) up until ten years ago,” adds Wendy.

“It’s a fascinating place.”


Hidden Gems Cemetery Tours  are free, and the next event at Woombye Cemetery is on May 21. Book online: events.humanitix.com/storytelling-in-woombye-cemetery

Genealogy Sunshine Coast’s books are available to purchase from them directly. There is currently an edition on ‘Woombye’ and ‘The Small Cemeteries’ (Diddillibah, Eumundi, Gherulla, Mapleton, Old Nambour amd Yandina) Visit: heritage.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Places/Groups/Geneaology-Sunshine-Coast 

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