Local history

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Down by the Queanbeyan River

I live in Queanbeyan, a smallish country town just outside Canberra, and one of the things I love about it is I’m constantly stumbling on new nooks and crannies, despite having lived here for four years.

The other day, for instance, I went for an afternoon walk and found myself down by the river. Walking along a little way, I discovered Riverside Cemetery, where a lot of the district’s pioneers are interred. It’s part of the local heritage trail and is speckled with half a dozen fascinating information signs. The oldest grave dates back to the 1840s – which is pretty early by Australian standards – and the latest I found was 2008, although the cemetery has been closed to new burials since 1996 unless the deceased has a connection to the founding families already buried there.

Some may think it morbid, but I find cemeteries and graveyards – especially old ones – fascinating because they tell you so much about bygone days. For instance, I learned that Victorian headstones are often very ornate, with lots of stonework and symbolism such as urns, garlands and angels, while later headstones (from the Edwardian era onwards) tend to be much more plain. The Victorians also went in for verse – many of the tombstones are inscribed with either Scripture or poetry. In contrast, modern graves (from the mid-twentieth century onwards) give a lot less information and are arguably a lot less sentimental. But I have a fondness for the Victorian ones myself!

An ornate Victorian tombstone
An ornate Victorian tombstone

Riverside Cemetery is informally divided along faith lines – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist – which reflects the make-up of the original settlers. Many of those interred were Irish and their tombstones note their place of birth, e.g. ‘Native of County Cork, Ireland’.  One of my favourite headstones, from 1936, belongs to a Roman Catholic priest and is inscribed entirely in Latin.

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The bit that tickled my fancy (which is a bit hard to see in this photo) was the phrase ‘Pastoris huius paroeciae Queanbeyanensis’, which I’m guessing translates roughly as ‘parish priest of Queanbeyan’. It just seems so weird seeing Queanbeyan, which is the bastardisation of an Aboriginal word meaning ‘clear waters’, wrestled into grammatically correct Latin. I had an image of Father Patrick as being a rather upright, straight-laced sort of man, based on nothing other than this inscription. So I did what any child of the internet age would do, and googled him.  I wound up in the National Library’s Trove service (whose praises I’ve previously extolled), which has a digitised copy of an article announcing his death, and it appears my first impression wasn’t quite right.

13 July 1936

POPULAR PRIEST REV. FATHER DEENIHAN | Death Announced at Queanbeyan

Gloom was cast over Queanbeyan last night when the death was announced of the Rev. Father Patrick Deenihan at St. Gregory’s Presbytery, at the age of 42 years. The late Fr. Deenihan who had become a popular figure in the Queanbeyan district during the last two years that he had been parish priest, had been seriously ill for some weeks.

The death occurred at seven o’clock, shortly before the commencement of the Benediction service at St. Gregory’s.

Born in Lixnaw Parish of Country Kerry, Ireland, the late Fr. Deenihan was eeducated at St. Michael’s College, Listowel, and was trained for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, Carlow. He was ordained in 1918, and came to Australia in a troopship in 1919. He has served in the priesthood in the Southern districts of New South Wales, his first station being Tumut, whence he was sent to Crookwell and Moruya. He was the administrator of Gunning parish for 12 months and at Cootamundra for four years, after which he was priest at Michelago and for the last two years at Queanbeyan. Known in the southern districts for his interest in sport, he had been a great athlete in Ireland; having played for Kerry in the all Ireland football competition. In Queanbeyan, he had been prominently identified with many sporting organisations.
During his last illness, the late Fr Deenihan has been constantly
visited by his brother priests at Canberra. The late Father Deenihan will be
succeeded as parish priest by the Rev. Father Patrick O’Carroll, who arrived at Queanbeyan on Saturday.

The remains of Father Deenihan will be interred at Queanbeyan. His mother and father are still living in Ireland, but his only relative in Australia is a cousin, who is a priest in the Townsville diocese.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated by the Bishop of Goulburn (the
RC. Rev. Dr. J. Barry) at St. Gregory’s Church, Queanbeyan, at 10 a m. on Tuesday prior to the funeral.
A second article, dated 15 July 1936, notes that “Hundreds of persons were unable to gain admission to St Gregory’s Church, Queanbeyan, yesterday morning for the Requiem Mass for the late Father Patrick Deenihan, and the funeral cortege was the largest ever seen in the district.” Father Patrick was clearly well-loved in the district, and it makes me happy that 80 years later he’s still remembered.

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