The oldest cemeteries in Goulburn sit in disrepair and neglect - fallen headstones, weeds and an all consuming layer of mould and moss cover the graves.
A group of history buffs have banded together to fix this problem. The Friends of Goulburn's Historic Cemeteries was formed in August last year.
Armed with buckets, a long stick with a brush taped to the end, shovels and shears the dedicated group has been busy cleaning up St Saviours and Mortis Street cemeteries.
Not only have they beautified the area but the volunteers have uncovered the history behind the graves - some of which date back to the first fleet.
Volunteer and historian Daphne Penalver said these cemeteries were repositories of history.
"We can tell from one book we have access to how many people are buried here but it doesn't tell you where - if you can't read the headstone it's difficult," she said.
St Saviours Cemetery is perched upon a hill wedged between countryside, an industrial area and the high walls of the jail. The cemetery runs all the way down to the conjunction of the Wollondilly River and Mulwaree Ponds.
Group member Aija Podzuns said she wanted to make the cemetery more inviting to tourists and visitors.
She said the idea was prompted by a talk from the Goulburn Historical Society.
"When people visit old towns the fist thing they look at are historical buildings and cemeteries."
Ms Podzuns said she wondered who the people buried there were and wanted to know their stories.
"The cemeteries make you realise how hard people's lives were.
"Children were dying very young, it can be quite sad but also quite beautiful.
"It's a spot for people to reflect on the past."
While the volunteers have worked hard, the effort required to rectify centuries of deterioration is tremendous.
The group's biggest challenge is the ironically named 'tree of heaven'. This tree suckers extensively from its roots and has taken over St Saviours Cemetery.
Ms Podzuns said the beautification was a long-term project and she hoped it would continue when she was gone.
The group aims to eventually raise funds to restore the graves.
When the Goulburn Mulwaree Council was asked if they had plans to maintain and clean up the cemeteries and who was responsible for them - a spokesperson said council didn't own St Saviours but they did own part of the Mortis Street Cemetery and undertook maintenance and mowing there.
"We don't own the graves/headstones - these are owned by families and descendants.
"We will make safe a headstone or grave if necessary but prefer to try and get in touch with families first."
The Goulburn Correctional Centre has agreed to help with the project and the council has donated mulch.
The Friends of Goulburn's Historic Cemeteries has as working bee on Thursdays, weather permitting, from 8:30am to 11am. If you would like to volunteer email email@example.com or pop by on a Thursday.
The Our Living History festival will be held from March 13 to 16. Visit ourlivinghistory.com.au for more information.
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