The Children: The Plaque: The Story

Know your cemetery and know your town makes a slogan family history societies keep in mind when answering questions for those living outside the district.

I began transcribing the Sunbury Cemetery register about 1990.  It did not take long to be horrified by the number of children buried from the Industrial School, so their names and details were put on a separate list.    When I commenced guiding tours of the cemetery and was frequently queried about the lack of headstones for the children and other burials from “The Hill,”  I found people had no idea that “State” burials have always been unmarked – no plaque, no headstone, no memorial of any kind.  It was as if these 71 children had never existed. But they did, and they did have names , and there were records of their names!

When the Centenary of Federation grants were first announced in 1998, Sue Sutton and I decided to work for a grant hoping that, if our group were successful, we could finance a memorial rotunda including a plaque listing the names of the children.   We commenced the lengthy process of assembling all of the necessary documentation.  In this work we had great assistance from Joan Brogden who did much research on our behalf, checking death certificates and coroner’s inquests.  We applied for the grant on behalf of the Sunbury Family History Society Inc. to build a memorial rotunda but, regrettably, we were not successful.

Our feeling on the result was that, as a small group, we were considered not likely to have much influence on election results!  It’s a pity we weren’t a sports group!  The $29,112 quote for the memorial rotunda was way beyond our financial resources!    The Society’s wish for a memorial went into a sort of recess, though every time I have  guided  a  cemetery tour and mentioned the 71 children buried there, people in each group have been close to or in tears and have encouraged me to have another try to establish some kind of memorial.

One particular day, as I showed the two sites of the four Currie boys’ graves and, as usual, had to withhold my own tears (those two nearly adjoining graves always have the same effect), one man asked me to show him the plot where Cornelius Cooney  is buried.   Cornelius was his grandfather’s brother!

The injustices to our children, as I felt they had become, continued to rankle, so I went to Tracie Court and Brian Blight, seeing the folder for the first time, immediately gave his support as President, and our Society became Plaque Oriented !

On a second spur of the moment and without an appointment, I took my bulging blue folder and asked if I could see Liz Beattie.  It was a good day!   Our local MP (at the time) saw me, read the folder, enthused, copied the notes and, within a few days, presented it to the Hon. Christine Campbell M.P., Minister for Community Services who, on 23rd October 2001, arranged for a donation of $1000 to be given  to us.  A cheque for this amount was presented to us on 16th November 2001, “in recognition of community spirit.”  So, the plaque became feasible.  The receipt of 3 generous donations this year allowed us to proceed to its acquisition.

A number of quotes were obtained for a variety of sizes and styles of plaques, each enquiry involving a deal of telephoning, corresponding by email, fax or mail, often requiring second or third attempts.    Some companies have been most helpful – some hopeless!

With the Society’s approval the Children’s Memorial Committee, Brian Blight, Joe Gillespie and Elizabeth Wilson placed an order, on 5th July 2004, for the manufacture of a cast bronze Children’s Memorial Plaque.   The unveiling of this labour of love at the Society’s 20th Anniversary Dinner is a significant event in the preservation of Sunbury’s unique history.

© Elizabeth Wilson, 2004

The plaque was unveiled at the afore mentioned event on 20th October, 2004.    In June 2005, Hume City Council, administrators of the Sunbury Cemetery, funded and arranged the mounting of the plaque on a boulder in the Cemetery which is in course of extension and refurbishment.    The site is in what is planned to be a garden setting in the proposed Children’s Memorial Walk, one of the main thoroughfares connecting the new extension of the cemetery to the established portion where the children’s graves are located.

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