Melbourne Cemetery

Mausoleum at Local Cemetery, 2012

28/7/12 – Recent Visit to the Local Graveyard

Yesterday I had visited Melbourne Cemetery with my boyfriend who has been conducting research for a media project. The cemetery was very peaceful and it was interesting to read the labels on the gravestones. The gravestones were placed in different locations around the cemetery and I had also recognised a mausoleum that contained the deceased in small cabinets with flowers and photographs on the very front. The small lights that are placed on the front of each cabinet signified that the space contained a deceased body or corpse. I remember walking through a small hallway within the mausoleum that was decorated with flowers and portraits of friends or relatives that had passed away.

The portraits had initiated further contemplation into the nature of the photograph. The photograph confronts the living with the actual presence of the dead although the photograph also allows one to recognise that there is an absence. In Susan Sontag’s writing “On Photography”, the author believes that the photograph can be used as a ‘memorial’. Sontag quotes “All photographs are Momento Mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another’s person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability” (Sontag, 1971)

Elvis Presley Memorial, 2012

While a recently deceased person no longer has a physical entity there are some cultures who believe that the dead is still present amongst the living. In the Mexican culture for instance, Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloe Sayar explain that deceased return to their departed families and friends during the Day of the Dead celebration.

Carmichael and Sayar quote “That a festival to do with the dead should be a joyous occasion perhaps strikes those of us from other cultures with our different perceptions as something hard to come to terms with. The Day of the Dead is just that: a festival to welcome the souls of the dead which the living prepare and delight in” (Carmichael & Sayar, 2003)

The cemetery also featured graves from Italian and Greek families that are beautifully decorated with flowers, portraits and other possessions. I am not familiar with Greek or the Italian community although it would be interesting to investigate the interpretations of death in other European cultures. The graves were very creative and the decorations that had definitely captured my attention. On the other side of the cemetery there were old, broken tomb stones that were neglected and unmaintained over a long period of time. The gravestones appeared to be separated in different sections depending on the person’s cultural heritage, which had also made another interesting observation.

Opposite the crypt, I had also recognised a memorial dedicated to Elvis Presley which I had found rather amusing. For a moment I had actually wondered whether Elvis would have been buried in the cemetery although I suddenly realised that the superstar would have been buried in America. The memorial was adorned with flowers, soft toys and other gifts that I had thought was entertaining.

The memorial also invited me to question how the community responds to the death of an international superstar, actor or singer. The memorial may demonstrate that Elvis Presley was extremely popular within the contemporary culture. What I find even more fascinating is the fact that the memorial still receives flowers and gifts from the Melbourne community.

Carmicheal, Elizabeth, and Chloe Sayar. The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.  Texas: Texas Press Printing, 2003 p. 9

Sontag, Susan. On Photography USA: Penguin Group 1977 p. 15

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