Mr Chris Dawson and Ms Tracey Olivieri, 2021

Tracey Olivieri and Chris Dawson believe the key to the long-term protection of the cemetery is getting more members of the public interested and engaged in the place. In order to achieve this, and under their supervision, the Friends of South Brisbane Cemetery has initiated numerous community programmes, many of them unique to South Brisbane Cemetery.

These include:

  • The most extensive range of day and night cemetery tours in Australia. These tours are not-for-profit and generate revenue to fund all cemetery activities and projects. (2010-13, 2018-present).
  • The ‘History Among the Graves’ public outdoor talk series (2020-present).
  • Monthly ‘Guardian Angel’ community programme - Australia’s most successful cemetery cleaning bees (2018-present).
  • The cemetery is looking better now than at any time in living memory.
  • Australia’s largest cemetery Facebook page (2011-present).
  • ‘Families of South Brisbane Cemetery’ social media group. This is unique in Australia. (2021).
  • ‘150th Anniversary’ 12-month programme of events (2020).
  • Commencement of ‘SBC Database and Mapping Project’ with input from numerous researchers (2020-present). This will create Australia’s most comprehensive and advanced online cemetery database.
  • Live music events in the cemetery (2017).
  • Creation of FOSBC website (2020).
  • ‘Here to Help’ days, assisting dozens of people in locating lost family graves. These are unique in Australia (2020-present).
  • ‘Symbol Hunts’ for primary-aged children. These are unique in Australia (2019-present).
  • Writing upcoming trilogy of major publications about the Cemetery (on history, symbols, and ‘residents’) (2019-present).
  • Initiating a comprehensive flora and fauna survey of the cemetery with a professional horticulturalist (2020-present).
  • Holding seasonal Open Days in the cemetery (2017-present).
  • Inspired younger people to become involved in the FOSBC and take up committee positions.
  • Currently working with artists, theatre companies and musicians to create a unique ‘Heritage and Arts Hub’ within the cemetery.

They have guided the FOSBC to many achievements, including:

  • Early FOSBC volunteers documented and tidied all the 20,000 graves in the cemetery and helped to correct official records where necessary.
  • The FOSBC is now the largest cemetery-related community organisation in Australia, with over 60 financial members. They have created a community of 60-80 people who are members of the FOSBC and/or regularly attend cleaning bees.
  • After the cemetery was flooded in January 2011, Tracey and Chris organised two community cleaning bees - the ‘Sister Suburb Sunday’ clean-up (with Channel 7), and the ‘Great Graveyard Shift’ clean up. Both events attracted over 100 volunteers.
  • Since 2018 their Guardian Angel cleaning days have attracted over 200 different people.
  • Over 2,000 people have attended FOSBC tours, talks and open days since 2017.
  • Tracey and Chris were awarded the ‘Viva Cribb Bursary’ by the Ipswich City Council in 2011 for their book In Heavenly Garb: The Headstones of the Ipswich General Cemetery.
  • They successfully lobbied for an FOSBC office in the cemetery.
  • Purchased computer equipment for the use of low-income FOSBC members.
  • Fundraised $750 for a women’s shelter.

They have lobbied and worked with federal and local government over many cemetery-related issues, including:

  • the return of lost headstones excavated during the construction of the Busway next to the cemetery in 2005.
  • the installation of a commemorative marker for the 150th anniversary of the cemetery (2020).
  • improving road surfaces and repairing the 1880s main gates on Annerley Road (2019/20).
  • the installation of boom gates on the other cemetery entrances (2010).
  • installation of new major signage (2020).
  • improved security surveillance of the cemetery (2010).
  • changing trespass by-laws (2010).
  • banning inappropriate and disrespectful commercial activities within the cemetery (2011).
  • having dangerous trees removed (2018-present).

In terms of inspiration,

  • Cemetery visitation has increased significantly in recent years.
  • Other cemetery groups from Balmoral, Maryborough and the Sunshine Coast have now commenced community cleaning bees along the lines of ‘Guardian Angels’.
  • Tracey and Chris have assisted hundreds of people with family history queries, leading to the installation of numerous new grave markers in the cemetery.
  • Their dynamic and innovative community programmes have led to the FOSBC becoming the largest cemetery group in the country, and many FOSBC members are now developing their own projects and stepping up into leadership positions.

Tracey and Chris have both been working as volunteers to improve and promote the cemetery for 15 years. They both currently put in at least 40 hours work per week into research, admin, and weekly physical attendance at the cemetery to supervise meetings, tours, cleaning, and other events.
Since 2017 they have organised 23 community cleaning bees at the cemetery and 135 tours, open days, talks and similar events. Another 70 events are scheduled for this year.
They intend to continue this work at the cemetery for years into the future. It has been a great struggle at times and I believe recognition such as this award would mean so much to them and motivate them further to continue their fantastic work.