Granny’s Grave buried in bureaucracy

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granny grave 1_1
Despite promises of greater recognition for the ‘Granny’ behind Granny’s grave – and the need for restoration – the site remains unchanged and falling into further disrepair.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] T [/dropcap]here are not a lot of memorials to women in Warrnambool: in fact compared to the ovals, parks, plaques, sculptures, plinths and pioneer boards that have been devoted to civic-minded and influential men, there is barely anything at all.

The historic Warrnambool Pioneer Board appears to have set the standard and has become as famous for its omissions as its inclusions.

Put together in 1907, the 3m x 2m board features 204 individual photographs of Warrnambool’s pioneers and not one of them is a woman. In an almost humorous twist, the board itself was assembled and illustrated by a woman, Lillian Foyle, but nobody remembers her name compared to those who feature in the circular frames.

You would think that more than 100 years on things might have changed considerably, but it appears not.

I am happy to stand corrected, but the only high-profile monuments to women that come to my mind easily are the contemporary Val Bertrand Stadium in west Warrnambool and the 110-year-old Granny’s Grave in the sand dunes off the bike/walking track in east Warrnambool.

And the Granny’s Grave site is looking increasingly worse for wear.

Pioneer Board Welsh, Jack
The Warrnambool Pioneers’ Board, now displayed at Warrnambool’s History House, was made in 1907 and does not feature a single woman. Image: Warrnambool and District Historical Society.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] D[/dropcap]espite being passed by thousands of people every year, including tourists who are encouraged to visit the grave, the monument is covered in rust stains, the paintwork is peeling and chipped, the metal surround is completely out of character with the grave, and the site is surrounded by weeds.

There is also no interpretive plaque or information about “Granny”, other than the few – and as it turns out, incorrect – lines etched into the basalt headstone, even though the Warrnambool City Council announced earlier this year that a plaque would be in place by the end of June.

It is now the middle of October, and I have become tired of asking the council when the plaque might be coming and no doubt they have tired of me too.

Bluestone wrote earlier this year about the fascinating story behind the “Granny” who lies in Granny’s Grave – Agnes Ruttleton – and how she has come to represent all of the faceless and nameless women who were among the very first to come to a scrap of a town called Warrnambool in the hope of a better life.

Agnes was never a rich woman, and she died in poverty at the age of 60 in 1848, but there was something about her indefatigable, pioneering spirit that more successful and wealthy citizens like Richard Osburne thought was worth commemorating. He lobbied for years to have the approximate site of her burial marked by an official grave.

The council knows this is a special site, but the wheels turn extremely slowly when it comes to preserving key elements of our past.

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A council report from 2008 first raised the need for significant restoration on the high-profile site, but only the handrail has been replaced.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] A [/dropcap] 2008 management report into the city’s public art and cultural assets concluded way back then that Granny’s Grave needed “significant restoration”, including replacing the rusted handrail, ongoing weeding and, with the help of expert advice, cleaning the stone surface, removing the rust stains and re-patching and re-coating the concrete as required.

The handrail has been replaced, but that’s where work has stopped.

I wonder if the council – and us, as residents – would be so accepting of the situation if the memorial marked a returned soldier, a famous footballer, or a founding father of the town?

The council recently voted to apply heritage planning controls over the Granny’s Grave site and I was slightly stunned that it hadn’t already been covered.

Councillor Jacinta Ermacora summed it up when she said the heritage protection process not only for Granny’s Grave, but for dozens of other sites around Warrnambool had “taken far too long”. Given the process began in 1983 – when the council first realised its heritage controls were hopelessly out of date – Cr Ermacora is being generous.

Why is it like this?

Why does it take so long for any action to be taken on preserving our heritage and, when it is, it is often half-finished and then abandoned?

It appears that we are so focussed on the “now” that we have lost sight of preserving the characters and essence of our past.

Agnes is certainly a rare character from our past who deserves her proper place in our story.

Meanwhile, in Portland, the council is adding contemporary monuments to key women from the city’s past, including this seat in honour of suffragette Vida Goldstein by local artist Carmel Wallace.

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9 thoughts on “Granny’s Grave buried in bureaucracy”

  1. Well put Carol. When complacency is the keyword, opportunities to achieve are forgone. Once it’s thrown out (Warrnambool Standard photos) torn down (Criterion Hotel) or let rot (many historic tombs at the Warrnambool Cenetery) then it’s too late and our children and children’s children will have no concept of our wonderful, hardworking forebear’s endeavour and the foundations they forged for our fair city.

    1. Hi Marilyn, while it’s not the same as physical photos, hard copies of most editions of The Standard from the mid 1800s are stored in a room at the office.

      They are also available to the public on micro film at the State Library. I’m not sure about the local library though.

      It’s such a shame that those who have gone before us didn’t value the history of many items as we do today, as the song goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

      Hopefully now people are starting to recognise how important our shared history is and steps will be taken to preserve it. Let’s just hope those steps become a bit quicker!

      1. Hi Jarrod, are those stored papers available for perusal by the general public? I’m after a photo of my dog drinking from a tap at the front of the beach kiosk and I think oublished on the front page of The Standard. The photo was possibly taken around 1958. Marilyn

        1. Unfortunately not, they are very fragile. Micro film will be your best bet. I’m fairly confident the local library has it available, just cannot be 100% sure.

        2. Hi Marilyn.

          If you complete the query form on the flagstaff hill web site our collection volunteers will check our Examiner and Standard collection to see what we have for 1958.

          You may need to come in and go through the papers to find the photo.

          Glad we have a museums australia accredited museum in Warrnambool as microfiche are not the same as standing in front of a real newspaper.

          Warrnambool is very lucky to maintain a daily newspaper but it does take a lot of space to hold so many papers.

          I think the collection we have goes back to around 1860’s, off the top of my head.

  2. Maybe we take our mother’s for granted. Families nominated and paid to have their pioneer ancestor placed on the Pioneer Board. I was also horrified when I was told that the list of local Warrnambool notables in “Melbourne and its Metropolis” was also a matter of subscription. I thought my great great grandmother, Frances Nelson, the only woman mentioned, got there because of her personal qualities. Then again to promote yourself in a world of men takes some strength.

    By the way – what is the purpose of the rail on Granny’s Grave? It has created rust and drainage patterns to crack the cement. Maybe the same mentality that produced the perspex covering in the Performing Arts Centre loading dock produced this protective structure.

    I presume that bones along the shore have long been removed. A lovely old gentleman once told me of the lighted skull he kept in his bedroom – a relic from the burial ground at the Flume.

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