Today I am shining a spotlight on one of the founding members of the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: Brian Wickham. It is not surprising that when a member of the public named Gill Booysen went for a wander in 2019 and happened upon St. John’s Cemetery that they encountered Brian Wickham hard at work there. Brian’s connections to the cemetery and the parish in general go back generations, and in pre-COVID times he voluntarily cared for the cemetery whenever he was able, and was ever ready to share his knowledge about this wonderful heritage site.
Let us hope that we come through this COVID-19 crisis soon and Brian and the other Friends can resume all of their usual activities regularly caring for the cemetery. For now, let’s remember what Gill had to say about that day in early April 2019…
The history and the hidden personal stories behind beautifully handscripted, handhewn tombstones within historic cemeteries have always held a fascination for me. … [G]reen-grassed St John’s sits between flats and businesses, a beautiful, aged red-baked brick wall being the only divide between the quick and the long-dead.
The oldest surviving formal European cemetery in Australia, it was just awesome to connect with Parramatta-born Brian Wickham who helps maintain the space and had been there all day. We chatted to sundown; so grateful for the informal history lessons of past-Parramatta he conveyed; he showed me the rectangular, lichen-patterned headstone for Henry Dodd, ‘First Fleeter’ and convict superintendent who established the first successful wheat crop. Dodd died in January, 1791, apparently following pneumonia caught while chasing errant convicts, and his was the first marked burial place.
Brian remembers the sale yards in the middle of Parramatta where ‘chooks, hordes of chooks, cattle and horses were bought and sold’. His great, great, great grandmother was the first Postmistress of Parramatta following the death of her husband, the Postmaster – how’s that for women’s advancement!“Gill Booysen via Instagram: @trustbru_images