Culture and heritage

Aboriginal heritage

Cemeteries

Few non-Aboriginal people know that Aboriginal cemeteries exist in NSW, the burial places of Aboriginal people who have died since colonisation. These cemeteries mean more to Aboriginal people than almost any other places. For Aboriginal people they are sites of memory and emotion which have no equal.

Burra Bee Dee is a good example. Nobody lives at Burra Bee Dee these days. At the old Aboriginal settlement, 14 kilometres north-east of Coonabarabran, the surrounding bush has grown over the old vegetable gardens and flower beds. The frame of a child's tricycle lies rusting in the long grass near a skeleton of weathered wooden poles. It's all that remains of one of the houses.

And there is the cemetery. It lies at the end of a winding dirt road. Here, the Aboriginal people of Burra Bee Dee were laid to rest during the years after the 600-acre reserve was gazetted in 1892. Now, it's mainly this cemetery which draws members of the old Burra Bee Dee families back to the deserted settlement. Most of them have settled in Coonabarabran, but the dead are still taken to Burra Bee Dee for burial.

Burra Bee Dee was once a vibrant settlement. When someone died, the women sewed a shroud out of calico. The children helped them make wreaths of wildflowers.

The oldest headstones in the cemetery are of local sandstone. In the late 1800s one of the residents, Sam Smith, used to cut stone from a sandstone outcrop on a nearby hill and carry it down to the settlement where he carved and inscribed the headstones by hand.

More information

In sad but loving memory
(0701SadButLoving.pdf, 3.8MB) This booklet describes the cemeteries where Aboriginal people in NSW were buried over the last 220 years and explains the special significance these places have for Aboriginal people today.

Lost but not forgotten - a guide to methods of identifying Aboriginal unmarked graves
This NPWS publication helps Aboriginal communities, NPWS staff, consultant archaeologists and others to locate and conserve unmarked Aboriginal graves.

Repatriation
The NPWS has a large collection of Aboriginal skeletal remains and cultural material. We're trying to return these to the communities they belong to. Find out more.

Yuranighs Aboriginal Grave Historic Site
Yuranigh guided surveyor Thomas Mitchell in 1845-46. The site of his grave is a unique combination of Aboriginal and European burial customs.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011