Secrets of Fremantle Cemetery

Cemeteries are fascinating places. You never know who you're going to find – in a manner of speaking. Fremantle Cemetery, Western Australia is no different. It is the final resting place of many; some of whom achieved notoriety and/or fame in their lifetime. A stroll through the picturesque grounds of Fremantle Cemetery will reveal names of many prominent Australians. A heritage trail reveals much about Western Australia's history. Fremantle cemetery was established in 1899. Some of the state's earliest gravestones are here with the names of pioneers who first settled the Swan River colony. There are many prominent and notorious Australians laid to rest here. One of these is C Y O'Connor.

Charles Yelverton O'Connor was born on 11 January, 1843 in Gravelmount, Castletown, County Meath, Ireland. C Y O'Connor was an engineer. When he was 21 he emigrated to New Zealand and in 1866 was appointed assistant engineer for Canterbury Province. Eventually he worked his way up to Inspecting Engineer for the mid-south Island then to Under-Secretary for Public Works and in 1890 was appointed Marine Engineer for the colony.

C Y O'ConnorCredit: Wikimedia

He then moved to Western Australia as the inaugural Engineer-in-Chief of the Public Works Department. One of his first jobs was to oversee the construction of a harbour at Fremantle. Although previous expert advice had been that the site was not suitable, the harbour has now been in operation for over 100 years dispelling any doubts as to O'Connor's talents.

However he is better known for his work on the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. This pipeline carries water 330 miles from Perth to Kalgoorlie. The finding of gold near Southern Cross and at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie resulted in a population explosion in the goldfields area. It was decided to erect a pipeline which would pump 5 million gallons of water daily to the goldfields from the Mundaring Weir in Perth. Eight stages of 30 inch diameter pipe would be laid to the Mount Charlotte Reservoir in Kalgoorlie. Pumping stations would be installed and the water then piped to the various centres.

There was prolonged criticism of the plan by all and sundry. O'Connor was libelled by the press and accused of corruption. On 10 March 1902, he rode his horse into the sea at Robbs Jetty and shot himself. He was only 59.

C Y O'Connor MemorialCredit: Wikimedia - Author Nachoman-au

C Y O'Connor's work and vision would be well and truly vindicated with the opening of the pipeline. The pipeline itself is regarded as one of the world's greatest engineering feats and is the longest freshwater pipeline on earth. It is still in operation and around 100,000 people (and some six million sheep say the statistics) depend on it for most if not all of their water supplies.

O'Connor has been honoured with several statues. One of Western Australia's electoral divisions has been given the name of O'Connor as has one of the Colleges of Technical and Further Education (TAFE). There is also an O'Connor Primary School in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Also buried in Fremantle Cemetery are Martha Rendell and Eric Edgar Cooke. Martha Rendell was the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia. Interestingly, over half a century later, serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke was interred in the same grave.

Eric Edgar Cooke was born in 1931. From 1959 to 1963, he terrorised the Perth community, committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths. Cooke had a horrific childhood and was often beaten by his father who was an alcoholic. He was also beaten trying to protect his mother from his father's drunken rages. Cooke had many spells in hospital and it was suspected that he had brain damage. He had frequent headaches, a hare lip and cleft palate. He was bullied at school and left at 14 to go to work to help support the family as his father's wages were mostly spent on alcohol. Cooke had no friends, little money and spent his evenings committing petty crimes and vandalism. After being rejected for a place in a church choir, he burnt down the church. At 18, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for arson, burglary and vandalism.

In 1953, Cooke married Sarah Lavin. Over the years they would have 7 children. Although happily married, Cooke continued to roam at night, committing various petty crimes. He was arrested several times as a peeping tom. He then went on a killing spree which involved hit and run incidents, stabbings, stranglings and shootings. The methods and victims appeared to be completely random events. During the investigations over 30,000 males over 12 years old were finger-printed and over 60,000 rifles located and test fired. When eventually captured, he confessed to 8 murders and 14 attempted murders. His trial by jury lasted 3 days and he was sentenced to be hung. Shortly before the sentence was carried out, he confessed to two murders for which two other men had been wrongfully arrested. He was the last person to be hanged – on 26 October 1964. Despite Cooke's confession, Darryl Beamish, a deaf mute, spent 15 years in gaol and John Button served 5 years for murders wrongfully attributed to them.

The lead singer of the great rock band AC/DC also has his ashes buried at Fremantle. Bon Scott's gravesite is one of the most visited in Australia.

Bon ScottCredit: Wikimedia - Author Greg O'Beirne

Bon Scott was born Ronald Belford Scott in Scotland on July 9 1946. The family moved to Melbourne when Scott was six. He began his career as a bagpipe player with a highland band run by his father. In 1974 he joined AC/DC taking over the lead singer role and replacing Dave Evans. Bon Scott had a unique powerful voice. In the July 2004 issue of Classic Rock, Scott was placed No. 1 in a list of the '100 Best Frontmen of All Time'. Scott was also a very heavy drinker and died after a night out in London on February 19, 1980.

Brian Johnson, lead singer from the band Geordie, was recruited to the band and AC/DC's next album, Back in Black, was a tribute to Scott. This album would go to become the second best-selling album in history. The gravesite has become a cultural landmark and has been heritage listed by the National Trust. Fans of Bon Scott can also visit a tribute statue to the late singer in Fremantle Fisherman's Wharf.

Does the cemetery in your town have some interesting gravesites?