Symbolism plays an important role in the ritual of death. Throughout the ages society has remembered the dead by erecting monuments and memorials. These monuments are often symbolic and convey broader meanings.
Gravestones in the Ballarat Old and New Cemeteries sometimes depict the occupations or status of the departed. Edward (Ned) Devine, also known as Cabbage Tree Ned, a Cobb & Co driver, has a coach, horseshoes and straps engraved on his tombstone. John James Bailey’s gravestone, a magnificent Celtic cross is covered with musical symbols. Martin Hosking, who had helped many in his role as the Town and City Missioner, was honoured by the placement of a large obelisk on his grave. This was ornamented with a closed bible and a bronze engraving of his face. The grave of King Billy has spear-like cross bars, which penetrate the granite of the four fence posts erected around its obelisk. Mullawallah or Frank Wilson, as he was known, was said to be a member of the Burrumbeet Balug, and one of the last of the Ballarat people. Charles Dunn’s tombstone on the other hand is engraved with the hose, nozzle, and helmet of a fire fighter, owing to the fact that he was Captain of the City Fire Brigade.
Some symbols on graves give an indication of how the buried person died. The grave of eighteen year old James Scobie who was murdered in the lead up to Eureka is prominent for its plain cut off column of bluestone on a bluestone pedestal. On the east side is a marble slab with the inscription: In Memory of James Scobie, who met with a premature death on ‘Eureka’. The truncated column depicts a life cut short and was erected by his brother. A freestanding column on the other hand symbolises the sky, God and deity in general. An obelisk is the symbol of eternal life, fertility, regeneration and resurrection. There is an outstanding example of a white column at the Old Cemetery with a scroll of ivy enwrapped about its length. Ivy, being evergreen, signifies loyalty, patience, immortality and bonding. The scroll is a symbol of life and time.
Flowers have special significance. Roses are for innocence, lilies are white and pure, while ferns depict humility as they grow in the shade. Fruit such as grapes depict abundance, while apples, the forbidden fruit, are also the fruit of salvation and love.
Draped urns on graves signify death or dying. One of the most famous funerary urns in the Old Cemetery is that on the Eureka Diggers’ monument. The draped urn was popular in late Victorian times especially in vase form. These are symbolic of Roman cremation urns depicting remembrance.
The Ballaarat General Cemeteries are places of great cultural significance. The graves within them reflect not only the architecture of different periods, but they are a physical reminder of the many loved ones who are entombed there. They express also feelings and experiences of sadness, loss, grief, and sometimes even of peacefulness. Some of these symbols are depicted in The Silent City: A History of Ballaarat General Cemeteries available from the Ballarat Cemeteries Trust.