Old Ballarat Cemetery, Chinese section with burning tower in foreground, photograph, 2016. Image by Jary Nemo.Contributors
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Copyright with Jary Nemo.
Graveside rituals honoured ancestors and the dead.
Chinese graves are dotted throughout the old gold towns of Victoria. Their simple headstones state with elegant calligraphy the dead person's full name, date of death and ancestral home village.
To Southern Chinese, burial rituals were important ways of connecting the living to the dead and to ancestors and family.
The centrality of connection to the family name and ancestral home was so important that many arranged for their dead family member to be exhumed and re-interred in the Chinese ancestral village so the full burial rites could be observed.
Chinese funerals involved ritual burning, carrying of banners and offerings of food, incense and paper tokens.
Chinese goldseekers had to adapt their ritual funeral practice to the realities of Australia. Without the presence of women, children or grandchildren to perform ritual burning, members of the deceased's club or association would perform the rites, acting as substitute family.
The annual Qingming 'sweeping of the graves festival' to honour and worship ancestors' graves, is still performed in goldfields cemeteries by community members today.
Burning towers were a unique feature of Australian goldfields communities. They were constructed in the 19th century to prevent summer grass fires being sparked from burnt offerings. Notable towers remain at Beechworth, Bendigo, Maldon, White Hills, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Echuca, Avoca, Rutherglen and Dunolly.
Pictured here is the burning tower at the Old Ballarat Cemetery.
With thanks to the Golden Dragon Museum Research Officer Leigh McKinnon.