Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Pioneer Park: The Ghosts of Gawler: Part Five

Pioneer Park
The Ghosts of Gawler
Part Five

At the northern end of Gawler's main street, across the road from the Coles complex, is a very pretty park featuring a rotunda and a memorial garden, it is bordered on one side by a shed owned by the Exchange Hotel and the Gawler Tourist Centre.

The "Old Cemetery"
The park has been a meeting place for Gawlerites for decades, being used annually for local events, outings and picnics.
Having grown up in Gawler, I know the park and the stories associated it with very well. I can remember when a canon used to stand on the north west facade and was fired during an annual street party, I remember all the youth of the town meeting on the hill during weekends, because there really wasn't much else to do in the town, most of those kids were totally unaware of the bodies buried beneath their feet, but not me, I knew better.

The cemetery was first established when the the town plan was drawn by Colonel Light, it is not entirely clear who the first person buried was, but by 1870, the cemetery was closed except for those who had already bought a plot to buried in.
The cemetery sat at the top of the street, pretty much unused, as the bigger Willaston public cemetery had been opened and was being used, as well as the Anglican cemetery in Gawler East and the Loos cemetery in what is now Buchefelde.

It wasn't until the late 1920's that someone decided something should be done with the now decrepit cemetery who's headstones were cracked and falling over, who's fences were broken and unpainted, the “old cemetery” as it was now referred to, was in a state of very bad disrepair.
A Rotunda on the park in 1914

The first idea to clean the place up came in 1925, but it took ten more years before anything was actually done by the councillors.

Work began, the fences were removed, the headstones were taken down (and now sit inside the front gates of the Willaston cemetery), land was levelled, trees planted, garden beds were laid, and a rotunda was built, the name was changed from the much used “Old Cemetery” to “Pioneer Place” and Gawler's most used green square was born.
Now one would not know a cemetery stood there, other than the large monument on the western side dedicated to John McKinlay, which had to rebuilt at one stage due a semi-trailer truck demolishing one side of it, and the memorial stones with lists of names in the centre of the gardens, but yes, many people are still buried there.
This was proven in the late 1990's when a most interesting event happened in Gawler, one I remember well, A worker was in the shed of the Exchange Hotel next to the park, when two coffins slid through the cracked and broken wall into the shed from the old cemetery, you can imagine the gossip this caused in the town!
The McKinlay monument after being hit by a truck
I have heard many ghost stories associated with the place over the years, even back in the day when it was a cemetery there were stories, one of which was a sighting of Spring-heeled Stephen, but mostly they were the typical ghost stories, ladies with lamps, gentlemen standing in the shadows etc.
One of the more recent stories I have heard is a man in an older styled suite standing looking out towards the Coles complex, who simply disappears. I am sure there are many more stories that I am yet to hear, and I invite you to share them in the comments section below

© 2013 Allen Tiller