The Queen Victoria market makes for an unusual archaeological site. It is built on top of a cemetery referred to in documents as ‘Old Cemetery’. Literally just beneath the bitumen, as little as 1.5 metres below the car park and adjacent market stalls are the remains of 9,000 settlers including Aboriginal remains. Figures vary according to different historians but 9,000 is generally the most estimated and accepted figure. Hundreds of vehicles park on top of their bodies.
The Cemetery was established in 1837 and existed officially till 1922. The last burials were in 1917 according to old documents at the State Library i read a few years back. It is generally believed that as Melbourne was expanding it was decided that the site was no longer suitable. Many of the bodies were moved to Melbourne , Fawkner and Kew Cemeteries. Its not known exactly why so many bodies were still left on site. No documentation for this seems to exist.
The only known existing plan of the cemetery below clearly shows the burials were in segregated areas. These show that it was divided up into several sections like Roman Catholic, Wesleyan and Presbyterian. Sadly Aboriginal people were seen as second class citizens so were buried outside the parameter walls. The right hand side of the map shows their place.
I often go to the market on my lunch break from my work nearby and I wonder whose remains im walking on top of. It gives a whole new meaning to the saying ‘walking on someone’s grave’. Here at the market you really do walk on someone’s grave unintentionally of course.
It’s always surprised me at how many people don’t even know about the existence of the cemetery at the market. I’ve asked various people and they all appear surprised and somewhat shocked at this fact. Then again most people sadly don’t know about the history of this city. It’s a sad reflection i believe of the state of our history education. Out of all the people in my circle of friends and family the only ones who knew about the cemetery were my mother’s friends Lina and Wilma who happen to be funeral directors. Anything to do with death and burial they generally have good knowledge of.
One stall holder I spoke to a while ago on my lunch break in the fruit and vegetable section is convinced his section of the market is haunted by a ghost of a bushranger. He told me that after dark the ghost makes itself known. I must say that i have seen the stalls after hours from the road and they do look rather spooky.
This Cemetery is a vital part of our history. It needs to be told more. Reporters need to cover it more. I believe we need to show our respect to all these early Melbournians just like we show respect when we visit places like Gallipoli. The city of Melbourne is expanding at an incredibly fast rate and new development is taking place daily that its important that it doesn’t overshadow this history completely.
On Thursday the 31st of October 2013 Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle announced that a new parkland and underground car park will be constructed under a proposed redevelopment of the market. It was stated that the bodies will not be disturbed for the works. I question this personally.
In addition i think there should be proper signage explaining the true history of this site. Currently there is the most ineffective signage in existence. Its disrespectful. Next time your buying your fruit and veggies spare a thought for all those people your walking on top of. What were their stories? , Who did they love? What were their aspirations in life ? Surely they never envisioned a market being built on top of them.