Rookwood Cemetery, Lidcombe NSW 2141 – preparatory

August 26, 2012

5-min thumbnails of the St Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Rookwood Cemetery. I am doing preparatory work on the left-hand page of the sketchbook, leaving the right hand page free for on location sketching. Not sure how this system will work. There is a Spanish-looking belltower above the chancel (not unlike that of the Santo Domingo cathedral) and a porch/steps (not unlike those at Fortalezza Ozama, Santo Domingo), which justifies time spent on Santo Domingo buildings recently. I thought that architecture so outside my personal experience that I’d never see the likes of it again – but here it is! These small churches are useful as practice-runs for larger Gothic and Baroque churches and cathedrals. The thing now is to find other churches done in the same style, presumably English circa 1880s.

I first got serious about perspective at Rookwood Cemetery last year sketching rows of graves, so I’m keen to re-visit the area for a scheduled Sydney Sketch Club meetup.

The place conjures up the Necropolis Railway, so a visit to the Regent Street Mortuary Station (designed by James Barnet of the Sydney GPO, Australian Museum and Customs House fame) in the city is overdue (it has been under renovation). Photos exist of the 1869 mortuary station at Rookwood made of splendid Pyrmont sandstone (this No.1 of four stations has since been transplanted to Ainslie ACT) but there are no station buildings left at the cemetery, the railway and stations having been closed in 1948 given the increase of transport by automobile.

I’m aware of parts of the cemetery, but not all of it. Like its namesake, Brookwood in Surrey England, it’s vast – 700 acres – and is now the largest Victorian era cemetery in the world. It’s almost the oldest in Australia, with nearly a million people having been buried there. The setting of the crematorium is positively Tuscan, for example – its Italianate tower set amongst pine trees. There are two substantial buildings in the English Victorian 19th-century style:  the St Michael the Archangel Church (1886) and the Elephant House (the Anglican Rest House). For botanical artists, there is the lure of remnants of original, indigenous vegetation as well as fully-developed trees (they used to be labelled for the education of the public) and lots of rose bushes. There are lots of shrines and memorials (e.g. the 1877 Chinese one), many of which would be good drawing practice for my anticipated series on Sydney’s Bandstands & Rotundas. If I was drawing people, I’d be on the lookout for sandstone sculpture atop graves. For bridges and water, see the recently-restored Serpentine Canal. Over the last few years, an annual art installation event, “Hidden”, has been organised. Police have been known to be brought in to sort out traffic jams on the cemetery’s streets on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

  •  Two indispensable pieces of preparation: the Wikipedia website (with photos) and the map on the Rookwood Cemetery website.
  • Additional contextual stuff, apart from the Regent Street mortuary station at Redfern/Central: Larcombe’s Stonemasonry in Lidcombe (Larcombe was one of two mayors, with Lidbury, whose names came to form the name of the cemetery’s suburb, “Lidcombe“).
  • There is no sketching or drawing guide to Rookwood.
  • See the work of industrial heritage artist, Jane Bennett at
  • Of interest to sketchers: see Hubert Chalker’s drawings from 1970 of the Mortuary Station transplanted to Ainslie ACT as the All Saints‘ Anglican Church (ACT Public Library).  

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