Walk into history

The elegant rows of headstones at Springvale War Cemetery. 192509_09 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Few know of the rich heritage embedded in Springvale War Cemetery’s rows of marble headstones and immaculate lawns.

On Anzac Day, historian Dr Celestina Sagazio will guide a free walking tour of the graveyard within the vast Springvale Botanical Cemetery.

It’s little known as Victoria’s official war cemetery, designed to the strict standards of Commonwealth military burial grounds in 1939.

Dr Sagazio says it’s a moving experience to stand in silence among the graves, reading the names of the dead and their often tender ages.

“It’s just a magnificent cemetery,” Dr Sagazio said.

“Somewhere we can remember those who put their lives on the line for their country.

“Each has an amazing story. There’s such incredible bravery.”

She tells of the sad story of Antonio Briglia, a Royal Australian Navy bandsman who served on the flagship HMAS Australia during World War II.

After surviving fierce battles with Japanese bombers, Briglia was overjoyed to be granted 28 days’ leave to visit his wife and two sons in South Melbourne.

But within a week, he became ill with pancreatitis and died in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in February 1945.

“He survived the war only to come back and die of sudden illness,” Dr Sagazio said.

The six-acre site holds 612 graves, including many World War II servicemen and women who died in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital after returning from the field. Others died by accident or illness.

The graveyard closed in 1947, but for accepting the repatriated remains of one Vietnam War soldier.

Elsewhere in the greater Springvale cemetery are another 151 burial sites from World War 1 and World War II.

One of them is James Melbourne, a talented Aboriginal footballer who served and was wounded in Gallipoli in World War I.

He was another who survived the war but came to an untimely end, killed by his landlord in 1937.

He had been buried in an unmarked grave at Springvale for nearly 80 years.

In 2015, the WA Government and other organisations funded a headstone, which was erected with a military service at the cemetery.

Another treasure on the walking tour is an offshoot of the Lone Pine tree, grown from a pinecone taken by World War I ANZACs at Gallipoli.

It was planted in Springvale Botanical Cemetery in 2015 for the centenary of the Gallipoli landing.

Eight Victoria Cross recipients are buried at the cemetery – more than any resting place in Victoria, and possibly Australia.

A monument also pays tribute to the 39 late Victoria Cross medallists in the state, including six British VC awardees who died or settled here.

The tour begins at noon on Thursday, 25 April. Participants receive a free copy of a publication of the cemetery’s war heritage. Meet at Cafe Vita, Springvale Botanical Cemetery by 11.45am. Bookings: Celestina.sagazio@smct.org.au or 8558 8210.


• Dawn Service at Pillars of Freedom monument, Palm Plaza, Dandenong at 6am on 25 April. All welcome, breakfast follows at Dandenong RSL car park.

• March from Dandenong RSL to the Pillars of Freedom about 10.30am

• Service at Pillars of Freedom at 11am. Followed by return to Dandenong RSL at noon, two-up from 2pm. All welcome.

Details: 9792 1535.

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