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Day 86: Hallowed ground

Day 86: Hallowed ground
Paddington cemetery
All that remains of the Paddington cemetery in the churchyard at Christ Church

THERE’S a worthy little place to visit tucked away under one corner of the mighty Suncorp Stadium in Milton.

Although it’s a large venue that packs in the crowds when there’s a big name performer in town, it is best known as the home of football in Queensland, in particular rugby league and the most famous of that code, the State of Origin series which starts this week.

Paddington cemetery
The old graves are at odds with the bug stadium

But unlike the sports writer’s  reference to legends, immortals and icons playing at a “hallowed ground”, this hidden gem really is hallowed ground.

It’s a little churchyard cemetery attached to the Christ Church in the shadow of the giant stadium.

There aren’t many gravestones – only 21 in fact – but in the days before the big football stadium completed in 2003 and the Hale St bypass road which claimed a slab in 1987, this was the final resting place of most of the city’s first residents.

It’s all that remains of the Paddington Cemetery which was considered a suitably large area of unoccupied land handy to downtown Brisbane when it was officially set aside for burials in 1843, although it seems- the first memorial had been erected earlier, in January 1838.

Paddington cemetery
The Veil in the stadium’s glass

More than 4000 hardy souls were laid to rest here over the next three decades until, in 1875, the Toowong Necropolis opened further out of town.

Paddington Cemetery lay abandoned, a nasty, unsanitary place where the town’s goats grazed until 1914, when local residents petitioned for its official closure. Those with relatives interred there were given the chance to have them and/or the monuments from their graves, moved.

As it turned out, about 140 bodies and 505 monuments were moved into the nearby Christ Church churchyard where they rested peacefully for another two decades until the 1930s when all but 21 monuments were taken off to Toowong Cemetery and dumped into a gully.

It’s in a quiet corner between busy Hale St and the stadium

Perhaps its most famous current resident is the infamous Patrick Mayne whose family has a much more impressive monument at the Toowong Cemetery, which is kept in top order by a grateful University of Queensland.

In 1914, with the cemetery signed off, the site was fenced and turned into the sports field Lang Park (named after John Dunmore Lang, a Scot and Australia’s first Republican) and used for many sports until it became the home of rugby league in 1957.

From the little churchyard under the big stadium, it’s possible to look up and see that the glass of one corner is wrapped in a white fabric design.

There are only 21 graves left

It’s an illusion of a torn veil to represent the Jewish and Christian tradition that the tearing of fabric represents the passing of life. The artwork is called Veil and was completed in 2002, by Jill Kinnear of Dundee in Scotland.

Fabric models were enlarged up to 80 times their original size to create the work and there’s a display on Level 5 of the stadium showing the actual size of the original piece of muslin.

The churchyard visitor is informed that it’s a memorial to “those who were laid to rest here in the 19th century”.

Christ Church itself also looks at odds with the huge metal glass stadium towering over its quaint little steeple which is reminiscent of the Episcopalian churches in the US, and its shingle roof.

Paddington cemetery
Patrick Mayne is probably the most infamous resident

Services were first held in the Mortuary Chapel of the Paddington Cemetery but as the congregation grew, building started on a stone church in 1874 and dedicated by Bishop Hale in 1876.

It was destroyed by a storm in 1890 and replaced by the current weatherboard church that opened in 1891 and miraculously survived all the development around it so that it now sits as a fascinating glimpse of the past in the shade of the future.