Stories of beautiful souls told

At night the mood is sombre as the Ms Orin and Ms Kirk unveil the mysterious lives of those who lay at rest in the cemetery. Picture: TANYA STEELE

By Tanya Steele

From pioneers to unsolved murders, historical stories are being told under the cover of darkness in an unlikely setting – the Ferntree Gully Cemetery.

History and mystery abound and duo Karin Orpin and Tricia Kirk have struck a balance between the two as the public tours continue to raise vital funds for the Knox Historical Society and the Hut Gallery.

Every month under the light of a full moon the residents from Knox and further afield meet to hear firsthand about the calm patrons of the quiet cemetery – which had its first burial in 1885.

Ms Orpin guides the tours at the Ferntree Gully Cemetery along with researcher Ms Kirk and the pair said “they know the cemetery really well.”

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Ms Orpin said to the expectant crowd on the most recent tour with a lantern in hand she invited the crowd to visit the resting place of around 8,000 souls.

The local historian promised to keep everyone safe as they walked by torchlight in procession to the graveyard on Friday 24 November.

Diving into the rich history of Ferntree Gully Cemetery and its surrounds the duo discuss the sites and stories which hold the remains of both the famous and infamous residents of the area.

Cold case murders, wealthy landowners, artists and more – the cemetery holds all these stories inside its iron wrought gates.

The tours continue to sell out after over ten years and the duo picks histories to research based on several factors, but to them, all of the residents of the cemetery are all interesting in their own right.

“We spend a lot of time in the cemetery and some of the headstones have really interesting details,” Ms Orpin said.

“It’s getting to be a bit of a tourist attraction,” she said.

The idea for the tour came after Ms Orpin attended a cemetery tour in Melbourne and thought it would be good to have one in Ferntree Gully.

“Would you believe our daughters gave me tickets for the Melbourne general night tour for our wedding anniversary?” she said.

Ms Orpin said people love the historical aspect of the site and on the tour, she explains how the cemetery looked in the 19th century.

“In the 1800s, when it was started, there would have been virtually no one around, it is quite away from everything,” she said.

“Even though the area was settled in the 1830s there was no way to bury your dead – you had to take them to Oakley or Dandenong.”

The tour begins at sundown and after a brief introduction at the Hut Gallery attendees are walked across to the cemetery and guided through the cemetery.

Candles mark the graves of the tour and afterwards, attendees are encouraged to keep the secrets of the dead.

Ms Orpin said she finds the cemetery a very peaceful place.

“To me, there’s beautiful souls there – so I don’t find anything scary about it at all,” she said.

“I love the fact that we’re bringing people’s stories to light.”

The historians continue to uncover new information about the cemetery and encourage people to bring any information they have to the Knox Historical Society.

“We encourage people who have a story and if they know something of someone who’s buried to let us know.” Ms Orpin said.

“What I love about the cemetery particularly is the community love it so much,” she said.