The Cemetery and the Golf Course: Mid-Century Planning and the Pastoral Imaginary

Holleran, Samuel

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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The well-draining ‘sandbelt’ in the southeast of Melbourne boasts many world-famous links established during the ‘golf boom’ of the 1920s. The soil conditions that make for good golf – sandy, loamy dirt – are also optimal for cemeteries. Starting in the 1930s ‘memorial parks,’ built at the urban periphery, began to replace crowded churchyards and Victorian-era cemeteries in the urban core. Sometimes within a stone’s throw of putting grounds, these new sites for burial placed the dead below bronze markers set into undulating green surfaces – very much reminiscent of a golf course. This paper offers a history of the landscape architecture, planning, and cultural shifts that aided in the development of both the suburban ‘memorial park’ and the modern golf course, two typologies that place a huge importance on Sylvan water features and grassy dells. The space allocated to each in rapidly urbanising areas illuminates the tension between the infrastructure of death and memorialisation and the land reserved for the living, and their leisure activities.

Taking the history of the cemetery and the golf course together, this paper examines the pastoral imaginary of mid-century spatial planners as both a cultural phenomenon and a technological feat, made possible by advances in irrigation and pest control. In the ensuing years the green imaginary of these heavily sprayed ‘lawnscapes’ has evolved with the emergence of various ‘green infrastructure’ framings, and a new scrutiny of land- and sod-intensive sites. Creating greenspaces for humans may not be enough, and both cemeteries and golf courses have struggled to justify their existence. Managers of these sites have started to channel a more-than-human constituency that includes plant and animal life who also ‘inhabit’ their spaces.