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Graveyard guitarists combine to create new ways of interpreting heritage

Jul 02, 2017

Sound from the GroundEast Perth Cemeteries


The East Perth Cemeteries along Plain Street are the final resting place for some 10,000 Western Australians from the earliest days of the colony and from all walks of life, settlers and pioneers, rich and poor.

And in 2016, the cemeteries were the venue for a unique musical project, Sound from the Ground, that explored the stories and lives of those buried there.

The project was the initiative of the National Trust of WA and featured the Perth Guitar Quartet consisting of Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald, Duncan Gardiner, Melissa Fitzgerald and Jameson Feakes, along with soprano Jenna Robertson.

It was conceived as an innovative interpretation of a heritage place with music specially chosen to explore stories and themes such as family and relationships, faith and community, hardship and struggle, and love and loss.

A highlight of the project was the world premiere of the piece commissioned by the National Trust and composed by Duncan Gardiner, Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather.

Sound from the Ground culminated in two sell-out classical guitar performances in St Bartholomew’s Church within the burial ground.

The cemeteries consist of seven individual denominational cemeteries—Anglican, Catholic, independent, Methodist, Jewish, Presbyterian and Chinese—some of which have since been built over.

The graveyard, once known as Cemetery Hill, was surveyed by WA’s Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe in 1929, the first year of the Swan River Colony. The site is also the location of his grave and family plot.

At the WA Heritage Awards, the judges said it was pleasing to see people thinking ‘outside the box’ and coming up with interesting and different ways to interpret heritage.

“Sound from the Ground was an appealing and unconventional approach to interpretation that used musical narrative to explore the unique Western Australian stories embodied in the graves at East Perth Cemeteries,” they said.

“The project attracted new, non-traditional audiences and challenged notions of how a heritage place may be understood.”

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