Extraordinary project to map cemetery recognised in volunteer award

Elaine Race has been recognised with an award from the Heritage Council of Victoria for her extraordinary project mapping the entirety of Kew Cemetery.

This passion project has taken more than three years and was conducted as a solo pursuit by Elaine.


Bare graves, few markers and an illogical numbering system hid the location of many of the approximately 82,000 people in this 12.5 hectare site. Many people searched in vain for older graves at the site, especially on weekends.


Elaine’s encounter with one family searching for an ancestor prompted the start of this mapping pursuit to create an Excel ‘’schematic’’ map of the site. Using an iPhone, Excel spreadsheet, a magnifying glass, jigsaw puzzle skills and adhesive tape to match smaller maps, a single map was produced showing the family names of all the “residents” and the position of their graves. The final printed map measures 4.8 metres x 2.2 metres and is divided into 207 sections which are each presented in an A4 sized directory.


“The original cemetery registers and maps form part of Victoria’s Colonial history. The maps are old and irreplaceable. The Excel “schematic” map will not replace the existing maps but will form a link connecting details and location of graves. The mapping process has also allowed corrections to be made in the cemetery records.

With the data now stored in a usable state I hope it will be linked to a friendly software program in the future.   It has been both a frustrating and satisfying project for me and has achieved its original purpose. Locating a particular grave can now be managed in a matter of minutes instead of days,” Ms Race said.


The map has been completed and copies of the data given to the Cemetery Trust and the cemetery office as a gift.


The Kew Cemetery is one of the oldest in the State. A triangular piece of land was reserved for a cemetery in Boroondara in 1855 and the first burial conducted in 1859. The original Victorian Garden cemetery was beautifully laid out and was a picnic destination for the people living in Collingwood and Richmond. Unfortunately as Melbourne grew more graves were required and at least two major adjustments were made to the original cemetery plan which changed the layout and complicated the numbering system.


During the past 160 years more than half the grave markers have disappeared. Wind and rain have blurred some engravings and many weathered headstones have cracked and fallen. The schematic map will allow visitors to find an unmarked grave using nearby marked graves as a guide.


Boroondara Trust Cemetery Secretary, Lea Ram said,” “We congratulate Elaine on receiving this award which acknowledges the enormous amount of work she committed to the project with assistance from the Cemetery staff through their involvement and in support of providing details of the families interred in the individual plots at Boroondara Cemetery , Kew Victoria.”


The Heritage Council award will be presented by Professor Stuart Macintyre, chair of the Heritage Council of Victoria. As well as a framed certificate, the award comes with $2000 which has been donated to the Friends of the Boroondara Cemetery.  The Heritage Council of Victoria recognises individuals that have made outstanding contributions to the preservation of the heritage of the state with this award, named after the former Executive Director of Heritage Victoria, Ray Tonkin. It is given out on merit.