Culture and heritage

Heritage

Cemetery reveals past lives

Archaeologists work on a burial site during the investigation of the Cadia cemetery. Photograph by Edward Higginbotham.

Archaeologists work on a burial site during the investigation of the Cadia cemetery. Photograph by Edward Higginbotham.

Mining and conservation are often thought to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But in a valley near Orange, an innovative approach by a mining company to the conservation of an historic landscape has won plaudits from both heritage professionals and the local community.

In the 19th century Cadia village grew up in a scenic valley 30 km south of Orange in the central west of NSW. Immigrants from Cornwall and other parts of the UK were drawn to the steep hills in the search for copper and gold. Living conditions were not always easy in this small mining town and like other communities in the 19th century, it suffered a high infant mortality rate. Over 100 individuals were buried in the village's cemetery in the second half of the century. The majority of these were children.

When Newcrest Mining established in the 1990s what was to become one of the largest open cut gold mines in Australia, the company was faced with the challenge of managing a historic landscape. The company's mining lease included the remains of Cadia village, Iron Duke mine and the remnants of successive gold mining operations over 150 years. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the 19th cemetery which due to its position would have to be exhumed and relocated.

From 1998 Newcrest liased with the NSW Heritage Office over its plans for the site. Cadia is one of NSW's most significant industrial heritage places. The Cadia Engine House and surrounds are listed on the State Heritage Register as a rare example of the introduction of Cornish mining technology to Australia in the 19th century. In consenting to the exhumation of the Cadia Cemetery, the Heritage Council made it a condition that the remains be reburied.

The Heritage Office provided advice on both the design of the new Garden of Remembrance and the way the cemetery was to be exhumed. Newcrest Mining proposed to rebury the cemetery within the mining lease close to the original location of the cemetery, but outside the area impacted by the new mining operations.

Newcrest employed landscape architect, Paul Knox, to design the Garden of Remembrance. Knox's design was developed in consultation with Newcrest and the NSW Heritage Office and resulted in a garden that respects the significant historic landscape in which it sits.

The new garden reflects the original layout of the cemetery, something which was very important to the descendants. Each burial is marked by a boulder of local stone sourced from within the mining lease. This allows the site to blend into the landscape when viewed from other parts of the valley. Still the garden is clearly identifiable as a cemetery when viewed up close. The few surviving headstones from the original cemetery have been put back into the new garden.

Very few 19th century cemeteries have been exhumed in Australia. The Cadia project provided a rare opportunity to study Australian burial practice over the last 150 years and to add to the history of the Cadia region. The exhumation was undertaken with permission from the NSW Heritage Council and the Department of Health. Over a period of six months in 1998 Cadia Cemetery was exhumed by a team of 15 archaeologists to make way for the open cut pit of the Cadia Hill gold mine.

This was only the second time in Australia that a complete 19th century graveyard was archaeologically excavated and studied scientifically. The excavation revealed a great deal of information about burial practices. The team uncovered remnants of funeral clothing and shrouds and an array of grave goods. These included a baby's feeding bottle, a set of ceramic false teeth and jewellery. Some of the surviving coffins had elaborate name plates and handles. After examination, all these items were reburied with the individuals they came from.

A scientific program was also undertaken by a team of forensic experts to study the remains before they were reburied. The scientific program revealed much information about the health and lifestyle of the people of Cadia. Estelle Lazer was brought in to work on the analysis of the skeletal material. Lazer is a forensic archaeologist who has worked on projects around the world, including Spitalfields cemetery in London and the Pompeii site in Italy. Her study of the remains at Cadia is revealing fascinating details about 19th century life, such as the high number of broken noses among the Cadia men and the over developed leg joints, presumably a result of the hard lifestyle and hilly terrain.

The scientific program also has unexpected benefits for us today. Opportunities for scientists to track DNA over a century are rare. By comparing the DNA of the remains from Cadia with that of volunteers among the descendants, scientists will be able to test the accuracy of modern DNA tests.

The project has received wide support from within the local community. A successful consultation program has meant that descendants of those buried at Cadia have been very much involved in the process that saw their ancestor's place of rest moved to a new location. Their ideas contributed to both the siting and style of the Garden of Remembrance. The memorial garden is situated within the Cadia Engine House's State Heritage Register curtilage. This was done at the request of descendants who wanted the new site protected indefinitely. It is also fitting that the inhabitants of Cadia remain within the landscape in which they lived and worked.

In May this year relatives and descendants from all over Australia, members of the study team and staff of the mine gathered at the Garden of Remembrance on the hillside above the Cadia Engine House. On this special site, which commands spectacular views of the valley, a rededication ceremony was held. It was followed by an afternoon of talks given by key members of the project team on the exhumation and reburial.

Newcrest Mining are committed to best practice heritage conservation of this significant historic landscape. They now work closely with the Heritage Council to ensure this happens. The Heritage Council has congratulated Newcrest on its innovative approach and high standard of heritage management. The Heritage Council now uses Cadia Hill mine as a best practice example when dealing with other mining operations.

A viewing platform and interpretation centre have been built by Newcrest near the memorial garden to allow visitors to understand both the historic and modern mining landscapes. Photograph by Caitlin Allen.

A viewing platform and interpretation centre have been built by Newcrest near the memorial garden to allow visitors to understand both the historic and modern mining landscapes.

Descendants and relatives gather at the Garden of Remembrance during the rededication ceremony. Photograph by Caitlin Allen.

Descendants and relatives gather at the Garden of Remembrance during the rededication ceremony. Photograph by Caitlin Allen.

Page last updated: 01 September 2012