Dead Pretty

Visiting Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane, was well worthwhile. The Victorian landscape influence is strong: tall evergreen trees line the older roads, beautiful floral stonework – ivy leaves, fruiting grapes and Madonna lilies are easy to find.

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Native forest trees dominate, such as Strangler Figs, Ficus virens while stately specimens of Hoop Pine, Araucaria cunninghamii; and Bunya Pine, A. bidwillii add drama to the skyline with their elegant silhouettes.

There’s Funeral Cypress, Cupressus funebris, and a few good specimens of Red Frangipani, Plumeria rubra and the White Frangipani, P. alba. Plumeria are also known as the Graveyard Tree in SE Asia where popular folklore has it that these trees are where demons hang out.

The Friends of Toowong Cemetery are active and the museum worth a visit. We can probably thank them for the weed control programme. Major weeds, like red guava, Psidium guajava, are being cut down and poisoned. They have shattered many tombs and the broken fragments have been gathered and piled back on them just in case anyone gets around to restoring them.

Despite being centred on a freely draining rocky hill with thin heavy loam soil, trees and shrubs have survived the drought very well. Near the hill summit is one dead tree – a Eucalyptus – it’s gaunt form adding a certain wistfulness to the surrounding, well maintained tombs of former colonial leaders.

Also on that hilltop grows a fine old specimen of the Queensland Lacebark, Brachychiton discolor, a semi-deciduous, drought resistant tree with fleshy pinkish flowers and Plane-tree like foliage. Elsewhere flower Ivory Curl trees, Buckinghamia celsissima; Umbrella trees, Schefflera actinophylla, a Queensland native / environmental weed and many species of eucalyptus and pine in scattered plantings.

Bulbs like Hymenocallis littoralis, ferns like the Gristle fern, Blechnum indicum and Pteris cretica sprout from joins in stone block work. Years of accumulated dead leaves make the succulent Furcraea look particularly natural.

Two old camellias, Camellia japonica, were fascinating discoveries demonstrating yet again how drought resistant these shrubs can be if planted in the right place. And reliable old Catharanthus roseus, aka Madagascar periwinkle, Cape periwinkle, Cayenne jasmine and – most commonly in Australia – vinca, added a splash of colour.

Why was I there? Well, missionaries started the practice of planting Plumeria, also called Dead Man’s Fingers in Australia, in graveyards and they spread them all across the globe. Many of the cemeteries in eastern and northern coastal Australia grow at least one or two of these traditional plants. Darwin cemetery has some particularly interesting old varieties. So we decided to film an opening sequence for a frangipani segment there…

The Friends of Toowong Cemetery Association Inc. can be contacted at: PO Box 808, Toowong, Qld 4066, Email:, Website

Jerry Coleby-Williams


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