Every day, more than 250,000 people hurry through Central Station on their way to or from the CBD, the suburbs of Sydney and other regions of NSW. But what few of those commuters know is that they’re tramping over the site of Sydney’s first major cemetery.
A new six-episode podcast by the State Library of NSW, The Burial Files, is unearthing the history of the cemetery and some of the 30,000 people who were buried there between 1820 and 1900.
It’s hosted by Elise Edmonds, a curator at the library who has spent years researching the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which was exhumed in 1901 to make room for Central Station’s transformation from a tin shed to the sandstone edifice it is today. The podcast ties in with an exhibition at the library, Dead Central, which has maps, photos and paintings of the cemetery accompanied by a 35-minute audio recording.
It transports listeners to the grimier parts of 19th-century Sydney, “where insalubrious activities took place after dark, where epidemics took young lives and grim accidents didn’t always make the news,” says Edmonds.
She chats with historians, curators, archaeologists, forensic experts and railway enthusiasts to reveal glimpses of the cemetery, the types of people interred there and the construction of Central Station.
It follows the recent discovery of human remains on Chalmers Street, near Central Station, during light rail construction. That discovery is unpacked in the first episode of the podcast, which is now available, while the second episode (available June 17) will explore the cemetery’s transition from peaceful burial ground to abandoned wasteland.