Volunteer spirit alive and well at St John's Cemetery in Parramatta

St John's Cemetery is Australia's oldest surviving European cemetery, and the Friends of St John's Cemetery community group are the dedicated volunteers committed to preserving and honouring the site and its residents.

Volunteers sitting on memorial stonework

Established in January 1790, St John's Cemetery stands as a testament to the rich history of Parramatta, weaving together the stories of its people, culture and pivotal events that shaped the city.

The Friends of St John's Cemetery, formed in June 2016, embody the volunteering spirit, drawing individuals from many different walks of life, including parishioners at St John's Anglican Cathedral and those with personal connections through ancestors buried there.

The group meets regularly to maintain the historic site, removing weeds, cleaning up rubbish, and tidying burial sites. They have also established a regular mowing schedule of the 5-acre site, run community working bees and work with site owners St Johns Anglican Cathedral to organise necessary repair work.

Leading the charge is cultural historian Judith Dunn, who chairs the Friends of St John's Cemetery Committee. Dunn generously donates her time to the perseveration of 8 different cemeteries in the Parramatta area, including St John's and the heritage-listed St Patrick's cemetery.

St John's Anglican Cemetery was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

Notable residents of the cemetery include Samuel Marsden, the senior Church of England cleric for the colony and magistrate at Parramatta, D'Arcy Wentworth, an Irish surgeon and first paying passenger to arrive in the new colony of New South Wales and Henry Dodd, the Superintendent of Convicts at the Government Farm. Dodd's burial site is considered to be Australia's oldest marked grave.

To find out more information about The Friends of St John's Cemetery, or to join the volunteer group, visit: Friends of St John's Cemetery, Parramatta


Quotes attributable to Judith Dunn, cultural historian, and Chair of the Friends of St John's Cemetery Committee:

"St John's Cemetery is the oldest surviving European cemetery in Australia. The people buried here are so well known in the early pages of the history of Australia.

"From mayors of the area to prominent pioneers like D'Arcy Wentworth, the Pymbles, Harris of Harris Park – many of the major players are buried here.

"This is our heritage right here. The descendants of many people buried here have moved away, so as Parramatta locals, we feel a responsibility to care for these graves and preserve the stories of their inhabitants.

"I love cemetery work. They are quite often faceless, unknown people – and yet when we come in and do research, we find out the most extraordinary stories.

"We're always looking for new members to join our group, not just to help us when we're doing physical work. There are many other ways you can contribute. Research, fundraising, answering enquiries from the public – the list goes on!

"It's not all dull and gloomy. We have a lot of fun along the way. We tell the scandalous stories just as much as the other stories and there's always a lot of fun and lively interest."


Quotes attributable to NSW Department of Planning and Environment Executive Director Heritage Sam Kidman:

"Volunteer groups, such as the Friends of St John's Cemetery, are often the heroes of heritage conservation in New South Wales.

"The strength of our heritage lies not only in its bricks and mortar but in the hearts and hands of those who willingly give their time to protect it."