Paddington Cemetery was one of the first to be established in Queensland. In its place there now stands a monument of a different kind. The cemetery operated from 1844 as the primary burial ground for Brisbane’s settler residents. Like other early cemeteries, it was divided by religious denomination and included separate sections for non-believers and paupers.
By the 1860s the Paddington Cemetery was overcrowded, neglected and falling into disrepair. There were calls for a new site and in 1875 the Toowong cemetery was officially opened. The Paddington graveyard remained, falling into further disorder into the early 20th century.
In 1907, there were calls to turn the area into a park, including a sports field. The cemetery couldn’t just be demolished so the Queensland Government passed The Paddington Cemetery Act in 1911 allowing them to move the bodies to another location.
The number of graves was approximately 4,600, although burial records were not always kept. 500 memorials and headstones were moved to a small reserve at Christ Church, Milton, and 186 bodies relocated at the request of the families. The rest of the remains stayed where they were. The grounds of the cemetery were divided based on religious denominations. An Elder of the Turrbal people was present while work was carried out within the Aboriginal Cemetery.
The parkland was established and named Lang Park after John Dunmore Lang. Over the years the park grew and hosted a multitude of sports and activities, becoming the home of rugby league in Brisbane. In 1958, it hosted its first Brisbane Rugby League Grand Final in which Brothers defeated Valleys ‘22 points to 7’.
In 2002, a major upgrade was ordered to develop the state-of-the-art facility now known as Suncorp Stadium. The perhaps-forgotten cemetery was reintroduced into the minds of Queenslanders when Archaeology students from the University of Queensland went to the site to conduct a dig.
During this time some of Queensland’s earliest European residents were relocated, but not all of them. Many of the bodies remain on the site today, truly dwarfed by the massive structure above, and making Suncorp Stadium truly hallowed ground.
In 2002, Scottish-born artist Jill Kinnear presented an artwork titled Veil to commemorate Brisbane’s first major cemetery after free settlement. The image of torn cloth was used to signify grief and acceptance. From the artists statement;
The main image on the glass wall in front of you appears to cover the South East corner of the building with torn cloth; the fabric is similar to that used for burials by several religions. Torn cloth is a symbol of grief, but also of acceptance. The tear in Veil acknowledges the grief of communities that used the old cemetery and declares this place to have special meaning for them.
The work on level three is a knot to remind us not to forget. Memory ties the past to the present, our innermost thoughts to social history. The knot is a symbol of commitment, continuity and connection. The Bungwall ferns that appear faintly in the cloth once grew in this area. The word memory faces both inside and outside, linking exterior to interior. A reproduction of handwriting from 1910 has been used for the inside face. Above, the cloth is torn apart to show grief, and below it is tied together to show remembrance.
The Veil continues to be a reminder, above the Christ Church Milton, of what stood before the stadium and what is still buried below it.
Cover image: Milton looking across the former Paddington Cemetery, c.1870; ITM1021153