Telling their story

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Our project: Telling their story

filling in the dash between birth and death

Capel Cemetery

About us

The enthusiastic volunteers of the Capel District Cemeteries Project (Inc)  form the core of family members, local history buffs and the wider community keen to share the stories of those interred in the cemeteries of Capel Shire in the south west of Western Australia.  Work initially began in 2017 with the Capel Cemetery Survey.  Over the past five years the group has worked at the Capel Cemetery and the Ron Maidment Archive Room in the Iluka Capel Library to compile a comprehensive register of the approximately 700 persons at  rest in the Capel Cemetery.  Since then this Register has been available to the public through the library and now, we are pleased to announce, via this website.

Early in the original register project it became apparent that the story of each of those 700 in the cemetery was important and we explored many options of how to tell them and share them, a daunting task.

In 2020 , after a Covid imposed lull, the then Capel Cemetery Survey volunteers morphed into the Capel District Cemeteries Project (Inc) and we decided that  a website would be the best way to share “their stories.”

The Theme – The Dash- was chosen.  A headstone records a person’s  birth and death dates, usually separated by a dash.  The dash is small, but it represents a person’s life.  We wanted to be able to fill in the dash so that our forebears’ stories are told and remebered.

We became an independent incorporated group, and through the Bendigo Bank Capel “Pitch Night” in October 2020,  received a share of the community funds.  This enabled us to access the services of a local web designer, who helped us establish this website to share the stories we are creating.

Our hope is that the website will provide a platform to share our research and  to connect with those who are searching for family members now, and into the future.  We hope that if you have information to share about Capel Cemetery forbears  you will join us in the storytelling, come forward, click  CONTACT US  and share your knowledge  to fill in the DASH.

Acknowledgement of Country

Capel District Cemeteries Project respectfully acknowledges the Wadandi people, traditional custodians of this land, as being the first people of  this country.  We recognise and pay respects to the Aboriginal peoples who lived and cared for this land in the time well before those interred in Capel District cemeteries came to add their contributions to this place.  We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Geoffrey & Eleanor Roberts
Original patrons: Geoffrey & Eleanor Roberts

The Cemetery

The Capel Cemetery is in the South West of Western Australia on Urquhart Road, Capel. It was officially reserved in 1854 for the gazetted township of Coolingup.  The earliest burial was that of Elizabeth Payne who succumbed to measles in 1884.  The Capel River precinct had been visited by English explorers as early as 1834 and was thought to be highly suited for settlement for farming and agricultural ventures.  The cemetery site was originally owned by the Roberts Family.  Gynudup School, the first formal school established in Capel District was opened by Rev Joseph Withers in 1864 on a site within the cemetery’s boundary.

Capel Cemetery
Snapshot Capel Cemetery
Niche Wall Cover 2021
CDCP Team 18th May 2022 with GPR

Where we are today

The Cemetery Register

The Cemetery Register will continue to be modified as additions and further information is contributed.  The Register has been compiled using the information on Capel Cemetery gravestone inscriptions, in the Shire of Capel burial records and in earlier records kept by James Levi Bentley, transcriptions from the Wellington District Death Register, and maps and plans of the Capel Cemetery.  These have been supplemented by use of online sources such as TROVE, Ancestry.com, Lorraine’s Cemetery Records and online indexes including WA Births Deaths and Marriages, Reverse Marriages, Busselton Family History Society indexes and “Western Australian Burial Location Index” along with family history information supplied by descendants.

Today  the Capel Shire, in its role as the local Cemetery Board, has responsibility for the cemetery’s administration and maintenance.  Graves are organised in five major sections and the recently covered and refurbished niche wall can be found along the cemetery’s southern pathway.

We have been pleased that the recent focus on the stories of the cemetery has encouraged renewed involvement of local families in the upkeep of their ancestors’ graves and sharing their stories.  It has also enriched connections with other community groups, notably supporting the RSL with profiles of War Service Veterans, and the wider world of local and social historians.

The community and families share the responsibility of telling the stories of those interred since 1854.  We hope this will give a glimpse of the history of Capel District we know it now.

Other community groups, such as the Lions Club in Boyanup, share our interest in showing respect for our past and support the upkeep of cemeteries in other parts of the shire. We know there are some ‘lonely graves” and unmarked graves as well which can tell yet another part of the story.  In future, we hope more research (and more curious researchers!) will enable the project to honour those interred in other parts of Capel District. You are warmly invited to join us.

2022- Solving the Mysteries and Moving Forward

The start of the year began with the team asking a for assistance from a Capel local to use a metal detector over the grounds of the Cemetery.  The purpose of which was to try and locate metal grave markers that had been buried by sand or even possibly old metal grave surrounds that were no longer visible.  Even though this search with a metal detector yielded only a few small finds, we did uncover the brick surrounds of two graves in the older part of the cemetery that were unknown to the group.  After some research and confirmation from a located relative, these two graves were found to be that of Frederick and Johanna Roberts.  This discovery spurred the team on to explore an alternative option to locating unknown or lost graves.

Contact was made with Paul Stevenson from Geographe Underground Services who agreed to meet a couple of our group team members on site and discuss using Ground Penetrating Radar as an option to uncovering what may be beneath the surface. After explaining how a GPR works, that is, by sending electromagnetic pulses into the ground that records any reflected or refracted signals by underground objects to an onboard laptop that sits on top of a machine, which resembles a high-tech lawnmower.  Paul explained that this machine is most commonly used to find utilities but in this case was a very safe and effective method for sensitive sites such as the Capel Cemetery. With this knowledge the CDCP volunteers approached the Shire of Capel for approval, and explained we were willing to fully fund the venture ourselves to hopefully uncover the many anomalies at the Capel Cemetery.  The Shire of Capel gave their approval and so a date was decided upon, that would not disturb any planned funerals.

May 18 th 2022 – The Big Day

The CDCP team met Paul on site to start surveying the cemetery.  The team had been to the cemetery on previous days to mark areas which were believed to have unknown graves and other areas which needed to be thoroughly investigated. It was a slow task, taking two days to complete.

There were many surprises. Some graves were very shallow beneath the surface, some were found in walkways such as one in the Roman Catholic section, located at an angle in a defined walkway, on occasion where family memorial plaques were placed, there were no detectable burials. All these anomalies and discoveries were recorded and marked by the team, and over the next week members returned to photograph all their findings so a record is kept for future researchers.

The Ground Penetrating Radar helped us discover and confirm the location of graves, with both known and unknown occupants. This leads us to the next part of our project –

To Mark and Honour, the Unmarked Graves.

The CDCP volunteers wish to make sure everyone’s story is told, and their graves recognised.  Permission has been sought from the Shire of Capel to embark on a new project, to create a grave marker to acknowledge the unmarked and unknown graves within the Cemetery boundaries. A prototype treated pine marker with engraved plaque was created and this design was also approved the Shire of Capel for use within the cemetery.

All projects require funding, and the Bunbury Cemetery Board, who after seeing the GPR story aired on the ABC National News on Sunday 5th  June 2022  approached the team.  The Bunbury Cemetery Board thought it such a worthy project they have provided the funding to make the CDCP “Mark and Honour” project a reality.

After purchasing the treated pine and an initial kind donation of two tins of paint from Townsend Paints in Bunbury the Capel Men’s Shed have shown their support by cutting and painting each marker. The CDCP team will commission an engraved name plate for the front of the grave marker, and another plate, with section, row, and grave number that will be on the reverse. All the information will be meticulously researched and checked before the engraving is done and if there are family members that can be contacted, their permission will be sought before the marker is produced.

Grave marking will begin, hopefully in Autumn 2023 with the first 25 researched markers and eventually be completed and 105 grave markers when finished. The CDCP hope to invite family, community and those who have aided us to a Morning Tea Ceremony in the cemetery to share in our achievement and spend time sharing and learning about the cemetery .

UPDATE:          “A Morning Tea to Remember” – Sunday 5th November 2023                                                            Arrival Time: 10:30am – Presentation Time: 11:00am  

                            Please bring your picnic morning tea and chair. 

The volunteers of the Capel District Cemeteries Project invite everyone to join with them at the Capel Cemetery to celebrate the “Mark and Honour Project”  – 105 Grave Markers now serve as a tribute to those resting in the Cemetery are are intended to aid those searching for family members. Ensuring their stories are remembered today and into the future.  There will be a coffee van at entrance and toilet facilities available. Keep in mind the charming town of Capel is also eagerly awaiting your visit. 

Proudly supported by Bunbury Cemetery Board, Bendigo Bank-Capel Branch, Shire of Capel, Capel Mens Shed

Eventually there will be the creation of a memorial within the cemetery to recognise and honour those who are known to be in the Capel Cemetery in an Unknown location, including many children and babies.

As each person is recognised with a marker, their details and their story will be placed on the website as part of that recognition. The hope is that family members will make contact and help provide the photos and information that brings each story to life.

This Project is going to take time to locate records and conduct the extensive research it requires and deserves. With the continual updating of the register with new information the research team, hope to discover the names and locations of some of the “Unknown” graves. In time, and with more volunteers, the CDCP team would like to see the replication of this project at the Boyanup Cemetery. Both cemeteries are still current and thankfully the records of today, containing more information will help the Cemetery Projects of the future.

The past and present volunteers of the Capel District Cemeteries Project create a beating heart for a project of this nature. Without care and attention to the Capel Cemetery, dedicated research, and a desire to tell their stories, it would not have progressed to where it is today. We invite all who are reading this to contact us with your photos, stories, and information.

Volunteers Placing Demonstration Grave Marker at Cemetery
Grave Markers Example (front and back)

This image on the left, shows volunteers placing an example grave marker at the Capel Cemetery.

The image above shows a prototype of the grave markers that will be created by volunteers, and placed on the graves

Capel District Cemetery Project

Telling their story

Capel District Cemeteries Project Logo

Get in touch

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Bunbury Cemetery Board
The Project to "Mark and Honour" is Proudly Supported by the

Bunbury Cemetery Board